By Leah Zerbe
After teaching gentle yoga for several years, one thing is very clear: Practicing restorative poses and breathwork can absolutely help transform your sleep for the better. (Of course, you should always consult with your healthcare professional before starting any new dietary or lifestyle regimen, including yoga.)
For some folks, the benefits come immediately. For others, more practice is needed. Whichever camp you fall into, regularly committing to your gentle yoga practice can help your stressed-out nervous system find balance, bringing a host of benefits.
As always, let your body be your guide. If anything doesn’t feel comfortable, skip or modify as needed.
If you’re looking for an added bonus and it’s possible and practical to practice outside, you’ll gain the added benefits of earthing. Be sure, though, to avoid practicing yoga in direct sunlight.
This resting posture helps naturally align your body for diaphragmatic breathing, the foundation needed to activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system for better sleep. Breathe out of your nose, if possible, being mindful just to notice the quality of your breath and not trying to control it.
With practice, you’re aiming to build a breath that is smooth, continuous, quiet and deep without effort, with inhalations and exhalations about the same length.
Let’s get started …
- Lie face down on a firm surface.
- Stack your forearms on top of one another, with each hand on the opposite elbow.
- Draw the forearms in so that the chest is slightly off the floor, with the forehead resting on crossed arms.
- If this creates tension in your shoulders, you can slide your elbows out a little wider.
- Slightly separate the legs a comfortable distance with the toes turned in, out or back, whatever feels best in your body.
- Close your eyes. Relax the legs, abdomen and shoulders. Soften the eyes and jaw. Turn your attention to the breath. Feel the cleansing qualities of each exhalation and the rejuvenating effects of each inhalation.
- Center here for as little as 15 breaths or up to 5 minutes.
2. Supported Child’s Pose
The ultimate posture to turn awareness inward to your safe space, don’t hesitate to use props and extra blankets to create a restful position that’s right for you.
- Place a bolster or rolled up blanket along the long edge of your mat.
- Placing the lower end of the bolster between your knees, sit back toward your heels, resting your upper body on the blanket.
- If you feel more comfortable with more elevation, use another blanket or position yoga blocks under the blanket on the end toward your head.
- Turn your head to one side, let the arms relax by your side and just rest for five minutes, or whatever feels best for you.
3. Reclining Twist
This is a wonderful posture to relieve tension in the mid to lower back before bedtime.
- Lie on your back with your arms resting out the side, palms facing up or down, whatever feels best in your body.
- Bend your knees, placing your feet on the floor, hip-distance apart, near your buttocks.
- Exhale, allowing your knees to gently rock to the left toward the floor.
- Inhale, return the knees to center.
- Exhale, drop the knees toward the right.
- Inhale, return to center.
- Work here for 1 to 3 minutes.
Note: You’ve got options here. As you explore, you may want to hold the stretch to one side longer as you continue to breathe in and out. Some folks also prefer to gently turn their gaze in the opposite direction of the knees, keeping the neck relaxed.
4. Legs-Up-the-Wall (or Tree!)
This restorative position is all about helping the body unwind, nourishing the upper body and strengthening the diaphragm.
- For this passive pose, place a folded blanket or bolster about 6 inches from a wall.
- Place your sacrum on the blanket, making any little adjustments for comfort.
- With your arms resting out to yours sides and palms facing down on the floor, take your legs up the wall and simply relax.
- Continue breathing here, letting the belly rise as the diaphragm draws down filling the lungs with each breath, and noticing the belly lower as your exhale.
- Remain here for 2 to 10 minutes.
Caution: Skip this pose if you’re menstruating, pregnant, living with uncontrolled high blood pressure or heart problems, recent abdominal surgery or a detached retina. As always, you need to consult your healthcare professional.
5. Corpse Pose
This final pose may be tempting to skip, but it’s an essential pose that helps your body and mind consolidate your previous positions to balance the nervous system.
- Lie on your back on a firm surface, using a thin blanket or pillow under your head to support your neck.
- With your legs slightly spread and resting on the floor, take your arms out to the side, resting them on the floor.
- Place a folded blanket, foam roller or bolster under the back of your knees for added lower-back support.
- Close your eyes, drawing shoulder blades gently underneath you to open the chest.
- Rest here, observing the flow of your breath for five to 10 minutes.
- To come out of the posture, gently wiggle your fingers and toes, letting your awareness come back into the room.
- Spend a moment noticing the effects of your practice, then go on with your day or get ready for a peaceful night of sleep.
Note: The body will naturally begin to cool down in this pose, so you may want to cover yourself with a blanket before setting up for this final position.
With a B.A. in journalism from Temple University and a M.S. in exercise science from California University of Pennsylvania, Leah Zerbe covers health news and functional fitness topics. She’s also a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a certified yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance. Leah resides on her family’s organic farm in Pennsylvania.