One of the best ways to wind down after a long day is with some restorative yoga. This helps you focus on your breathing and being in the present. We know there’s a long list of the benefits of yoga — some of which include the reduction of stress and better sleep. For instance, one study found that yoga increases the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness.
Because yoga helps combat contributors to poor sleep, such as anxiety, depression, and stress, it may be beneficial to practice it before bed. We spoke with certified yoga instructor Nikki Hubbard to learn more about the best yoga moves for better sleep.
Introduction to Yin Yoga
There are many different types of yoga depending on what your individual goals are. For instance, Vinyasa Yoga is a movement linked with breath. It’s playful and gets your heart rate up, while Yin Yoga incorporates slow-paced movements that are held for longer periods of time.
“Yin Yoga is an important counterpart to the common weight-bearing and challenging poses of yoga,” explained Nikki. “It forces the body to refuel itself in a different manner. We make ourselves be still, and become comfortable with ourselves in that stillness. We learn how to navigate our thoughts and train the mind for life circumstances and how to better handle emotions.”
Think about the yin and yang sign: yin refers to stillness, while yang relates to movement. We need both in our lives for balance. Yin Yoga slows things down for you so that you can experience a moment of stillness at the end of a hectic day. It’s a practice for all yogi levels. Here are some bedtime yoga moves to help you unwind.
Sit on the bed with legs crossed and eyes closed
As you sit cross-legged on your mattress, lengthen the spine and open the chest as you take deep breaths. Relax your shoulders away from your ears.
“Start by taking long, deep breaths of 10 in and 10 out while sitting on the bed,” said Nikki. “This is a classic meditation pose, and also a transition pose from the day to calmness and bedtime.”
This will help slow your heart rate down without any motion required. You can also do this in corpse pose or child's pose.
“Think about what happened during the day that you enjoyed and how it helped you in some form of growth,” said Nikki. “Observe which emotions arise as you reflect on your day. How did you handle your emotions in those specific situations? Did it help or hinder your personal growth?”
Standing Forward Bend | Uttanasana
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart and roll your head, neck, and spine downwards. Let your body and arms hang loose, bending your knees if uncomfortable. Shake your head “no” and nod your head “yes.”
Standing forward bend gently stretches your hamstrings, calves, and hips, while also relieving any neck tension you might have. This movement is intended to rejuvenate your mind and soothe nerves as it helps alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Roll up slowly to avoid getting light-headed.
Legs up the wall pose | Viparita Karani
Find an empty spot along your bedroom wall where you can extend your legs while having your back flat against the ground. This is a great pose if you’ve been on your feet all day. It re-circulates blood flow to your upper body and alleviates swollen feet, ankles, or knees.
“Legs up the wall pose helps with digestion and blood flow,” Nikki explained. “It’s great to practice before bed.”
If your tailbone is uncomfortable in this position, place a pillow or folded towel underneath your lower back. Legs up the wall pose helps relieve headaches, soothe menstrual cramps, and alleviate lower back pain.
Happy Baby | Ananda Balasana
Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Grab hold of the outside of your feet and extend them outward. The knees should now be pulling into your underarm area. This is called Happy Baby pose. From here you can rock from side to side and exhale into your belly. This pose is meant to stretch the spine and calm the brain. It helps reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue.
Reclined butterfly | Supta Baddha Konasana
For the reclined butterfly pose, lie on your back with your feet together and knees bent. Now, let your knees fall open to each side. Ahh, we can just hear you relaxing.
“Reclined butterfly is another great pose to practice before bed,” said Nikki. “Put a pillow underneath the shoulder blades to make it a subtle heart opener and hip stretch.”
Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Take deep inhales and exhales to feel your hands rise and fall with your breathing. Relax your face and settle into this pose, which is beneficial for relieving symptoms of stress.
How long should you stay in each pose?
“Ideally, stay in each pose for three to seven minutes. It takes three to five minutes to allow the muscles to lengthen muscular tension, depending on how much muscle hypertrophy you have at the time from exercise,” explained Nikki. “Once you pass the muscular tension, you begin to allow the fascia to move to the surface. Fascia is the body’s connective tissue and that’s where we store emotions. We rarely allow ourselves to release stagnant emotion and that’s one of the main benefits of yin yoga before bed.”
Remember to focus on your breathing throughout each yoga sequence. Counting your breaths will help your mind stay in the present without wandering off.
If you’re having trouble sleeping due to stress, anxiety, or depression, consider practising these yoga poses as part of your bedtime routine. You can use your Ecosa pillow as a prop. Of course, laying down on a comfortable, memory foam mattress where you can feel your body relax is also beneficial in helping you unwind at the end of a long day.