At the close of the day, time often slips away too quickly, leaving many of us unprepared to unwind. There are those last-minute emails to be dispatched, dishes waiting to be cleaned, family members requiring our attention, and the weight of tomorrow’s tasks on our minds. This flurry of activity can make it challenging to ease into a peaceful slumber.
This is where pre-sleep yoga enters the picture. The gentle physical movements themselves induce relaxation, and the foundational principles of yoga – such as gratitude, self-compassion, and contentment – when incorporated into your bedtime routine, can also have a calming effect. According to Carol Krucoff, a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, practicing these principles before sleep can help promote restful sleep.
Try these five gentle poses and exercises to get you all set for sleep:
Yoga Belly Breathing
“If you can only do one thing to get ready for sleep, spend a few minutes focusing on your breathing,” says Krucoff. She’s talking about taking deep breaths using your belly. During the day, you might breathe shallowly from your chest, but deeper breaths fill your lungs completely. “This sets off a series of changes in your body. Your heart rate slows down, your blood pressure goes down, and your muscles relax,” she explains.
Here’s how to do it: Lie down and place one hand below your belly button. Inhale through your nose, letting your belly rise. Exhale through your nose. Repeat this for a few minutes.
Range of Motion Sequence
Here, you will move your joints all around. “This is something that calms you, eases tension, and can even be done in bed,” says Krucoff. What’s more, it helps you pay attention to how your body feels, not just what happened with your family, at work, or what you heard in the news during the day. Do some of your muscles feel sore? Do some feel tired? “Many of us spend most of our time thinking,” Krucoff says. “This practice brings your focus back to your body, which is a good way to get ready for sleep.”
Here’s how to do it: Lie down on the floor or your bed. Move your ankles in a circle. Straighten your legs, then bend your knees. Lift and lower your hips in circular motions. Bend your elbows, then stretch your arms out at your sides. Lift and rotate your shoulders. Repeat as much as you like and as long as it feels comfortable.
If you have problems with your back, the knee hug can be very soothing, says Krucoff. Back pain is one of the main reasons people go to the doctor, and it can also keep people from going to work, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Sitting hunched over a desk all day can cause discomfort, but this exercise can help alleviate it.
Here’s how to do it: Lie down and bring one or both knees up to your chest. You can do one or both, depending on what you can manage. If you can bring both knees to your chest at the same time, gently rock from side to side to massage your spine.
Many people often feel tension in their neck and shoulders, according to Krucoff. This tension can become even worse if you spend your day working on a computer or staring at your smartphone.
Here’s how to relieve it: Sit on your bed with a straight back and good posture. Breathe in, raising your shoulders up to your ears and squeezing your arm and shoulder muscles tightly. Breathe out and relax your shoulders, pulling your shoulder blades downward. Do this a few times.
If you do yoga, you might know this as Savasana, the final pose in class. “It seems easy to just lie down and do nothing, but it’s one of the hardest poses because you need to let go of physical and emotional tension and clear your mind,” explains Krucoff. But don’t worry about getting it perfect. Just lie down, stay still, and try not to think about anything specific. This will help you relax. Krucoff calls it “relaxed alertness,” which might sound strange, but it’s about noticing any thoughts or feelings without getting stuck on any one.
Here’s how to do it: Lie down with your arms at your sides, palms up, and relaxed. Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath going in and out. If your mind is busy, recognize the thoughts and imagine them floating away.