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Does your mind lace up for laps just as your body crosses the finish line and your head hits the pillow? As lonely as late-night mind racing can feel, nearly a quarter of working Americans suffer from insomnia and daytime fatigue as a consequence. Use this therapeutic sequence to soothe your nervous system and quiet your mind, priming your body to sink into a long, restful sleep.
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Traditionally, the left nostril is associated with the body’s cooling energy and the right with its heat. This left-nostril pranayama practice focuses the mind away from stress. Simultaneously, it massages the organs that activate the onset of sleep, signaling your vagus nerve to send messages to the brain to relax.
In a comfortable seated position, make Mrigi Mudra (Deer Seal) with your right hand by bending your index and middle finger to your palm, leaving your ring and pinky finger extended. Press your right thumb to your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril. Then release your right thumb and take your ring finger to your left nostril, exhaling through your right nostril. Continue for 1–3 minutes or until you start to feel calm.
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Big Toe Pose
This pose stimulates the liver and kidneys in the back body, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for releasing tension and putting the body to sleep.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Gently fold forward from your hips. Grip your big toes firmly with the index finger, middle finger, and thumb of each hand. Bend your elbows and actively ground your feet into the earth, drawing the crown of your head down as you relax your head and neck. Breathe deeply and hold for 1–3 minutes.
Fire Log Pose
As you actively focus on releasing tension in your hips, your body will respond by releasing tension in other muscle groups, preparing you for a relaxing night’s sleep.
Extend your left leg straight out then bend your knee to a 90-degree angle. Flex your right foot and place it on top of your left knee so your right shin is stacked on top of your left. If this creates pain in your hip joint, move your left foot closer to your pelvis. Walk your hands forward as you exhale, increasing the hip stretch. Hold for 1 minute. Repeat on the other side.
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Extended Puppy Pose
To counteract the effects of long hours behind a desk, use this inverted passive backbend to deliver fresh blood to the heart, while also relieving tension and opening the shoulders. The gentle forehead massage also stimulates the pituitary gland, which controls melatonin and the body’s sleep-wake cycle.
From Agnistambhasana, roll forward onto all fours. Keeping your hips stacked over your knees, come onto your fingertips and walk them forward. Keep your elbows lifted, as you relax your chest and forehead down. Then, massage your forehead from left to right to ease facial tension. Hold for 1 minute. To release, bring your hips back to your heels for Child’s Pose.
Roger Cole, PhD, research scientist and Iyengar yoga teacher demonstrated that inverted and reclining postures like Supine Twist promote sleep by relaxing the baroreflex, a reflex known to maintain nearly constant blood pressure.
Lie on your back and draw your knees into your chest. Extend your arms straight out to the sides and let your knees fall to the right, stacking your left knee on top of the right. Draw your left shoulder down as you allow gravity to pull your legs toward the earth.
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This completely passive pose allows you to focus on conscious relaxation as you prepare your mind for deep sleep. It has the added benefit of draining stale blood from your legs and refreshing your circulatory system.
Place a block or a bolster 5 inches from the wall. Bring your sacrum on top of the prop, so that your sitting bones slide into the space between the support and the wall. Take your arms straight out to the sides with palms facing the earth. Stay in this pose for 5–15 minutes. Do a body scan to slowly relax each major muscle group in the body, beginning with your feet and working your way up to your face.