Updated: Feb 26, 2020
Yoga doesn’t always have to be a vigorous, get-your-blood-pumping workout, although many of us love the feeling those classes give us.
In fact, some of the most beneficial aspects of a yoga practice are the very subtle, minute changes that poses bring into your body, and you can reach these benefits during a short, gentle yoga sequence done at home!
Taking a few minutes at the end of the day to come back into your body and make yourself feel comfortable for bedtime is essential to unwinding at the end of a busy day.
Get ready to feel more at home in your body with these yoga poses to help you sleep and relax into a great night’s sleep.
1. Hero pose (Virasana)
Starting in a comfortable seated pose with your glutes resting on your heels with the tops of your feet on the floor, hero pose brings gentle stretching action to your knees and ankles.
This pose allows lubricating fluid to flood these areas, which protects them against injury, gets rid of any cracking sounds or minor discomfort you may be feeling here, and helps them feel more loose, warm, and comfortable—without any motion required.
Take this opportunity to lengthen the spine upward, and open the chest as you find a calming breath pattern. Use your deep, even breaths to slow down your heart rate and clear your mind.
2. Cat and Cow Pose (Marjaryasana and Bitilasana)
From Hero pose, roll forward onto your hands and knees. For cat pose, exhale as you tilt the crown of the head and the tailbone down to the ground, arching your spine into a C-curve and pulling shoulder blades apart.
Inhale into Cow pose by bringing the crown of the head and the tailbone up toward the ceiling, hollowing out the lower back. Flow between these two poses as long as you’d like, moving with the pattern of your inhales and exhales and feeling like you’re putting space between every vertebrae and loosening up your spine.
When you’re done, come back to a neutral spine in tabletop.
3. Child’s Pose (Balasana)
From tabletop, sink your hips back to your heels and settle your chest between your thighs. Your big toes are touching one another and your knees are as far apart as they need to be to help you settle comfortably and be able to breathe deeply.
With your forehead resting on the ground or a blanket, walk your fingertips out on front of you, stretching through the arms. You can also roll your forehead from side to side on the ground to give yourself a mini face massage.
4. Figure Four Against the Wall (Modified Sucirandhrasana)
Transitioning over onto your back, position yourself so your tailbone is pointing at the base of a wall (or another flat, tall surface). Place your glutes about a foot away from the base of the wall.
Place the bottom of one foot on the wall and, while keeping your tailbone in contact with the ground, flex the opposite foot and gently place your ankle on top of the opposite thigh. Keep your top foot flexed throughout the pose, with the toes pulling back toward the shin, to protect the knee joint from injury.
For added intensity, place your tailbone closer to the wall and/or gently press the top knee open to the side with your fingertips. This deep hip stretch is a low-impact alternative to poses such as Pigeon and Lotus, but it still gives you the benefits of releasing any tension from the hips and lower back.
Hip stretches are essential to feeling comfortable and relaxed before sleep. When you’re ready, switch legs. See this article if you’d like more detailed instructions on getting into this pose.
5. Legs Up the Wall (Viparita Karani)
From your figure four stretch, unfold your legs straight up the wall. If you can, bring your tailbone closer to the base of the wall, perhaps even to the point where your glutes are touching the wall. This pose can be a great gentle hamstring stretch.
It also helps drain lymph and lactic acid from the legs, which helps prevent injury and decrease the symptoms of fatigue and soreness if you spend a lot of time on your feet. Let the looseness that you brought into your lower back with the figure four stretch help you feel more comfortable in this pose.
6. Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Jaṭhara Parivartānāsana)
Transitioning to face away from the wall, bring both knees into your chest and rock back and forth. When you’re ready, bring your arms out into a ‘T’ with your hands in line with your shoulders and let your knees fall over to one side.
You can keep both knees bent, straighten the top leg, or choose to straighten both legs. If you’re not feeling as much of the twist as you’d like, it may be helpful to adjust your tailbone, bringing your glutes further over to the middle of your mat so that your back is in one straight line down the center of your mat area—this may intensify the stretch in the lower back.
If you’d like a neck stretch, take the eye gaze to the side opposite your knees. Take this pose on both sides.
7. Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
Bringing both knees back into your chest, grasp your two big toes with the index and middle finger. Then pull the heels up to the ceiling, keeping the tailbone down on the ground.
Your knees should be pulling into your underarm area, and you can rock back and forth to gently massage the spine. This is a great pose for relieving abdominal discomfort and is a perfect final spinal relaxation pose.
8. Reclining Goddess Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
From Happy Baby pose, release the feet down to the mat. Bring the soles of the feet to touch one another and let the knees fall open, pulling the heels as close toward the pelvis as is confortable.
This pose brings a gentle stretch into the pelvis, low abdomen, and inner thighs. Pull your shoulder blades underneath you, putting space between the tops of your shoulders and your earlobes, and then bring your left hand to rest on your heart and your right hand to rest on your belly.
Allow yourself to feel your breath as you bring it down into your chest to the very bottom of your lungs. Let your breath come deeply and evenly, relax your face, and close your eyes if it’s comfortable for you
9. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
From reclining goddess pose, simply release your feet down to the corners of your mat or your bed, letting the toes fall open to the sides.
Release your hands so that palms are facing up and the backs of the hands are resting on the mat/bed a few inches away from the hips. Simply let your eyes close and let your mind be still and free of thoughts, while letting your breath come naturally and letting your body feel heavy, relaxed, and tranquil.
Try these yoga poses in this sequence and let me know how it goes!