Yoga is a spiritual practice that is meant to lead to union of body and mind and it is good exercise but can it help you sleep better?
I started doing yoga many years ago because I needed to find balance from working hard, partying hard and travelling hard. My body needed exercise and my mind needed a break. I went to class twice a week and I liked it but I did not have any insights or awakenings nor did I understand what people were talking about when they said that yoga changed their lives.
A few years ago I had to leave the US in order for my work visa to get renewed. I had just heard about a yoga ashram in the Bahamas and I thought that sounded like a great place to go for a month and participate by doing some karma yoga or selfless service (in my case that was working in the kitchen every day). Living on a gorgeous beach, I would immerse myself in yogic practices and wait for my visa to come through, which my lawyer estimated would take about a month.
Ha! The yogic immersion would be a lot deeper than foreseen. Because of delays at the Bahamian embassy I ended up being stuck in paradise for over 3 months.
Now, this was not a terrible hardship and it was actually a blessing for me in that I decided to do my yoga teacher training there. Plus, I was able to live ashram life with daily meditations, chanting and yoga lessons for an extended period of time, which has deepened my understanding and love of yogic practices and spiritual growth in general.
While sleep problems were certainly not an issue in the ashram (we were required to get up at 5 AM every day and the mandatory evening program ended at 9.30 PM), sleep had always been inconsistent in my other life back in NYC, Paris and on the road.
A regular yoga practice can help you sleep better at night. Additionally, there are certain poses that are especially beneficial for falling asleep. They can be done right before bed or some of them even in bed.
The following 11 poses can be done in order as a continuous practice or you can choose to do just a few poses in any order you like. I invite you to focus on deep and soft breathing and a non-striving attitude towards your practice.
1) STANDING FORWARD BEND (UTTANASANA)
With feet hip-width apart and a slight bend in the knees fold your torso to the ground, reaching toward the ground or holding your elbows. Exhale and lengthen down through the crown of your head. To come up, release your arms, root through your feet, and slowly rise.
2) LOCUST POSE (SALABHASANA)
Lower to your belly. Clasp your hands behind your back. Exhale and root the tops of your feet into the floor. Inhale as you lift your chest and arms. Gaze forward. To come out of the pose, release your hands and exhale, pushing back to Downward-Facing Dog.
3) SEATED CROSS-LEGGED TWIST (SIDDHASANA VARIATION)
Sit tall on a pillow and cross your ankles. Inhale and lift your spine, and exhale as you take your left hand to your outer right knee. Place your right hand to the floor behind you for support. Inhale and lengthen; exhale and twist deeper. Switch sides and repeat the sequence.
4) EASY FORWARD BEND (VARIATION OF SUKHASANA)
Cross your legs in front of you and reach forward to the ground with your arms and torso. If you are tight in the hips, sit on top of a pillow to make the pose a bit more relaxing.
5) CHILD’S POSE (BALASANA)
The quintessential resting pose in many yoga classes, child’s pose helps to calm the mind and relieve tension in the body. Fold the torso over the legs with the arms extended or by the sides, and rest the forehead on the ground.
6) RECLINING BIG TOE POSE (SUPTA PADANGUSTHASANA)
Lie on your back with your big toes together. Inhale and bring your right leg vertical, clasping the back of your thigh. Push your thigh into your hands until you have a tight muscle-to-bone connection. Hold for 5 breaths and switch sides.
7) BRIDGE POSE (SETU BANDHA SARVANGASANA )
Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart and parallel, directly below your knees. Have your arms by your sides. Inhale and lift your pelvis, hold, then slowly roll down.
8) SUPINE SPINAL TWIST (SUPTA MATSYENDRASANA)
Lie down on your back and bring the right knee into your chest and then across your left side. Extend the right arm out and gaze to the right, taking several deep breaths and then repeating on the other side. You can also try bringing both legs up and then over to each side.
9) LEGS UP THE WALL POSE (VIPARITA KARANI)
Fold a blanket into a narrow stack that’s the length of your spine. Sit close to a wall and place the blanket behind you, perpendicular to the wall. Lie back onto the blanket, then scoot your buttocks as close to the wall as possible and take your legs up. Rest with your arms by your side.
10) CORPSE POSE (SAVASANA)
Lie back, letting your legs and arms relax. Have your legs a little apart and your arms slightly away from your body. Bring your attention to your breath and notice which nostril is clearer. To come out of the pose, draw your knees in toward your chest. Instead of automatically rolling to your right side, roll onto whichever side has the clearer nostril. Stay there until both nostrils feel equally clear.
11) LEFT NOSTRIL BREATHING (SURYA BHEDANA)
To try this relaxing breathing exercise, or pranayama, you can either sit up crossed-legged or lie down on your right side. Cover the right nostril with your thumb and extend the fingers out. Then take five to 10 deep breathes out of your left nostril.
I hope this was enjoyable and relaxing!
Nina Heimlich is a fashion model, artist, yogini and meditator.