An optimal amount of quality sleep is necessary to keep your body functioning at its best. A lack of sleep may result in poor memory, reduced focus, lowered immunity or mood changes. When you sleep, it allows the body and brain to repair, reset and restore. In turn, including a yoga practice into your bedtime routine can be a powerful tool in bolstering this process.
Practicing yoga for sleep works by:
- Supporting enhanced immune function
- Increasing mobility and flexibility
- Promoting relaxation by calming both the physical body and the mind
- Relieving muscle tension
- Enhancing and clarifying mindful, focused breathing techniques
The REM sleep stage — in which the eyes dart back and forth behind the eyelids — activates the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight or flight” automatic response to external stressors. In this stage, your pulse, body temperature, breathing and blood pressure rise to daytime levels. Chronic stress can even lead to hair loss.
The REM stage is thought to help the brain clear out the clutter of information it no longer needs. Those lacking in REM sleep lose this advantage. In a similar manner, practicing yoga for sleep before bedtime is another way to help you declutter — eliminating tension stored within the body and adding clarity within the mind.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
- Begin by standing with feet parallel, keeping legs as close together as possible.
- Fold forward, hinging from hip flexors, as if you were to touch the forehead to your shins.
- Press heels down, straightening the legs fully while pressing sit bones upward. Keep a slight bend in knees if they feel hyperextended.
- Try to move your forehead to touch the shins.
- In the ragdoll variation, grab opposite elbows with hands and allow the torso to sway gently from side to side, moving from the hips.
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold)
- Sit with straight legs extended forward; you can place a block in front of the feet.
- Extend arms up, directly next to ears.
- Fold forward, hinging from the hips. Reach for the ankles, feet or the block for a deeper shoulder stretch.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
- Lie down on your back. Place a small cushion or rolled-up blanket to support the neck and head if desired.
- Allow your arms to rest along the sides of the body, palms facing up.
- Legs are splayed as wide (as is comfortable) with the toes pointing outward and heels facing one another.
- As your eyes close, consciously relax the facial muscles, beginning at the temples and moving down the face, softening the cheeks and jaw.
- Observe internally if there is anywhere you are holding on to muscle tension or clenching; relax and release.
- Allow your breath to flow at its natural pace and rhythm.
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Crystal Fenton is a freelance journalist and E-RYT-200 YACEP yoga instructor.
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