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We all know what it’s like to lie awake in bed at an indecent hour and try to will ourselves to sleep. Futilely, of course. It’s as if the more we attempt to doze off, the more elusive sleep becomes. You could blame that double espresso you had after lunch. Or the backbend you did at yoga class earlier in the evening.
Or perhaps what’s at fault with your insomnia isn’t something you did but rather something that you didn’t do—balance your yin and yang energies. If that’s the case, Yin Yoga can help you get better sleep.
What (exactly) is yin and yang?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), everything in the universe has yin and yang qualities. Things that are yang tend to be bright, loud, hot, direct, and active.
Yang manifests as the fire element and is about making things happen. Yang is the sun. Yang is vinyasa yoga. Generally speaking, things that are yin tend to be dark, hidden, cool, subtle, and still. The moon is yin. Meditating is yin. Yin manifests as the water element and tends to be more yielding and surrendering.
The presence of one defines the other. Something that is inherently yin is in relationship to something else that is either more or less yin, and relates the principle underlying Chinese medicine.
What do yin and yang have to do with sleep?
When yin and yang energy in our lives are in balance, Chinese medicine posits, we’re healthy. And when things get out of whack, there’s a greater likelihood of things slipping in our health. There are usually telltale signs. We simply need to be curious about these symptoms, rather than ignore them, so we can start to understand the underlying cause.
One very common symptom of imbalance between yin and yang is insomnia or poor sleep, which is something you are likely to experience when you have too much yang energy or too little yin energy. Traditional Chinese Medicine works with the principle that your energy, or qi, flows through lines, or meridians, throughout the body. These lines of energy need to be open and balanced in order for us to remain in balance.
How can Yin Yoga help with insomnia?
Not being able to sleep is considered an imbalance in Chinese medicine, which addresses the energy meridians and seeks to balance the body’s energy by tonifying or unblocking your qi. Acupuncture is one approach to this, in which needles are placed in specific points on meridians to balance energy excesses or deficiencies.
Yin Yoga is largely based on the same principle. It seeks to address energy along the meridians, which are believed to be situated in our connective tissue. These not-too-intense, longer-held stretches bring profound release and physical benefits in terms of enhancing flexibility. Yet the underlying theory upon which Yin is based posits that there is another sort of release that allows blocked energy to circulate.
This sequence of stretches for sleep is designed to enhance your yin energy and cool your yang aspects to promote a proper night of rest. In addition to incorporating some yin into your evening, don’t forget to tamp down any yang elements in your evening, whether it’s an intense workout, a heated conversation, or an unresolved issues from work or school. Breathe easily as you remain in these stretches.
See also: 15 Yoga Poses to Help You Sleep Better
Why this pose will help you sleep: Difficulty sleeping is connected to a heart imbalance in Chinese medicine. That’s because the heart is seen as the “house” of the mind, or spirit. If the heart is weak or agitated, it disturbs the mind, causing sleep problems. This pose targets the meridians of the arms, including the heart meridian, which is especially involved with calming the mind.
How to: Come to your hands and knees. If you like, place a folded blanket beneath your knees. and then walk your hands about a foot forward and a little wider than your shoulders. Allow your arms to lengthen until you feel a stretching sensation in the underside of your arms into your armpits. If your forehead doesn’t touch the mat, you can slide a block or pillow beneath your forehead or you can rest your chin on the mat. Relax your shoulders and allow your chest to drop toward the mat. You can keep your toes tucked under or release them so the tops of the feet are on the mat. Breathe. Remain here for anywhere from 3-5 minutes.
Why this pose will help you sleep: This pose specifically targets the liver meridian, which runs through your inner legs and helps promote a free flow of energy through the body so that all organs function better, which in turn helps you rest well. It also affects the bladder meridian—which runs down your back body, along the sides of your spine, and down the back of your legs—and influences the water element of the body, thereby cooling excess heat and calming the mind.
How to: Sit and widen your legs just enough to feel a mild stretch along your inner legs. Place your hands in front of you and fold forward, hinging at your hips. Sitting on a folded blanket can help tilt your pelvis forward, and a gentle rounding of the spine is fine. You may want to rest your chest, arms, and/or head on a bolster or a couple of stacked pillows to help your upper body relax. Breathe. Remain here anywhere from 3-5 minutes.
Why this pose will help you sleep: This relaxed twist, sometimes referred to as “Twisted Roots,” targets all the main meridians that enter and pass through your torso. By gently twisting your spine in this reclining twist, all the meridians are gently stimulated, encouraging an overall balancing between yin and yang energies.
How to: Lie on your back, draw your knees into your chest, and cross your right thigh over your left. Allow your legs to gently fall to your left and try to release any tension in your legs. Your arms can rest down alongside the body, you can rest your right hand on your right hip, or you can bend your elbows and rest with your palms facing the ceiling. Allow your right shoulder to relax and release toward the ground. Breathe. Remain here anywhere from 3-5 minutes. Switch sides.
Learn a style of yoga that’s focused on bringing balance—physically, energetically, and mentally—to your life. Join Josh Summers, founder of the Summers School of Yin Yoga, for our online course Yin Yoga 101—a six-week journey through the foundations and principles of Yin Yoga, along with weekly asana and meditation practices. Learn more and sign up today!