Goodnight, Insomnia: An Urban Zen Sequence for Better Sleep

This combination of restorative yoga, meditation, essential oils, and Reiki—
from dream team Colleen Saidman Yee and Rodney Yee—will help 
ease anxiety and insomnia to deliver your best night’s zzz’s.
Supported Side Child’s Pose

This combination of restorative yoga, meditation, essential oils, and Reiki—
from dream team Colleen Saidman Yee and Rodney Yee—will help ease anxiety and insomnia to deliver your best night’s zzz’s. Like this? Then you'd love the Foundations of Urban Zen, a three-day training in ultimate restoration techniques with the Yees, at YJ LIVE New York, April 21-24. Sign up today!

Around 15 years ago, prominent yoga teacher Colleen Saidman Yee started having trouble sleeping. She would settle into bed and then toss and turn, a list of to-dos running through her head. Or she would wake up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back asleep. It was physically and mentally exhausting. “When I suffer from insomnia, everything seems like too much effort; my nervous system is frazzled, my brain is foggy, and things that normally wouldn’t upset me take me down,” she explains. “Then as evening sets in, I start to worry about not getting to sleep, which is counterproductive.”

Saidman Yee isn’t alone: Sleep disorders like insomnia and circadian rhythm sleep disorder (in which you can’t fall asleep at a conventional bedtime) plague at least 40 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. And an estimated 84 million adults in the United States get fewer than seven hours of sleep a night. That may seem like enough slumber, and for some lucky people it might be, but anything less than seven hours can increase most people’s risk of high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and other conditions that reduce life expectancy, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why are Americans chronically tired? “Many adults sacrifice sleep for work demands,” explains Carol Landis, PhD, professor emerita and sleep researcher at the University of Washington’s School of Nursing. In her 25-plus years of studying sleep, she’s noticed this common adage: I can get by on very little sleep. “This attitude stems from a lack of understanding about the health consequences of inadequate amounts of sleep,” she says.

Stress, a lack of physical activity, and pre-bed screen time are also culprits for keeping us awake, according to the Washington, DC–based Sleep Foundation. As Saidman Yee battled insomnia, she found practices that helped her ease into uninterrupted sleep. Key to her routine: practicing a demanding asana sequence, especially standing poses, during the day, to make sure she doesn’t have pent-up energy in the evening; and restorative poses around bedtime, to promote mental and muscular relaxation.

Scientists have long recognized that muscle-relaxation practices and meditation can treat insomnia, says Roger Cole, PhD, a certified Iyengar teacher and Stanford University–educated sleep researcher. “Restorative yoga—which incorporates both—can help you sleep,” he adds. Cole explains: The physiological deep relaxation of restorative yoga and the process of falling asleep are nearly identical—your heartbeat slows and your breathing grows quieter; your muscles release; and your brain waves slow down.

Enter Urban Zen Integrative Therapy (UZIT), created by the Yees and launched with fashion designer Donna Karan in 2007. (Read more about their collaboration in our Good Karma Awards.) The UZIT system relies on the synergistic effects of in-bed movements, restorative poses, breath-awareness exercises, meditation, essential oils, and Reiki (energy balancing) to ease insomnia, pain, anxiety, nausea, constipation, and fatigue—things we experience in daily life but that are amplified during illness or a hospital stay. The Yees crafted the UZIT sequence to help all of us sleep soundly. Try it for yourself, and we’ll see you in the morning!

See alsoMeet the Founders of the Urban Zen Foundation

Getting Started

This UZIT sequence designed by Colleen Saidman Yee and Rodney Yee offers poses that can help you rest. Additional essential-oil treatment, a breath-awareness meditation (included below), and self-Reiki work with the poses, or done on their own, can enhance your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Begin the sequence by taking a few simple steps: Turn off any screens; gather blankets, bolsters, pillows, a strap, a block, a sandbag (or another form of weight), and an eye pillow; and dim the lights. Place a few drops of lavender or frankincense essential oil onto a cotton ball and put it near your head or into a diffuser. Both fragrances are known to help reduce nervous-system tension and promote sleep. If you notice anxiety or stress creeping in, count the length of your inhales and exhales, working to eventually extend the exhalation by several counts, or use the breath-awareness meditation on this page. If you start to fall asleep in any of these poses, call it a night and crawl under the covers.

Mix It Up

  • If you are physically and mentally agitated, practice poses 7, 5, and then 1.
  • If you are exhausted, practice poses 9, 6, and then 2.
  • If you are struggling with a monkey mind, practice poses 8, 4, and then 3.