Perhaps you’re feeling stiff after a long day, or struggling to wind down from a stressful experience. Whatever the reason, if you’re having trouble sleeping, you may want to try adding an evening yoga practice to your nightly routine. Committing to a restorative and calming asana practice is both an easy and effective way to prepare for sleep. The right yoga poses can relax the nervous system, activate mindfulness, decrease muscle stiffness, boost the mood, and aid in digestion.
If sleep has become an obstacle for you, use the following guidelines for starting a yoga for sleep practice.
Setting Up for Evening Yoga
To best incorporate this practice into your evening routine, you’ll want to put time and effort into planning it. This will make nighttime yoga a ritual you look forward to and cherish. One factor to keep in mind is when you will practice. Ideally, you’ll want to do evening yoga one to two hours after eating dinner to prevent feeling weighed down, and prior to your nightly hygiene practices.
You’ll also want to decide on the location. A spot in the house that is quiet, spacious, and clean can be meditative and comforting. Figure out what part of the house has those qualities, and make it your go-to place for evening yoga. That way, you’ll associate it with relaxation and routine.
Here are some other ways you can help set the mood for sleep:
- Turn down the lights to activate melatonin production (the hormone responsible for sleepiness).
- Add blankets and props such as bolsters and blocks for coziness and comfort.
- Use essential oils. Lavender is especially renowned for its calming and soothing effects.
- Surround your area with healing crystals to clear negative energy, or use other spiritual, symbolic objects that put you in a mindset of ease and presence.
Once you’ve created your evening yoga environment, you’re ready to start practicing.
6 Yoga For Sleep Poses
Here are six yin yoga poses that prepare you for sleep. You can do the poses in the order listed, practice them in a different order, or use them in addition to other restorative poses that you’ve learned. While they are all helpful for good sleep, they vary in how they affect the body, so benefits are briefly explained.
- Easy Pose (Sukhasana) – Opens the hips, stretches the external muscles of the knees, and vertically lengthens spine.
- Child’s Pose (Balasana) – Stretches hips and thighs, lowers dizziness and fatigue, opens the third eye, and releases tension in the shoulders and back.
- Thread the Needle (Parsva Balasana) – Twists the thoracic spine, stretches the upper and outer muscles of the shoulders, and relieves tension on the sides of the neck.
- Supine Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) – Stretches the hamstrings, massages the low back, improves digestion, and increases blood flow to the pelvis.
- Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana) – Improves digestion, improves alignment of the spine, decreases lower back pain, and strengthens the sacral joints.
- Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani) – Decreases pain in tired feet or legs, relieves mild backache and swollen ankles, and alleviates menstrual cramps.
Other Yogic and Ayurvedic Tools to Help with Sleep
If you’re looking for additional tips, try complementing your yoga for sleep practice with the following activities:
A beautiful exercise to incorporate in your bedtime routine to help with winding down and relaxation is Nadhi Shodhana or Alternate Nostril Breathing. This pranayama technique is great for balancing and harmonizing the mind and for releasing physical tension.
Directions: Take a comfortable seat. Make sure you feel warm. Feel free to wrap up in a blanket or shawl. Sitting tall with your eyes closed, gently close the right nostril with the right thumb. Begin by inhaling gently up the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the ring finger. Lift the thumb and exhale down the right nostril. Inhale back up the right nostril. Exhale left, then continue at a comfortable and soft rhythm. The breath should be smooth, soft, and relaxing. Practice for several to ten minutes.
Abhyanga, the practice of oil massage, can be incredibly beneficial in preparing the body for sleep — but it can be hard to fit in. If you don’t have time for a full body massage at night, just focus on your feet. Ayurveda says the feet contain many pressure points called marmas. Stimulating these areas can calm the nervous system, helping you unwind and sleep better.
Directions: For a simple practice of padabhyanga, gently rub warm oil in small circular motions from the ankle to the toes, then on the soles of the feet. Finish by gently and slowly pulling on the toes. Be sure to put socks on before you go to bed, so you can lock in the oil (they also protect you from slipping and getting oil on your sheets). Try this every night for a week and observe how you sleep and how you feel. Sesame oil is generally recommended, but coconut oil can be good if you need cooling.
Bedtime affirmations can be helpful in transitioning the mind and body to rest and relaxation. Some examples include:
- I release this day.
- I allow my mind to calm and my body to relax.
- I welcome sleep into my being.
- I let go. I let it be. I choose peace.
- I am becoming more relaxed with every breath.
- My body is a source of calmness.
- Around me and within me I find stillness.
- The world is sleeping and all is well.
Keep in mind that consistency is key when establishing a yoga for sleep routine. Whatever you decide to practice, try to make it a habit. This will condition the body in the long run to relax and prepare for sleep.
Reviewed by Dr. Jayant Lokhande, MD (Botanical Drugs), MBA (Biotechnology)