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Sneaking in an evening yoga practice can be…challenging. Chances are you want to collapse and distract yourself from the day ahead. Or ruminate over to-do lists and what ifs related to the day behind. You may even find yourself caught somewhere in between those conflicting compulsions.
None of these scenarios are especially conducive toward restful sleep.
Yet when you can summon even 10 minutes of space for an evening yoga practice, you can more easily come back to yourself, back to not completely tuning out, back to not constantly contemplating should haves, back to being able to actually rest during your down time.
In this evening yoga practice, you’ll allow yourself to simply slow down and tune into your body and your breath. As you take yourself through some quiet forward bends and hip openers, you’ll notice that without even trying, you’ll ease the tension—physical as well as psychological—and settle into the mood for sleep.
A calming evening yoga sequence to help you unwind
Come onto your mat on your hands and knees. Separate your knees a little wider than your hips and draw your big toes together so that your legs look like a V. Lower your hips back towards your heels and rest your forehead on your mat, a block, or a folded blanket. Walk your hands forward and rest your forearms on the floor in line with your shoulders. Close your eyes. Allow yourself to be present in your body. Settle in and stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
Cat and Cow (Marjaryasana and Bitilasana)
Come back to your hands and knees and bring your wrists beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips. This two-part pose is meant to stretch your spine and the muscles around your spine. On an inhale, slowly release your belly toward the floor and draw your chest forward as you lift your sit bones and the crown of your head toward the celling, creating a slight backbend. On your next exhale, move your spine in the opposite direction, rounding your mid-back toward the ceiling. Sync your movement with your breath and move slowly through these shapes at least 5 more times.
From hands and knees, pause after your last inhale, walk your hands one hand print forward so your wrists are where your fingers were, and tuck your toes under as you lift your hips up and back. Press down through your index fingers. Keep your arms straight as you look back at your legs and pedal your legs, bending one knee and then the other, to stretch your hamstrings and calves. Stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
If you experience tightness in your shoulders, take your hands a little wider and turn them out slightly toward the long edges of your mat.
If you experience tightness in your hamstrings, keep your knees bent a little.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) Holding Opposite Elbows and Twisting
From Down Dog, walk your feet to the front of the mat. Remain in a forward bend. You can rest your fingertips on the floor or a block or you can take hold of opposite elbows and gently sway from side to side. Allow your neck and shoulders to release and let your head hang heavy. Stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
Release your fingertips to the mat or a block, inhale, and lift halfway to lengthen through your spine. Bend your left knee and reach your right hand toward the ceiling. Lean your head slightly back, and broaden across your chest. If it’s comfortable, turn your gaze toward your right thumb. Stay here for 5 deep breaths. Switch sides.
If you experience tightness in your hamstrings, keep your knees bent a little.
If you experience low back pain, simply bring your hand to your hip rather than toward the ceiling during the twist.
From Standing Forward Bend, come to a squat with your big toes touching and your knees wide apart or, if you prefer more of a stretch, take your feet as wide as the mat and turn your toes slightly out. Bring your hands together at your chest or walk your hands forward on the mat, round your spine, and let your head hang to allow a deeper stretch along your back body. Stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths.
If your heels don’t come to the mat, keep your heels lifted and bring your hands to the floor for support or slide a rolled blanket or pillow underneath your heels.
From Squat, straighten your legs and come into a Standing Forward Bend. Walk yourself back to Down Dog. Take your left knee forward to touch your inner left wrist. You knee should be to the left of your torso. Move your left foot forward in front of your right knee and bring your left ankle toward your right wrist to any extent that is comfortable. Lower your right knee and inch it back until it’s a comfortable stretch. You may need to tuck a blanket or pillow underneath your left hip. Inhale and lift your chest, exhale and gently fold forward on an exhale. Place your forearms down on the mat and get comfortable. You can stack your hands and rest your forehead on them.
Relax your jaw and eyes and focus on your breath here, specifically on the exhale. Stay for at least 5 deep breaths and then move to Downward-Facing Dog. Pause for several breaths, noticing the difference between your sides. Repeat on your right side.
If Pigeon feels too intense, you can come onto your back and take Reclining Pigeon. Bend your knees and take your feet flat on the mat about hip-distance apart. Bring your left ankle to your right knee to form a figure 4. You can gently press your left thigh or simply relax your arms alongside your body or rest them on your chest.
Come to a seated position on your mat. Draw your feet together and move your heels out in front of you to create a diamond shape. Start to lean forward from your hips and let your spine round. Reach your chest toward your feet rather than your thighs. No matter how much or how little you lean forward, you want it to be comfortable. Take five to ten deep breaths here.
If you feel any discomfort in the backs of your knees, try shifting your feet further away from you or bring a block, folded blanket, or pillow underneath each knee.
From Bound Angle, bring your hands to your outer thighs and draw your knees together. Extend your left leg straight in front of you. Bring your right foot up toward your upper inner left thigh like a seated Vrksasana (Tree Pose). Turn your upper body toward your straight left leg, inhale, and lift your chest up. As you exhale, extend forward over your left leg. Again, lean your chest toward your foot rather than your thigh. Try to walk your hands toward your front foot or take a strap or towel around the base of your left foot and hold it with both hands. Stay for a 5 to 10 deep breaths. Switch sides.
If you feel any pulling in your low back, ease yourself back slightly.
If you feel any pulling behind the knee of your straight leg, roll a blanket and slide it underneath that knee.
Come onto your back, bend your knees, and take your feet as wide as your mat. Let both legs fall to the left at the same time like windshield wipers. Place your left hand on your belly and reach your right hand out on to the side. You can stay here, or, to increase the stretch, rest your left foot on your right knee. Stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths. Switch to the second side.
From Reclining Twist, bring your knees back to center and slide a bolster, rolled blanket, or a pillow underneath your knees and rest your heels on the floor. Separate your feet wider than you hips with your arms resting away from your body at a slight angle, palms facing the ceiling. Close your eyes. If you feel chilly, cover yourself with a blanket. If the lights aren’t dim, you can cover your eyes with your arm, the edge of a blanket, or a towel. Allow your body to be heavy and sink into the mat. Intentionally release all your muscles Give yourself permission to surrender and let go of the day. Honor yourself and your practice and appreciate that you made the time to get on your mat for an evening yoga practice. Remain here for at least 5 minutes.
You may want to take this last pose in bed.
About our contributor
Claire Mark has been practicing yoga and meditation since 1996 and teaching since 1999. She has studied many different types of yoga—Jivamukti, Bikram, Ashtanga, Anusara, Vinyasa, and Iyengar. She considers herself to be a yoga mutt, taking in the best of what these different styles have to offer and blending them to create her own unique style.
Claire teaches with compassion and appreciation of the individual, yet encourages everyone to challenge themselves and work in a smart but strong way. Claire continues to study with many senior teachers, and her love of yoga and meditation continues to grow with each day on the mat. Follow her at @clairmarkyoga.com.