My bedtime routine is probably the worst out of everyone I know. I usually stay out pretty late (you know, doing hoodrat stuff with my friends), and by the time I get home, all I have time for is brushing my teeth and rolling into bed. This isn’t the best procedure for quieting my mind down enough to sleep, however, and I will often waste an hour os so after laying down just trying to get to sleep. My body is still and ready for sleep, but my active mind turns the events of the day over and over until I find myself tossing and turning. At this point sleep is nowhere to be found and I just wasted an hour of my life trying to sleep when I could have been doing something else. I’ve discovered a couple yoga poses that if I can fit them in for a few minutes before crawling into bed, put me in a much better place to drift peacefully off to sleep.
Half Lotus Meditation
I’ll sit on either my bed or on the floor on my mat, and put myself into a gentle Half Lotus, keeping my eyes closed. A full Lotus is still uncomfortable for me, and all I’m looking for from this position is a quiet pose in which to center my mind. With my spine as straight as possible, and shoulders relaxed away from my ears. I let my hands lay relaxed and upturned on my knees. I will sit here for as long as I need to — a good indication for me to know when I can move on is when my eyes stop rapidly behind my eyelids. I put all my energy into thinking about nothing, but it’s not active; by focusing on my breathing and my heartbeat, my mind can drift away. You’ll notice all of the following poses are either in a seated, or lying position. Too much activity before bed can invigorate and energize you, so I try to find the most passive poses possible to ease me into bedtime.
After spending what I feel is an appropriate amount of time in mediation, I will place my weight on my hands and slide my feet back. With big toes touching and knees straddling either side of my mat, I will tilt my weight as far forward as possible, before resting my outstretched arms and forehead on the floor. This is a gentle stretch for your hips, lower back and ankles and circulates blood to your head, calming your nervous system and allowing you to relax even further.
Seated Forward Fold
While my morning routine is more Vinyasa, my bedtime routine falls toward the Yin. I move slowly from pose to pose, and allow myself time in each one. After Child’s Pose, I will slowly sit up and bring my legs straight out in front of me, toes pointing straight up. With a slight bend in my knees, I will fold myself over my legs, keeping my chest and thighs connected, and my spine as straight as possible, with my index and middle finger loosely looped around my big toes, gently pulling me further into the bend. I have extremely tight hamstrings, so most days my knees need to stay quite bent to maintain the chest and thighs connection. But that’s ok! No one’s watching, and ultimately, I don’t care!
Knees to Chest
After my hamstrings have had enough of the abuse of the seated forward fold, I will gently release the fold, and draw my legs into my chest while balancing on my tailbone. As slowly as possible, I then roll back onto my back, while hugging my knees tight to my chest. By drawing in my knees, hugging them close, and releasing them, I am stretching and releasing tension from my lower back. I’ll also roll gently back and forth to further the lower back stretch.
Supine Spinal Twist
A gentle stretch is nice and all, but my rickety spine is also in need of some popping before I can comfortably sleep. A day spent on your feet can compress the discs in your lower back, so a little bit of twisting can help relieve that pressure. By laying on your back and bringing your legs together above you in a 90 degree angle, you can gently twist your spine by lowering your legs to either side of you. To further the stretch, stretch the opposite arm toward the wall, and shift your head to look in that direction, too. This pose is the most satisfying to me, because what could be better than cracking your back? I mean, besides the obvious (ice cream, duh).
After coming back to center in Supine Spinal Twist, keep your legs above you in a 90 degree angle. With your arms planted firmly on the ground, parallel to your body, engage slightly with your abs and push with your arms to send your legs up, and towards the floor behind your head. Straighten them as much as you can, and use your outstretched arms to keep you steady as you come up high on your shoulders and balance on your shoulder blades. Don’t try to bring your knees past your forehead, or you’ll put too much strain on your neck. If you’re loose in your hips and hamstrings you might be able to rest your toes on the floor, but this is not a pose to push yourself in, at least not when performed before bed. Keep it relaxed, and take it as far as your body will comfortably let you. This again will bring blood flow to your upper body, and gently stretch the length of your spine.
Deaf Man’s Pose
This pose might be symbolic more than anything else, but I always like to finish Plow Pose with a little bit of time in Deaf Man’s Pose. From Plow, relax your legs and let them bend and fall close to your face. If your legs can rest on the ground, excellent! Most of the time mine are left hovering just above the ground. This gently stretches the back of my neck. It also tends to give me a headache, so I only spend a couple moments in Deaf Man’s. When performed to its potential, this pose will cause your legs to cover your ears, thus blocking out the world and calming your senses for sleep.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
It’s that time! Corpse Pose is my absolute favorite. I’m generally an insomniac, and a fussy sleeper — conditions must be perfect before I can find sleep. But get me in Savasana after a long Yin session and I swear I could fall asleep right on the chalky floor, surrounded by people I generally don’t know. This pose I like to take off the mat, and on to my bed. I don’t have anywhere to be, so I’ll lay in this position for as long as I please, until I feel my mind is stilled enough to allow me to sleep. And then … ZZZZZzzzzzzzz (I have honestly never understood why “z”s represent sleeping. I don’t know anyone who buzzes in bed).