Five Relaxing Yoga Poses Instructors Love to Do Before Bedtime
If you're one of the millions of sleep-starved Americans with a dwindling supply of fence-jumping sheep, try introducing a few of these poses to your bedtime menagerie.
Yoga stretches offer up more benefits than just aiding in flexibility. Restorative yoga, the practice of gentle, slow yoga, can also help some achieve a better night's sleep, especially when paired with meditation and deep breathing. We spoke to obé instructor Beth Cooke, and Alex Montefalco, a restorative yoga teacher at New York Yoga, to find out the best yoga poses to help you fall asleep in no time.
Most yogis know that this is the quintessential resting pose in yoga. Cooke says to make your way to the ground on your hands and knees, bringing your big toes together to touch behind you. Then, walk your knees a little wider on your mat and sit your hips towards your heels (they don't need to touch). "You can reach your arms forward and release the elbows to the mat to help relax your shoulders," she recommends. Next, bring your forehead to the back to help draw awareness inward as well as calm the mind and slow any thoughts. "You can also slide a yoga block or pillow under the forehead if it's not touching the ground and a pillow or rolled blankets behind the knees/ under your seat can feel immensely supportive as well," she says.
Butterfly Pose with a Forward Bend
This yoga pose offers a great stretch. Start seated, says Cooke, before bringing the bottoms of your feet together as your knees spill out and draw your heels a little further away. Sit up tall and lengthen the spine, then fold forward. "You can stack a block or two on top of your feet and rest your forehead on top of blocks to help clear any looping thoughts," she says.
Standing or Seated Forward Fold
A simple forward fold can make all the difference in restorative yoga. Start standing, feet hip-width apart—you can make sure you're in the right position by turning one foot in perpendicular so that the big toe touches the inner heal and try again on the other side. Take a generous bend in the knees, let your chin fall towards your chest, and begin to let the weight of your head feel heavy as you roll down vertebrae by vertebrae into your fold, explains Cooke. "Keep a generous bend in your knees and try to make contact with the chest to thighs as this makes you more stable," she says. "You can also take two blocks on any height underneath your hands in this forward fold to share some of the weight. Or start seated and find a bend in the knees with feet hips width distance apart," she says. "Slide the fleshy part out from under your sitting bones to find an anterior tilt in the pelvis and then fold your upper body forward so that your chest makes contact with your thighs." Cooke recommends sliding a block or two in between the shins to support your head. "Again, pressing your forehead into a solid substance helps to quiet the mind," she says.
Legs Up the Wall
"If you have a pillow at home, place it horizontally up against a wall or headboard," advises Montefalco. "Walk your right or left hip as close as you can to the wall, gently lower down onto your forearms as you lift the legs, so you can lay on your back with your legs up against the wall." She says this is a great pose to give the legs a rest, help with circulation, and release the pelvis and lower back muscles.
Reclined Bound Angle
This pose is also a nice calming pose for the end of your day, says Montefalco. "So many of us have been working in a different way at home or in a different environment and, I personally have not paid as much attention to finding the most supportive seat during the day, so hips are tight." For reclined bound angle, you would start on your back, it might feel nice to have a thin pillow underneath the base of your head or a blanket for extra cushion, she says. "I recommend having as many pillows nearby as possible to make it the most restorative for sleep," she says. Once you come down onto your back, allow the soles of the feet to come together and gently butterfly the knees open. "The closer the heels are to the groin the deeper this will feel, so make it as gentle as you desire," she says. "I like to take a pillow or two and place them under the knees vertically, so that you have support on the calf and outer thigh as well. With this support, you can let gravity take over and enjoy a softer version of this hip opener." For added comfort, Montefalco recommends adding a folded blanket or two to the pelvic area as a nice counterweight and grounding tool. "In this pose you can invite the palms back to the heart and belly so that you can just tune into you," she says. "See if the inhalations are longer or shorter than the exhalations, maybe the opposite is true, but trying to even out each inhale and exhale. It's also calming to feel the rise and fall of each breath and when you focus your attention there, the external thoughts have an easier time falling into the background."