Yoga, including physical poses, breathing techniques, and meditation, can help calm down a busy mind and get rid of nervous energy. Yoga has both energizing (brahmana in Sanskrit) and calming (langhana) elements, and the combination of the two can achieve a sense of balance. Yoga also helps you become more aware of the mental and physical states that are preventing sleep. Yoga can be safely integrated with the current main form of therapy for insomnia: cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I).
Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness have been shown to improve sleep in several studies, including people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, military veterans, older adults, and nurses. Yoga also can improve sleep quality in people with physical illnesses, including osteoarthritis, breast cancer, Parkinson's disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Not everyone will enjoy the same elements of yoga-- some people find it difficult to sit still in meditation and others find yoga poses repetitive. Even if it feels frustrating at first, stick with it-- consistency is rewarding over time and will change your practice. Find what works best for you, and keep in mind that your experience of the same exercise changes day to day.
Here are 7 tips on how to use yoga for better sleep. Do these exercises after your regular nighttime routine so you can go straight to bed after the last exercise. Avoid doing these exercises in bed since your bed should be reserved for sleep as much as possible. Part of good sleep hygiene is a routine that prepares your body and mind for sleep. Consistency is important, so do even a little every night.
1. Start with self-compassion.
A fundamental basis of yoga is being kind and compassionate to your body and mind. Notice if you are holding onto harsh thoughts toward yourself or others. Set an intention to bring self-compassion throughout your practice, and let go of the idea of perfection. Do not do anything painful.
2. Get in touch with your breath.
On the inhale, "I breathe in, and let go of the day."
On the exhale, "I breathe out, and let go of the day."
3. Release tension using a yoga breath called Lion's breath.
4. Calm down using forward folds.
Avoid using your hands to pull yourself forward or forcing the shape of the pose--it's not about your hands or head reaching the floor or your feet. Instead, let gravity do most of the work.
Standing Forward Bend
Wide-Legged Forward Fold
Head to Knee Forward Bend
Revolved Head to Knee Pose
Do not pull or tug with your hands. For a more supported pose or if your hands cannot reach your toes, rest your the elbow of your lower arm along your thigh or onto the floor. Bend your lower arm so that you can prop your head up with your hand. Your top arm can rest along the top of your head for a gentle side stretch and let your arm dangle rather than reach for the foot. Let gravity do the work. Repeat for other side.
Seated Forward Bend
5. Gently stretch your hips.
Be cautious if you have any hip injuries.
6. Try a gentle inversion.
Legs Up the Wall
7. Wind down your practice with a body scan meditation.
If you're still feeling stressed, check out my Yoga Poses for Stress Relief.