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It’s late. You’re tense yet tired. And although you’d desperately like to slip some yoga into your evening before you crash, you honestly don’t know if you have it in you. Besides, you’re not even certain if you should exercise this late at night if you want to sleep.
What should your yoga practice resemble late in the evening when you’re wanting to counteract anxiety and insomnia?
There’s no single style or sequence of yoga that’s ideal for everyone at night. It’s more the manner in which you approach each posture that makes a difference. Sustained and gentle stretches. Slow and steady breathing. Moving slowly in between poses rather than being rushed. It’s a simple equation of easy movement and measured breathing which instigate your parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn brings profound release and relaxation—both physical and psychological.
The poses that follow can be done in their entirety and in the order in which they appear, which will take a little less than 30 minutes. Or you can simply turn to the ones that feel bring you relief on any given night. Whichever poses you select, don’t forget your final resting pose, Savasana. It draws on all the previous poses to become your precursor to sleep.
Props that will help: Blocks (or stacks of books), blanket, and bolster (or a couple firm bed pillows stacked on top of one another)
Practice Tips: Breathe with long, full, deep inhalations and exhalations
Warm-up: Begin in Balasana (Child’s Pose) for 1 minute (10–15 breaths)
Yoga poses to help you get a good night’s sleep
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose) | 1 minute each side
From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), bring your left foot forward between your hands and lower your right knee to the floor. Walk your left foot to the outer edge of your mat and place your elbows or forearms on a block or the floor. Remain for 10–15 breaths. Repeat on the second side.
Salabhasana (Locust Pose) | 1 minute
Lower to your belly. If you prefer, place a folded blanket beneath your hips. Clasp your hands behind your back or, if you have tight shoulders, lift your arms toward your ears with your elbows bent. Exhale and press the tops of your feet into the floor. Inhale as you lift your chest and arms. Gaze forward and slightly down. Remain for 10–15 breaths. Release your hands to the mat beneath your shoulders, inhale and push to hands and knees, and exhale as you push back to Downward-Facing Dog.
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) | 1 minute
From Downard-Facing Dog, walk your feet to your hands. Shift your feet hip-width apart, or even a little wider, and bring a slight bend to your knees. Loosely hold opposite elbows, keeping a relaxed grip in your hands, or let your hands rest alongside your feet. Exhale and lengthen down, letting the top of your head fall toward the mat. Remain here for 10–15 breaths. Release your hands to the mat, press down through your feet, inhale, and slowly rise to standing.
Step your feet so they’re about 4 to 5 feet apart with your toes angled slightly inward. Inhale and lift your chest. Exhale and slowly fold forward from your hips, spreading your arms wide and relating your fingertips onto the mat with your elbows bent. If you prefer a more active pose, take prayer hands behind or back. If you prefer a more restful pose, rest the top of your head on a block or a stack of books to help release tension. Remain here for 10–15 breaths. To come out of the pose, press down through your feet, inhale, and slowly rise to standing.
Janu Sirsasana (Head-of-the-Knee Pose) | 1 minute each side
Come to a seat on your mat with your legs extended straight in front of you. Bring the bottom of your left foot against your inner right thigh and place your right hand by your hip. Lift your left arm, exhale, and slowly fold over your right leg, reaching for your foot or shin. If you prefer, rest your forehead on a block. Remain here for 10-15 breaths. Switch sides.
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) | 1 minute
Sit tall on the edge of a folded blanket with your legs extended. Exhale and stretch your spine long as you fold forward. Keeping your spine lengthened, hold onto your feet or shins, with your elbows bent and arms relaxed. Rest your forehead on a block. Remain for 10–15 breaths.
From a seated position, place a bolster at the base of your sacrum and place a folded blanket on it toward the far end. Bend your knees and bring the bottoms of your feet together. Lie back on your bolster and rest your head on the blanket to give it just enough lift so your head is above your heart. Relax your legs, shoulders, and neck. Remain here for 10–15 breaths. Using your hands, bring your knees together and then slowly roll off the bolster onto one side. Keep your bolster and blanket setup.
Parsva Upavistha Konasana (Side Seated Wide Angle Pose) | 1 minute each side
Slowly come to a seated position with your legs spread wide. Place a block on the inside of your right calf. Inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale, lean forward, and gently twist your chest over your right leg, resting your fingertips or hands on the mat and letting your forehead rest on the block. Remain here for 5 breaths. Inhale and slowly lift your chest. Repeat on the other side.
Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose) | 3 minutes
If you have low back tightness or pain or if you have any tenderness in your knees, skip this pose. Otherwise, come to sit on your heels and place a bolster against the base of your sacrum. Bring your ankles a little wider than your hips and sit between them. If you feel any discomfort, try to bring your knees as wide as your hips. If that doesn’t bring relief, move to the next pose. Slowly recline onto your bolster, supporting your head with a blanket. Remain here for 30–45 breaths. Bring your hands alongside your bolster and slowly press yourself back up to seated. Shift your weight onto your right hip and bring your left leg in front of you. Repeat on the other side.
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand-to-Big Toe Pose) | 1 minute each side
Lie on your back with your big toes together. Inhale and bring your right leg vertical, clasping the back of your thigh. Push your thigh against your hands until you feel a stretch but not a strain. Remain for 5-10 breaths. Switch sides.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) | 1 minute
Start by lying on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart directly beneath your knees. Inhale and lift your pelvis. Place a block under your sacrum (the flat, triangle-shape bone in your lower back) and release your weight onto the block. The block should feel comfortable and supportive; if it does not, lift your hips off the block and readjust it. You can have your block on any side; only turn on the tallest edge if your back feels extremely relaxed and comfortable. Open your arms onto the floor in a cactus shape, then lift your heart. Remain for 10–15 breaths. Inhale and lift your hips slightly, then use a hand to slide the block out to the side. Slowly lower your hips to the mat and allow your low back to sink to the mat.
Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) | 3 minutes
Sit close to the wall, with one hip touching it, and bring your hands slightly behind your hips. Bend your elbows and slowly lean back as you simultaneously lower your back to the floor and sweep your legs up the wall. Bring your buttocks as close to the wall as possible. Let your legs relax into the wall, keeping a slight bend in your knees if your hamstrings are tight. Rest with your arms by your sides or in cactus arms, palms up. (If you prefer a little more cushioning beneath your spine, first fold a blanket lengthwise into a narrow stack that’s the length of your spine. As you sit close to the wall, place the blanket behind you, perpendicular to the wall, and lie back onto the blanket as you sweep your legs up the wall.) Remain for 30–45 breaths.
Siddhasana, variation (Adept’s Pose, variation) | 1 minute
Sit tall on a blanket and cross your ankles. Inhale and lift your spine, and exhale as you take your left hand to your outer right knee. Place your right hand on the floor behind you for support. Inhale and lengthen; exhale and gently twist deeper. Remain for 10–15 breaths. Switch sides.
Siddhasana (Adept’s Pose) | 3 minutes
Sit with your ankles lined up. Softly close your eyes, tuning into the rhythm of your breath and becoming aware of your heartbeat. Inhale and lengthen your spine; exhale and root down through your seat. Rest your hands on your knees, with index fingertips touching thumbs.
Savasana (Corpse Pose) | 4 minutes
Lie on your back, letting your legs and arms relax at your sides. If you prefer, bring a bolster beneath your knees and the folded blanket beneath your head. Let the weight of your body sink into your mat and let your attention rest on your breath. Take a long, slow exhale. Remain as long as you like in the pose.
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