For many people, sleep (and the process of getting to that point) is a delicate dance: no afternoon coffee pick-me-ups after 3 pm, A/C and fan on full blast, cooling eye mask, weighted blanket, and a white noise machine piping whale calls from the corner of the room.
Oftentimes, though, no matter how precisely you try to time the perfect fall-asleep routine, your snooze still suffers. A 2021 study from The Lancet Neurology reported that roughly two out of every three Americans are sleeping more poorly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And much of the reason for a lacklustre snooze? You guessed it: boatloads of stress. Another 2021 report from Canadian Psychology noted that stress was one of the primary root causes for poor, interrupted sleep.
Granted, while it can be difficult to rid yourself of stress entirely (oftentimes, the only way to remove it relies on distancing yourself from the stressor altogether, which isn’t always doable if it’s a work-, school-, or life event-related), there are some things you can do to help ease the effect that stress has on your body.
For example, doing yoga for better sleep. Science has found that the practice itself, which relies on gentle stretching, deep breathing, and mindfulness, releases a brain chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which has been shown to aid in your body’s response to stress by reducing inflammation and keeping your mood elevated.
And as far as sleep aids go, it’s hard to top yoga. The American Sleep Foundation lists yoga as one of the top ways to improve snooze, particularly among adult women, who often have a harder time sleeping than men.
Phyllicia Bonanno, a certified yoga instructor, agrees. “Yoga gets the body moving and blood flowing, and also allows you to focus your breath and tap into a calmer state of being,” she explains. And tapping into a calmer state of being has been paramount for Bonanno lately.
She recently left her full-time teaching job to pursue health and wellness full-time — an exciting (but stressful) transition that has altered her sleep pattern. Practising yoga, along with a series of breathing rituals and frequent journaling, has helped her adhere to a regular sleep schedule with few interruptions.
Here, Bonanno shares her go-to 15-minute flow of yoga for better sleep. For each pose, allow for five to 10 deep breaths. “Focus on each breath,” she reiterates. “As thoughts come into your head, even stressful ones, allow them — this is your time to release and let go,” she explains.
“But don’t dwell [on those negative thoughts]. As you breathe in and out, try to focus on a mantra that is aligned with a peaceful night of rest.” A few of her favourites:
- I am calm and safe.
- I will let go of the stress of today.
- I am worthy of rest.
- I welcome pleasant dreams.
- I will wake rested and refreshed.
“You can do this flow right before bed,” she explains, noting that you can do all of the yoga poses for sleep (including savasana) in bed in your pyjamas if you’re more comfortable that way. Otherwise, a yoga mat on the floor works just fine, too.
15-Minute Yoga for Better Sleep
How it works: Hold each pose for 5 to 10 deep breaths. Slowly and intentionally transition from pose to pose.
You’ll need: a yoga mat, yoga blocks, and yoga blanket (all optional)
Sit cross-legged on the floor or bed, propping a blanket or block underneath hips if desired. Ground through sit bones and draw the crown of head toward the ceiling. Place one hand on the belly and the other hand on the heart, inhaling to fill lungs with as much air as possible. Allow eyes to close. Hold for one to two counts, then release while exhaling. Take another deep breath in, feeling the heart open and expand. Hold for a few moments, then exhale again with an audible sigh. Take another deep breath in, when releasing, this time envision letting go of all the stress and chatter of the day. Hold for roughly five to 10 more breaths.
From a cross-legged seated yoga position, inhale to press palms together and reach both arms up toward the ceiling. Hold for a moment at the top, then exhale while slowly bringing the right hand roughly six inches to the outside of the right thigh. Extend the left arm up over the ear while bending the upper body slightly to the right, feeling a stretch in the left obliques and back. Gaze up toward fingertips and allow eyes to gently close. Take a moment at the top to breathe, feeling the chest and stomach stretch and expand during the inhale, then deflate during the exhale. Take a deep breath and inhale to return to the centre, repeating on the opposite side. Hold each side for five to 10 breaths.
After doing the second side, inhale to return to the centre, palms pressed together overhead. Exhale and hinge at the hips to slowly fold the upper body forward onto thighs (still in criss-cross position). Release and surrender. Pause for a few counts, then slowly rise up to seated.
Still in a seated cross-legged position, plant both hands behind back on the floor. Open up the chest and gently bend backwards, allowing chin to tilt up and the head to dip back slightly. Hold for a few counts. Inhale, bringing arms back up to centre with palms pressed together. Exhale and plant the right hand behind the body and the left hand on the outside of the right knee, using the left hand to gently twist the torso further to the right. Exhale, then inhale, and exhale again, attempting to twist a bit further with each exhale. “Wring out” all the unnecessary energy and stress stowed away in the body. Hold for roughly five to 10 counts, then release, coming back to a neutral cross-legged position.
Gently move onto hands and knees in a tabletop position. Exhale to shift hips back onto heels, stretching arms out on the mat with either palms or fingertips pressed firmly into the floor or bed. Open knees wide to open up the hips, or keep them together to support the lower back. Place a block, pillow, towel, or blanket under the forehead to relax even further. Hold for roughly five to 10 breaths, continuing to inhale and exhale deeply.
Move to lie face-up on the floor or bed, arms extended by sides and palms pressing into the floor or bed. Bend knees, planting the soles of feet into the floor or bed. Inhale as to lift hips into the air, squeezing glutes at the top. While in this yoga pose, continue to take deep breaths in and out. (Optional: Place hands underneath lower back for support, or position a soft pillow beneath shoulders.) Hold for roughly five to 10 breaths and release. Hug knees into chest for a few counts, then release legs down to the mat.
Reclined Supine Twist
Still lying face-up on the floor or bed, inhale to draw the right knee in towards the chest. Using both hands to guide the movement, slowly circle the right knee clockwise, then counterclockwise, for roughly two to three counts in each direction. Then, with control, exhale and use the left hand to pull the outside of the right knee over to the left side of the body. Gently twist the torso and head a few degrees to the right and gaze toward the right shoulder. Hold for five to 10 breaths, continuing to inhale and exhale deeply, feeling the stretch in the back, hips, and glutes. Return right leg to the floor and repeat with the left leg, holding again for five to 10 breaths.
Reclined Bound Angle
Still lying face-up, draw both knees toward chest, wrapping forearms around one another for support. Hold for two to three counts while breathing. Lower feet to the mat about two to three inches from glutes and press the bottoms of feet together (if comfortable). Allow knees to (gently) splay open as far as is comfortable. Bring right hand to the belly and left hand to the heart, allowing gravity to continue to pull either knee closer to the floor. Feel the stretch in the groin and hips. Hold for roughly five to 10 breaths. To release, slowly bring knees together, and release legs, fully extended, down toward the floor or bed.
Savasana yoga pose
Continue to lie face-up, hands turned slightly toward the sides in a neutral position. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, filling the chest and stomach with as much air as possible. Hold for a few seconds, then exhale, allowing the chest and stomach to deflate. Continue to repeat this inhale-exhale pattern until ready to climb under the sheets.
This story first appeared on www.shape.com.
(Main and Feature Image Credit: Courtesy of Phyllicia Bonanno)
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