I’ve mentioned before that I haven’t always been the healthiest person. What seems like not so long ago (but what is actually almost five years now), I was a complete and total mess – I worked seventeen hours a day for someone else in a thankless job and my body got it’s nutrients from the vegetables on my Big Mac and it’s calcium from the cream in the twenty some-odd extra-large triple triples from Tim Hortons (Canada’s coffee staple) I guzzled daily. After that seventeen hour day was over, do you think that I just went home and crashed into bed in a peaceful sleep? No, of course not. I’d had twenty some odd coffees and still had a thousand and twelve things to do once I got home.
If I was lucky, I’d get to bed somewhere around four in the morning, and by seven or so I was back at the office. Insomnia (although probably slightly self-inflicted) became my middle name. I walked around looking like a zombie on a regular basis and my closest friends described me to strangers as ‘computer-like’, meaning that I went and went, shut down and made a whirring sound for about twenty minutes, and then I was good to go again.
Thinking back on it, I probably took years off of my life during that time period. If I met anyone now running like I was then I’d probably spend the next hour and a half trying to convince them how important sleep is for their general health and wellbeing. But hey, you live you learn right? And I have. I’ve learned firsthand just how much of a difference a good solid sleep can make. On the same note, I have experience with how hard it can be to try and get it.
Flash forward a few years, a couple of terrible colds, and a bunch of self-growth; let me tell you what I’ve learned – Yoga is one of the best tools available for helping you get some shut eye. In my opinion, it works better than any sleeping pill I ever took, any tea I ever drank, and any amount of sheep I ever counted combined. If you’re someone that has problems falling asleep at night, or even someone that has issues staying asleep once you get there, you might want to give this yoga sequence a shot – It doesn’t take much longer than ten minutes to do (you know you can spare ten minutes, even if you have to go to bed just a little bit earlier) and you’ll feel amazing – calm, relaxed, and ready for bed – by the time you’re done.
Feel free to precede this sequence with a detox bath if you’re really feeling wired. A cup of chamomile tea prior to hitting the sheets never hurt anyone, either.
What You’ll Need
– A yoga block (don’t freak out if you don’t have one, a 32oz can is about the same height and just as stable). If you’re flexible enough, you can skip this altogether. If this is your first go at yoga, I sincerely recommend that you use something – Pulling a muscle because you stretched too far is nothing short of counter-intuitive.
– A yoga mat if you’re not going to be practicing on a soft surface. My bedroom is carpeted, so I don’t bother.
In order for your body to completely relax and help ease you off to dreamland, you’re going to want to slow down your heartbeat. To do that, you’re going to want to relax and breathe as slowly and deeply as you possibly can. There are a million different breathing techniques, but I’m going to base this particular article around the ‘4-7-8 method’ that was taught to me by my yogi friend. This technique forces your heart rate slow down; it also forces you to pay attention to your breath.
The technique itself is relatively easy to master – Simply breathe in through your nose as you count to four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and release the air from your lungs through your mouth – slowly – as you count to eight. Seems simple enough, right? It is. The hard part is remembering to do it throughout the entire sequence.
Focusing on this breathing technique alone without the help of any yoga actually helps one of my closest friends go to sleep without even needing to follow through with the yoga sequence! Why does it work? Because when you’re focusing on your breathing instead of the twenty thousand things you need to get accomplished on any given day, your brain can actually relax enough to send you to the sandman.
Think that ‘4-7-8’ might be a little much for you? No worries, just focus on your breath – Count in for five and out for five if it’s easier for you. The point is to distract your brain, not overthink.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Balasana is the perfect resting pose to begin this sequence (click here and scroll to the bottom to learn how to master it) because it will help force your body to relax. Remember when you were about to have a panic attack before a big test when you were in school and your mom told you to put your head between your knees and breathe? This is kind of the same idea, but with a whole lot more benefits.
Hold Balasana for about one minute, or 10-15 breaths. Remember, the idea is to breathe slowly and deeply to help ease your body into relaxation.
Adho Mukha Svansana (Downward Facing Dog)
From Balasana, you’re going to come up onto your hands and feet into Downward Dog. Not only will this pose help cure you of your insomnia, but it can also help combat the fatigue you’ve been experiencing from not sleeping, and the headache/backache you’ve probably got from working too long and hard. Click here for a more detailed rundown of how exactly the pose works.
Hold the pose for about one minute, or 10-15 breaths.
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
From Downward Dog, bring your left foot forward between your hands and lower your right knee toward the floor. Then you’re going to walk your left foot to the outer ledge of your mat (or to the outside side of your left arm if you’re not using a mat) and place your elbows on the block (or floor if you can). Hold for about one minute and repeat the process with the other leg.
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Come out of Lizard Pose on the right side with an inhale into a plank. Lower yourself onto your belly and clasp your hands loosely behind your back. Exhale as you root the tops of your feet into the floor. Inhale deeply as you raise your chest and arms toward the ceiling and gaze forward (I think that it helps to focus on the candle holder I have in front of me, feel free to try something similar if you’re having difficulty balancing yourself. Hold pose for about one minute, release your hands on the last exhale as you push back into Downward Dog.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)
After seeing that picture, if you were to tell me that you were worried about falling over into a summersault and ruining your bedroom I wouldn’t even blink because you wouldn’t be the first. If you’re really worried about your balance being an issue here, there are two things that you can do – 1) Skip this pose altogether, or 2) Face a wall. That way, if you do fall the wall will catch you. I assure you though, this pose isn’t really as scary as it looks.
From Downward Dog, you’re going to want to walk your hands back to your legs. With your feet hip width apart and a slight bend at your knees, grab and hold onto your elbows and exhale as you lengthen down through your crown. Hold pose for about one minute, then release your arms, root through your feet and rise up slowly to a standing position (Mountain Pose is what I use here, but simply standing with your weight evenly disbursed will do the trick).
Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Legged Standing Forward Bend)
Widen your stance until your feet are about four or five feet apart from each other, inhale and lift your chest. Exhale and all forward from your hips, spreading your arms wide and coming onto your fingertips with your elbows bent. Hold the pose for about a minute, remembering to focus on your breathing and formation. If you feel like your neck needs a little bit of stability, feel free to rest your forehead on a block or can for support. Come out of the pose by rooting through your feet and inhaling deeply as you stand back up.
Janu Sirsasana (Head on Knee Pose)
Sit on the floor and extend your legs out in front of you. Inhale deeply as you place the sole of your left foot against your right inner thigh (your right hand should be by your hip). Lift your left arm, exhale, and fold your body over your right leg while reaching for your foot or shin. Hold for one minute, come out of the pose on an exhale, and repeat the pose on the opposite side. Head and neck feeling a little unstable while you’re trying to hold this pose because you can’t reach the floor? Then use a block.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
If you’ve ever walked by a yoga sessions that looked like it was about to end, you may have thought that all of the participants of the class were wrapping it up with a quick nap. Chances are, that wasn’t the case at all – They were just in Savasana. This is going to be the last pose in today’s sequence, and it’s actually slightly more complicated to do than it looks like it is. Here’s a better explanation than I could give (and it even comes along with a video for you more visual learners!) on how to do it. You’re going to want to stay in Savasana for about three minutes before coming out of it and crawling into bed.
And that’s it! Of course, there are tons of other poses that could be used to help you fall asleep, but these are some of the easier, more relaxing ones that I’ve found.
After doing this sequence for a few nights, you should definitely notice at least a slight improvement in your sleep patterns. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t end up working for you on the first night you try – There’s a good chance that you’re overthinking either your breathing or your formation. Either way, you’ll get the hang of it after you do it a few times and soon you’ll be using this sequence as part of your bedtime routine!
Speaking of, what is your bedtime routine? What helps you sleep at night? Please let us know by commenting in the section below! I’m always up for trying something new to see if I can improve my sleeping habits even more than I already have (it becomes its own little challenge after a while… Either that, or I’m just far too competitive for my own good).
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