With the majority of yoga students attending classes during sunrise, lunch breaks, or the coveted after-work purge, a late-evening practice doesn’t get much hype. However, winding down before bed with a few relaxing shapes and breathing exercises can work wonders when it comes to a better night’s sleep. Pre-snooze yoga doesn’t have to be dynamic, creative or vigorous. In fact, simplicity is key, offering you the chance to drop into stillness and rekindle your innate sense of calm (which, more likely than not, got lost amidst your busy day).
In the evening, it can be hard to relax. Residual thoughts, decisions and emotions left over from the day’s occurrences often refuse to lose momentum. And nothing excels at keeping you awake into wee hours like a busy mind. This is where slower, more introspective yoga practices—such as yin yoga and restorative yoga—really shine. They have the ability to activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), stimulating a relaxation response that counters the stressors of the day.
Yin and restorative poses require long, passive holds (whether fully supported with props, as in restorative yoga, or only aided by props, as in yin yoga), providing you the opportunity to relinquish control, while dropping you into a deep, meditative state. During the first few minutes your thoughts will likely run rampant; let them. They’ll eventually run their course, seeing as how there is nowhere for them to go, no additional movement occurring, and no new stimulus outside of the shape.
Eventually, this stillness has a calming effect. Thoughts dissipate. You drop in deeper, connecting more to your breath, which gets fuller as you embrace rhythmic inhales and exhales. Awareness on this breathing helps you to become more present. A new clarity is achieved. The distractions that hamper sleep have now disappeared.
To help you settle into a better night’s sleep, try the following sequence. Remember not to get caught up in the shapes and keep in mind this practice’s ultimate purpose. It isn’t about flawless alignment, post-worthy poses or pushing limits. Instead, it’s intimate, reflective and deeply nourishing. Whether you choose to add this practice into your regular routine, or roll out your mat only on nights when sleep eludes you, take fifteen minutes and explore the following:
Sama Vritti Pranayama (Equal Breath Practice)
Begin in any comfortable seat with eyes closed. If you choose to sit cross-legged (in Sukhasana), having a pillow underneath your sit bones will allow the hips to soften and the knees to relax toward the earth. Inhale fully for a count of four. Pause and hold this breath for another count of four, while resisting the urge to tense your airway. Then, exhale for a count of four and stay empty for a count of four. Repeat for 3 minutes.
Stay seated and cross your shins. If you’re sitting on a pillow, continue using this prop for support. Bring your shins parallel to the front of your mat and align your knees over your ankles. If you have plenty of space in your hips, one shin can stack on top of the other (opposite ankles and knees will be touching). Either stay upright or choose to fold forward to deepen the pose. Hold on one side for 2–3 minutes, before switching the cross or stack of shins.
Come onto hands and knees. If your body is feeling tight, add any movement that feels good (cat/cows, spinal mobility, rolls of the head and neck, wrist stretches… whatever is calling to you). To get into child’s pose, bring your big toes to touch and press your hips back toward your heels. Choose to keep the arms stretching forward, have them down by your sides, or stack hands underneath the forehead if there is a gap between your head and the floor. Hold for 2 minutes and breathe into the spaces between your back ribs.
Lie on your back, bend your knees and plant your feet on the floor. Cross your right thigh over your left. Scoot your hips a few inches to the right (this will allow your spine to be long once you’re in the twist) and fan your arms out like wings. Bring your knees toward your chest and let them fall to the left. If your right shoulder blade lifts and you roll onto your left side, slide a pillow underneath your thighs for support. Hold for 2 minutes, taking long, belly breaths. Hug your knees into your chest for a few breaths before switching sides.
Reclined Bound Angle Pose (With a pillow and blanket)
Using a pillow and blanket is optional, but they are recommended here for added comfort. If you’re using these props, sit up and place the pillow behind you. Its short edge will be right up against your low back. Place a folded blanket at end of your pillow furthest away from you. Slowly lower yourself onto the pillow (it will be lengthwise with your spine) and adjust your blanket so it supports your head and neck. Start with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Let your knees fall wide and bring the soles of your feet to touch. If you can’t relax your hips here, take the opposite variation: with your knees bent and feet flat to the floor, walk your feet wide and let your knees fall in, so they are resting against one another. Stay for 3 minutes or more before making your way to bed.
Kacey Janeen Waxler is a California-based yoga instructor and writer on the hunt for adventure and good stories. Her words can be located amongst noteworthy brands including Corona Extra, Athleta and Darling Magazine, and in the flesh she can be found reading unapologetically from the glow of a headlamp, geeking out over sequencing, or neck deep in a deliciously hot bath. Follow her adventures at @kaceyjaneen or grab her vinyasa sequences that take you on a journey at theflowfix.com.