Ease Into Sleep With These 5 Soothing Yoga Poses

By: 
Allison Schleck, E-RYT 500, RPYT

Good quality sleep is crucial for good health. With approaching deadlines, important meetings, exams on the horizon, and the regular hustle and bustle of life, sleep can disappear from the scene. Lacking adequate rest, we feel physically sluggish and mentally fatigued.

Long-term, repercussions of lost sleep can be serious. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, ongoing sleep deficiency is associated with an increase of kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. We aren’t as sharp mentally, which reduces our productivity at work and impacts our decision-making and problem-solving skills. Lack of sleep also makes it harder to negotiate the range of emotions we might normally handle in a productive and healthy manner.

In short, sleep is crucial to our well-being.

What role can yoga play? Every choice and action we make in life plays a certain role in how well we sleep. We may choose to drink a double espresso before bed, catch up on some work on an electronic device, decompress with some television, or do yoga. Out of all of these options, the one that gives you the best chance of sound sleep is practicing yoga.

One way to establish better sleep patterns is by establishing a regular bedtime ritual. By creating a bedtime practice to relax your body and calm your mind, you can drift off to sleep more easily. But yoga is a broad category. Poses can be energizing or relaxing. I've chosen five superstar yoga poses for rest. This means no Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose), no deep strenuous backbends to squeeze the adrenal glands, no handstands to get the heart pumping. These five superstar sleep-supportive poses can be done in bed or on the floor with ultimate ease.

What I love about this practice is that when you practice yoga in bed, you already have a bunch of props at your disposal—sheets, blankets, pillows and maybe even some stuffed animals. And practicing in bed makes for a smooth transition from yoga time to bedtime.  (last photo below can help get you started!)

Supta Padagusthasana (Supine Big Toe Pose) I, II and III      

Sometimes we don’t realize the extent to which we have stored tension in our bodies, particularly in the legs. I use the Supta Padangusthasana series to unwind my body. For this series, grab a towel or some stretchy pants. Of course, a yoga strap works well, unless you want to keep the props out of the bedroom.

  1. Lie on your back and stretch your legs out.

  2. Bend your right knee into your chest. Loop the arch of your foot with your prop and straighten the right leg for Supta Padangusthasana I.

  3. Keep your left leg relaxed, rather than in Supta Tadasana (Supine Mountain Pose).

  4. Countdown from 60 to 0, as that helps to prepare and focus the mind on the task at hand—going to sleep. 

  5. For Supta Pandangusthasana II, extend your right leg out to the right, like Supta Trikonasana (Supine Triangle Pose).

  6. If you find that there is more struggle with your leg out to the side, bend the knee so it looks more like Supta Virabhadrasana II (Supine Warrior II) and/or use your pillows and stuffed animals to prop your outer right thigh. Snuggle them all the way up to your hip.

  7. Countdown from 60 to 0.

  8. Now move your leg back through Supta Padagusthasana I (extending the leg straight up as in step 2), and cross your leg past your midline and to the left about 50 degrees to Supta Padagusthasana III.

  9. Stay here or move your leg more to the left, supporting your inner right thigh so that the leg stays in line with the right hip rather than lowering the right foot below the outer hip.

  10. Countdown from 60.

  11. Bring the right leg back to center and release.

  12. Take about 30 seconds, to feel your two sides. Notice the difference between your yoga leg and non-yoga leg. You may quickly discover how much tension you were storing and carrying with you to bed.

  13. Repeat steps 2-11 on the left side and observe your two sides again after stretching both legs.

 

Supta Baddha Konasana (Supine Bound Angle Pose) or Supta Sukhasana (Supine Easy Pose)          

Practicing Supta Baddha or Supta Sukhasana in bed helps cultivate an awareness of lying on your back and relaxing in bed, as well as releasing the fronts of the hips.

  1. Lie on your back and either place the soles of your feet together or cross your ankles. Choose the position in which you feel your breath and body the most relaxed.

  2. You may rest your head on your pillow if that feels comfortable, but this is optional.

  3. Scoop your comforter up on both sides of you and tuck it underneath your outer thighs and shins.

  4. Rest your hands on your belly and follow the movement of your breath.

  5. Keep your elbows relaxed and supported on your body, bed or a prop such as a pillow.

  6. Stay here for up to 20 minutes. It doesn’t need to be exact. Try not to use a smartphone timer. Studies have shown that the light emitted from smartphones interferes with the naturally released hormone, melatonin, which indicates it is time to go to bed. You may want to count down from 60 twenty times, but it may be more relaxing to simply rest here until you have that itch to bring your legs together or to move. Then it is time to move on to the next pose.

  7. To come out, use your hands to gather your legs up and roll to one side.

 

Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose)       

Raising your hips so that they are higher than your head shifts your body from the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight mode) to the parasympathetic system (relax-and-digest mode).

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the bed or floor.

  2. Lift your hips up and prop them up on some pillows (firm pillows work best), a bolster or a folded firm blanket.

  3. Release your hips down onto your support. Make sure that the pillows are under your pelvis and not under your lumbar spine.

  4. Use your hands to pick up your head and lengthen your neck before placing the head back down. Do not place anything under your head.

  5. Let your arms rest by your sides.

  6. Stay here for up to 20 minutes. See step 6 in the instructions directly above (for Supta Baddhakonasana).

  7. To come out of the pose, lift your hips up, remove your props and set your hips back down onto the bed.

  8. Roll to one side and stay here for a minute or two. Stay close to the bed or if you lift up, do it slowly, letting your head rise last.

 

 Bedtime Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose)          

If you are practicing these soothing yoga poses in a sequence, instead of sitting up from the previous pose, swivel your body around to your headboard or wall to keep your body close to the surface it is resting on.

  1. From a supine position, bring the right side of your body close to your headboard or wall.

  2. Lift your legs up toward your headboard or wall as you swivel the rest of your body away from the wall. You should end up with your torso lying supine on the bed and your legs extending up the wall.

  3. Wiggle your hips toward the wall until they are very close or touching the wall, depending on your hamstring flexibility. If moving closer to the wall causes your low back to round, scoot away from the wall a bit so that your spine can be in a neutral position.

  4. Lie with your torso flat on the bed, or take a pillow and place it under your hips, similar to how you set up for Bridge Pose (see steps 2 and 3 above). To do this, bend your knees and place your feet on the wall, pushing into the wall with your feet to lift your hips in order to place the pillow underneath.

  5. Relax your arms out to the sides or rest them on your belly to feel the movement of your breath. Stay for up to 20 minutes.

 

Side-Lying Savasana (Side-Lying Corpse Pose)         

This deep-sleep yoga pose takes you right from Savasana to slumber. It’s a transition-to-sleep pose.

  1. Lie on your left side.

  2. Place a pillow between your two thighs. If you have extra pillows, place one between your lower legs and feet too.

  3. Place a pillow behind your back. Alternately, if you sleep next to a wall, you can rest your back against the wall.

  4. Adjust your arms to wherever they feel most comfortable. I often extend my left arm straight out from my shoulder on the bed and place my pillow between my left biceps and ear.

  5. Drape your right arm over your body. If you have a stuffed animal this would be the perfect time to give it a hug.

  6. Cover yourself with your blanket.

  7. Close your eyes.

  8. Countdown from 100 down to 0. If you forget or lose track, start again counting down from 100. Lose the count naturally as you drift off to sleep.

You can practice these five poses either individually or as a sequence. Other helpful tips to enhance this practice are to turn the lights off or keep them very dimly lit. I love candles, but unless there is someone to blow them out skip using them. You don’t want to fall asleep with a candle burning. Try an oil diffuser with a calming scent like lavender or vanilla. An eye pillow can help enhance the downward, decompressing energy to help make you drowsy. Try to keep brightly lit screens—including televisions, computers, phones, and tablets—off and out of sight. Before starting your practice, brush your teeth, comb your hair and wash your face. Some self-care can do wonders for setting the mood in your bedtime routine.

This nighttime yoga sequence is meant to induce deep sleep but it isn’t a guarantee. If you find yourself wanting to improve your sleep, or need to take time out during a particularly stressful day, these poses can be invaluable in setting the tone for your good night’s sleep.  That said, for severe sleep problems, always seek medical attention. 

Would you like more insomnia busting poses from Allison Schleck-Also read Hip Heaven: Three Restorative Poses to Help Relax Your Hips.

 

Allison Schleck, E-RYT 500, RPYT is a vinyasa based yoga teacher, fascinated by the intricate relationship between the mind and body. She offers a range of alignment-focused classes touching on anatomy, philosophy and creative propping with a mindful approach.  In addition to teaching group classes and managing the Yoga Culture studio in Danbury, CT, she also teaches at Open Door Family Medical Center in Westchester, NY empowering mother's to be with prenatal yoga classes and childbirth education. You can find her @allisonschleck on Instagram and www.allisonyoganidra.com.