I was asked by Casper Sleep (Creators of the Casper Mattress) to write about the best yoga poses to do before bed to help you sleep. Whether you struggle to fall asleep, struggle to stay asleep, or have an overactive bladder keeping you up all night, yoga can aid in finding balance so that you can find deeper rest. As we transition into fall it is especially important to get good quality sleep as the transition between seasons can result in imbalance throughout the body and with your sleep cycle.
The following yoga poses and breathing exercises can help to calm the restless mind and to stimulate areas of the body that may become imbalanced, resulting in better quality sleep. I have also included a 35 minute flow that can be done right before bed. The poses and flow are based on principles of Yin Yoga and therefore the poses are meant to be done with little to no muscular engagement and are to be held for a few minutes each. It is important to note that because you will be holding the poses for a few minutes each you should only come into the poses to a comfortable and sustainable depth. No forcing or gripping allowed. The relaxation of muscles and holding of the poses can bring a deeper relaxation to the body and a greater focus to the breath, the present moment. Although you are relaxed, you should still feel sensation that will build with time in the areas described for each pose. If you ever feel pain of any sort (sharp, piercing, shooting, electric, tingling), please come out of the pose. It is not important what the pose looks like as long as you feel comfortable and relaxed. As long as you are experiencing no pain, all of the poses described below can be held from 3 to 10 minutes, maybe even longer as it depends on each unique body.
Before beginning the practice, do your best to create a relaxing environment. Turn your TV off, put your phone on silent and far enough away you can’t see it lighting up. Put on some comfy clothes and dim the lights. Feel free to play some relaxing music, light some candles and relax. Sweet dreams ya’ll. ♥
Breathing Exercises (Pranayama)
Bringing focus to the breath can have a profound grounding effect on the body. Stimulating the lungs in a calming manner can help you to let go of sadness, grief, and stress. When performing the poses described below try to bring your focus to your breath. Breathe deeply, but naturally, through your nose throughout the practice. Keep the breath soft and work to lengthen the inhales and exhales. With each inhale notice the glimpse of stillness you find as you transition to your exhale. With each exhale notice the glimpse of stillness you find as you transition to the inhale. If your mind begins to wander, use your breath as a tool to bring focus back to the present moment. Do your best to continue this breath throughout your practice.
Bumble Bee Breath (Bhramari Pranayama):
Bumble Bee Breathing is very effective at calming the body and the mind and can be especially important for those feeling restless and like they can’t turn their brain off. I personally find it also helps me to release any gripping or holding in my jaw as well as relaxing the muscles around my eyes and forehead. To perform Bumble Bee Breath close your mouth and take a deep inhale, as you slowly exhale through your nose begin a gentle hum, an mmmm sound, like the sound of a bee buzzing. Continue this humming sound for your entire exhale. Inhale and repeat. It can help to plug your ears by applying pressure to the cartilage between your ear and your cheek and bring your attention to the feeling of the sound vibrations as you hum. Bumble Bee Breath can be performed at any time, sitting or laying down. I have given the option to incorporate Bumble Bee Breath into the flow below during the opening meditation. Before and after Bumble Bee Breath please breathe in and out through your nose in a calm manner as described previously.
Yoga Poses (Asana)
Don’t be scared of the word meditation. All I am asking you to do is to sit quietly for a few minutes before beginning your practice. Come to a comfortable seated position. This might be with your legs crossed, hips on heals, on a chair, or if sitting just doesn’t work you can always lay down on your back. If seated, you can also sit with your back against the wall for extra support. Once you are comfortable lower your gaze and soften your eyes or close your eyes completely. Use this quiet time to bring your focus to your breath. Begin to let go of the day that you had. Take a few deep inhales through your nose and exhale it all out through your mouth along with the stress of the day. Ask yourself “When was the last time I even noticed I was breathing?”. Slowly and naturally begin to take deeper breaths in and out through your nose. This is your chance to perform a few rounds of Bumble Bee Breath (as described above). Ideally try to perform 6 to 9 rounds but do what is suiting for your body in the moment.
Childs pose is very healing and restful as the head comes below the heart allowing the heart to find rest, which also allows the nervous system to calm. The compression through the stomach can help to stimulate digestion. To come into the pose start by sitting on your heels with your knees close together. Begin to walk your finger tips forward while folding over your thighs. Allow your forehead to come to the floor keeping your hips heavy towards your heels. If your forehead does not reach the floor feel free to prop it up with a pillow or cushion. If its comfortable for your arms you can have them extended over head and relaxed on the floor but if you feel tension or pain in your shoulders then simply extend you arms beside your body and allow your shoulders to relax. Feel free to play with the distance between your knees to find what is most comfortable.
You may feel a gentle stretching along your spine and back body and an opening at the front of your ankles. Don’t worry if you are not feeling sensation as you are still getting many benefits from this pose. If this pose is too intense on your ankles, bring a blanket underneath your ankles to reduce the amount of extension occurring. If this pose bothers your knees there are a few options. The first is to place a blanket or cushion under your knees to prevent pain caused by contact with the floor. The second is to place a blanket in between your calves and your thighs along the back of your knees to reduce the amount of extension in the knee joint. You can also place a pillow under your torso on your thighs to decrease the amount of flexion at the hip and to allow the torso to fully relax.
When you are ready to come out of the pose move very slowly and use your arm to lift your torso back up. Slowly extend your legs out in front of you. Give your legs a gentle shake and do some ankle circles as the blood floods back to your lower body.
Butterfly pose has the ability to stimulate the urinary bladder, gall bladder, and liver meridian lines, which helps to create balance in those organs. This pose is great for those with an over active bladder as it also stimulates the kidneys. It is recommended that for this pose you sit onto a block or blanket (or book, cushion, box, etc) to elevate the hips and allow the top of the pelvis to tilt slightly forward. Sit on your block or blanket with your legs in front of you and the bottoms of your feet touching allowing your knees to splay away from one another. Keep your feet away from your pelvis so that your legs make a large diamond shape. Allow your torso to drape over your legs and feet. You can round your spine as much as you need to. Allow your shoulders to relax wherever is comfortable (even towards your ears). Let go of any muscular engagement and relax into the pose. To make this pose more comfortable you can place a pillow or two under your torso to allow your upper body to relax or even rest a cushion or block under your head to prevent tension from building in your neck. If the sensation is too strong on your knees or inner thighs then you can place support under your knees to keep them slightly propped up. You may feel a stretching sensation in your inner thighs, outer hips, and/or spine and back body. Play with the distance of your feet from your pelvis to find that sweet spot where you feel sensation but can still be relaxed.
To come out of the pose slowly use your arms to lift your torso back up. Bring your hands behind you and allow your hips flexors to release. Slowly begin to extend your legs in front of you and give them a gentle shake.
Straddle is another great pose to help stimulate the kidneys which is important as the kidneys play large role in energy levels (think adrenal fatigue). The urinary bladder meridian lines run along the back body and therefore are also stimulated in this forward fold. The inner leg line is home to the liver meridian line and so if sensation is felt in the inner leg then the liver is being stimulated. If you have a tendency to wake up around 1-3am soaked in sweat this could be an indication of liver imbalance resulting in excess heat when the liver is most active (so liver stimulation is good). It is recommended that for this pose you sit onto a block or blanket (or book, cushion, box, etc) to elevate the hips and allow the top of the pelvis to tilt slightly forward. To come into the pose simply come to a seated position on your block or cushion and extend your legs straight in front of you. Open your legs away from one another to a comfortable depth. Allow your legs to be completely relaxed. Walk your fingers forwards as you curl your spine and relax your torso towards the floor in between your legs. You can allow your head and arms to hang or stack pillows and cushions to allow your upper body to rest. You may be able to rest your head onto the floor. The sensation in this pose will be felt in the inner thighs, hamstrings and/or spine and back body. If your hamstrings are too tight to allow you to fold forward then bend your knees and bring pillows or cushions underneath your knees and fold forward with bent legs. Play with the distance between your legs to find that sweet spot.
To come out of the pose, move slowly as you use your arms to lift your torso back up. Use you arm strength to slowly bend your knees and bring you legs towards one another. Take a few moments and observe the sensations before transitioning.
The name says it all, in this pose you make your body curve like a banana. This pose is a deep side stretch and is one of my favourites so I had to include it! To come into the pose, start by laying flat with your arms overhead and your legs close together. Keep your hips heavy where they are and slowly begin to wiggle your upper and lower body in the same direction. For example, to stretch your right side body you would keep your hips heavy and gently walk your feet over to the left and also wiggle your upper body and arms over to the left. If you require more sensation you can cross your outside leg over your inside leg to intensify the side bend. One of my favourite things to do in this pose is to place a heavy blanket or pillow over my upper thighs. It helps to encourage a more grounding and calming sensation. If your arms begin to get tingly when overhead then place them on your torso instead of overhead. You should feel sensation along the entire side body. This pose must be completed on either side to create balance in the body.
To come out of the pose slowly move your upper body and legs back to centre. Place your arms by your sides and just take a few breaths in stillness before transitioning to the opposite side or next pose.
My teacher, Bernie Clark, calls this the bladder pose as it deeply stimulates both the urinary and gall bladders (great for your kidneys and liver too!). It also massages the stomach and other digestive organs and helps to restore equilibrium to the nervous system. This pose must be performed on both sides of the body but we will use the right side as an example. To complete to pose on the right side first come to laying on your back. Bring your right knee into your chest. Wiggle your hips over to the right a little bit and then allow your right knee to fall over to the left side. If your knee doesn’t quite reach the floor then bring a block underneath it to provide support. Try to stay heavy in your right shoulder but if it lifts off of the floor try placing a blanket or pillow underneath so you can stay relaxed. You can turn your gaze wherever is comfortable, turning it to the right will deepen the twist. Your arms can be spread out to the sides or you can use your left hand to help keep your right knee moving towards the floor. Please remember that there is no forcing or holding in Yin Yoga. Relax into the pose. Keep breathing deeply in and out of your nose, allowing your belly to expand on each inhale.
To come out of the pose gently roll back to centre and extend both legs on the floor. Take a few breaths in stillness before transitioning to the opposite side or next pose.
You have quieted your mind, calmed your nervous system, released tension and stress, and stimulated different organs of the body to help restore balance. Now it is time to enjoy your sweet sweet dreams. It is your choice whether you stay on your mat/the floor for savasana or roll right into bed and allow your savasana to take you to sleep. Either way, make yourself as comfortable as possible. You can place a pillow underneath your knees or even place a heavy blanket or pillow on your upper thighs to help encourage that grounding feeling. Turn the lights off, blow out the candles, stop the music and feel yourself slip into an even deeper state of relaxation. With each exhale feel yourself getting a little bit heavier. If you mind is becoming restless again then use your breath as a tool to bring it back to the present. I do this often! If my mind still feels busy I will bring my focus to my breath, counting down from 20 breaths as so… I am inhaling 20, I am exhaling 20, I am inhaling 19, I am exhaling 19, I am inhaling 18, etc. I usually don’t even make it to 10 before passing out. Relax your tongue away from the top of your mouth, let go of any gripping in your jaw. Drift into dreamland.
35 Minute Bedtime Flow
- Seated/reclined meditation 4 min with 6-9 rounds of Bumble Bee Breath
- 1 min for transition
- Childs pose 5 min
- 1 min for transition
- Butterfly 4 min
- 1 min for transition
- Straddle 4 min
- 1 min for transition
- Bananasana 3 min each side
- 1 min for transition
- Reclined twist 3 min each side
- 1 min for transition