If you have trouble falling asleep or if you wake up during the night with your mind in overdrive, I have just the right thing for you: an easy yoga bedtime routine! The idea is not only to release physical tensions, but also to calm the mind, so that falling asleep and staying asleep become easier. Beneficial for most kinds of back pain as well, the short session is designed with yoga poses and breathing techniques that can settle the nervous system.
While some yoga poses are exhilarating and uplifting, others tend to soothe the nervous system. For example, most people find standing poses grounding and awakening and back bends energising. Forward bends and inverted poses, on the other hand, are experienced as calming. It is fascinating how just putting our body in a position can change our mood! Nevertheless, it is also important to focus our mind during the yoga routine: concentrating helps other thoughts to loosen their grip so that they are less likely to loom large at night.
I realise that after a hectic day, the last thing you may want to do is yoga. Tired, you lose all motivation, and it is all too tempting to crash into bed. But especially if you suffer from insomnia, it is worth trying to make a habit of this routine (and this advice from a previous blog may help too).
-Have a mat ready, rolled out near your bed and near a wall (a door will do).
-While doing the simple positions, keep directing your attention to your breathing and your body. Every time thoughts come into your head, over and over again bring your attention back to simply observing the body and the breath.
Note about back pain: these exercises are safe for most forms of mild back pain. However, if you have acute or chronic back pain, be careful and come out of a position if it feels uncomfortable. The positions are not appropriate for people who still experience pain from a herniated disc. If this is you, and you are interested in developing a yoga routine that could help you recover well, do contact me for private sessions (Skype is possible).
Legs up the wall
Choose the distance away from the wall that is right for your hamstrings. If you have fairly flexible hamstrings you start by sitting sideways by the wall before lying down and bringing the legs up. If your hamstrings are tight, lie further away from the wall.
Stay for about 3 minutes, observing how it feels to rest the back on the floor, how your breath gradually slows down and how it moves the body. For more leg variations, check out this blog.
To come out of the position, first roll over to your side and push yourself up with one arm.
In this kneeling forward bend, make sure your head touches the floor, your hands or a raise. If your head is on the floor, rest the elbows down to keep the shoulders relaxed. The hands can also point back towards the feet if that is more comfortable.
You can adapt by putting a rolled towel under your ankles for tight feet or leaning forward on a bolster/chair (as explained in this previous blog). If comfortable, stay in the child’s position for a few minutes. Be aware of how the breath moves your back. Do you feel your back and side ribs expand when you inhale? Allow everything to rest down again when you exhale.
Move forward to rest on your abdomen with the hands under your forehead. Rest the whole body on the floor and observe the breath. Feel how the whole front of the body is supported, heavy and resting. Apart from restful, this pose is also a passive release for the upper back.
Seated breathing meditation against the wall
Sit on a chair or cross-legged. A wall is nice to rest against at this time of the day. Make sure you are warm. This breathing pattern is good for whenever you feel stressed and need the relaxation response to kick in:
Breathe in to the count of 4 and out to the count of 6. Adapt the speed of counting to your breathing rhythm so it feels natural. The length of your breath does not matter as much as the ratio between the in- and outbreath.
If you wake up during the night:
You can use the same 4-6 breathing ratio to focus on. It may also help to lie on your back with the knees bent and place a cushion underneath the hips for 5 to 10 minutes. This gentle inversion is calming. Together with the focused breathing it may soothe you back to sleep.
I hope this helps!