Yoga is an ancient mind and body practice that combines meditation, physical movements and breathing exercises. Amongst a wide range of health benefits, regular yoga practice has been proven to aid in better sleep, and there’s a growing body of scientific evidence to support this.
Let’s dive into how you can use yoga to get the better, deeper, more restful sleep you need.
Yoga Poses That Promote Better Sleep
Many yoga poses focus on stretching and lengthening the muscles, which can help to relieve tension and improve circulation. This can make it easier for your mind and body to fall—and stay—asleep. Here are some sleep-friendly yoga poses you can practice before bed time to help wind down body and mind (and most of them are done lying down!):
- Corpse pose: As the name suggests, just lie on your back with your arms relaxed by your sides (like a corpse) and proceed to deeply inhale and exhale to relax your worries away!
- Reclined bound angle pose: Lie on your back, bring the soles of your feet together, and drop your knees out to the sides.
- Legs-up-the-wall: Lie on your back, legs straight up, and scootch your bottom up against a wall to support your legs. Your body should be in a right angle.
- Forward bend: Stand on your feet and fold forward at the hips as low as you are comfortable bending. You can let your arms hang straight down, wrap them around your legs, or hold your elbows with the opposite hand to help release low back tension.
- Happy baby: Lie on your back and draw up the knees on either side of your ribcage with the soles of your feet facing the ceiling, bending the legs at a 90-degree angle. Grab your feet with your hands, and gently pull your knees down towards the floor while keeping your back rooted to the ground.
Breathe deeply in each of the poses and try to hold it for at least 30 seconds to get its full effect. But remember not to strain or hold the pose longer than is comfortable—this will certainly work against your goal of restful relaxation!
Yogic Breathing Exercises to Help You Sleep
The breathing exercises in yoga help to calm the mind and reduce stress. When we’re under stress, the body produces high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to insomnia. Yogic breathing exercises can help lower cortisol and promote restfulness. Here are a few you can try:
- Diaphragmatic breathing: In this breathing exercise the stomach moves with each breath, expanding when inhaling and contracting when exhaling. The deliberate focus on each breath allows one to become completely relaxed, present and quiets the mind for better sleep.
- 4-7-8 breathing: Also known as relaxing breath, is a deep rhythmic breathing technique based on pranayama practices. It involves a pattern of inhaling, holding the breath and exhaling to reduce anxiety and promote relaxed sleep.
How Meditation Factors In
The meditation component of yoga is a significant component of how yoga can help to quiet the mind and prepare the body for rest. Research shows that meditation can improve sleep quality in a range of clinical populations with sleep disturbance.
What are the Best Types of Yoga for Sleep Support?
Restorative yoga is possibly the gentlest form of yoga. It typically incorporates just a few restful postures, meant to slow the body down and create a state of overall calm and relaxation. The practice also frequently uses props, such as blocks and blankets, to support the body so poses can be achieved without strain. This can be a very relaxing way to end your day and prepare for sleep.
Restorative yoga is also a great technique for gently addressing nagging chronic pain that may be messing with your sleep. Try this guided sequence for back pain.
“Hatha yoga” generally refers to the range of yoga techniques that pair asanas (poses) with pranayama (breathing techniques). In America, however, it has come to describe a type of yoga that’s slow-paced, gentle, and focuses on proper alignment in both the poses themselves and their pairing with breath.
Numerous studies and trials have shown hatha yoga to proffer significant improvements to sleep, in addition to overall wellness. It’s the perfect starting point for someone who’s new to yoga or is just looking for a relaxing style of practice.
Yin yoga is a slower, meditative style of yoga that draws from the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Where more vigorous yoga practices like Ashtanga and Vinyasa activate the muscles—the yang—Yin yoga targets deep connective tissues, like fascia, ligaments, and joints. Practitioners hold poses for longer periods, aiming to release tension, improve flexibility, and release the flow of Qi, or “vital energy” throughout the body. The intended effect is similar to that of acupressure or acupuncture.
In a 2018 study of yin yoga’s effects on adults at risk of developing stress-related illness, participants were found to have significant improvements in sleep quality, as well as stress level, depression, and anxiety.
How Can You Use Yoga to Get a Better Night’s Sleep?
If you are new to yoga, it is a good idea to start with 2–3 gentle sessions per week and gradually increase the frequency as you become more comfortable with the practice. If you’re looking to improve your sleep with yoga, you’ll get the greatest benefits by incorporating it into your bedtime routine. Here are a few tips:
- Practice yoga at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Choose a type of yoga that is relaxing and gentle for you.
- Practice in a quiet and spacious environment where you can move freely
- Utilize props to support your body in the poses.
- Focus on your breathing.
- Commit to setting this time to let go of worries or anxieties.
- End your practice with a few minutes of meditation or stillness.
Yoga is a safe and effective way to improve sleep quality. If you’re struggling with insomnia or other sleep problems, yoga may be a helpful addition to your treatment plan. Speak to your doctor or a certified yoga instructor to learn more about how yoga can help you sleep better.
But What if Yoga Isn’t for Me?
If you just want to be lulled into a state of rest without the extra effort of yoga, massage may be your answer. In fact, Zeel’s signature Sleep Massage was designed to maximize massage’s ability to activate the rest-inducing parasympathetic nervous system with added techniques of reflexology, scalp and foot massage, and aromatherapy. Want to roll off the massage table directly into a state of dreamy slumber?