YOGA POSTURES TO IMPROVE YOUR SLEEP AND WHY THEY WORK
Yoga is a terrific way to relax before bedtime. It helps to release everything you’re holding onto mentally or physically. It activates your rest-digest-heal mode, so you can fall asleep faster and sleep deeper and longer. But not all yoga postures are equal when it comes to relaxation. You need to know which yoga postures will relax you; otherwise, you might become even more active and awake.
Before revealing which yoga postures are the best for sleep, it is useful to understand why different types of yoga work differently. And as you read below, you will see that it’s all about energy.
Everything is energy and that is all there is. – Albert Einstein
Which energy helps you to sleep?
You have probably heard about Ayurveda. Ayurveda is an ancient holistic healing system developed more than 3.000 years ago in India. It’s based on the belief that health is determined by the balance between mind, body and spirit. Sleep is one of the key pillars of Ayurveda. Quality rest for our body, mind and spirit determine overall health.
The doshas are a central part of the Ayurvedic approach. Doshas are the three energies that define every person’s energetic makeup. Can you guess which type can help you fall asleep?
- Vata is the energy associated with movement. It motivates our breath and movement in the cells. It is also associated with a (busy) mind. When it is in balance, it is good for our creativity and flexibility in our thinking. Yet, when imbalanced, our Vata produces the fear and anxiety associated with a ruminating mind.
- Pitta energy is the energy associated with heating the body. It controls our metabolism, our digestion and body temperature. When it is in balance, it promotes understanding and intelligence. Out of balance, Pitta arouses anger, hatred and jealousy.
- Kapha is the energy that forms the body’s structure, with our bones, muscles and tendons. It also helps to maintain our immunity. In balance, Kapha expresses love, calmness and forgiveness. Out of balance, it leads to attachment, greed and envy.
Through yoga practice, we can balance these energies.
These three energies – doshas – determine various functions, including sleep. Sleep is caused by increased Kapha, as it can calm you down. To calm down and reduce the stress response, we can use our breath, and calming yoga poses to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and balance our Kapha energy.
On the other hand, two other energies – Vata and Pitta – reduce our sleep ability. Increased Vata and Pitta might even be the reason for and insomnia. For example, when hen you are worrying in bed, you have too much of the Vata energy. Or when you ate something spicy or heavy, which will activate your Pitta, you also might face difficulties to sleep.
Yoga postures to improve sleep
Each yoga pose has ayurvedic qualities. Different yoga poses have an impact on Pitta, Vata and Kapha energy. Thus, you can have yoga asanas or postures with specific ayurvedic qualities to improve your sleep. There should be more Kapha energy and less of Pitta and Vatta to fall asleep easy.
The following types of poses are the best for sleeping (I also provide a few pictures as examples).
1) Standing forward bends
Standing forward bends encourage grounding and calming, and help you to reflect by turning inwards. Some examples of standing forward bends are cat-cow pose, standing forward fold, wide-legged forward fold and the downward-facing dog.
Cat-cow. Inhale when opening the chest (cow), exhale when rounding your spine (cat).
2) Seated forward folds
Similarly to standing forward bends, seated forwards folds help ground your body, which relates to an increased Kapha energy. Some examples of poses are the seated forward bend, wide-leg seated pose and child pose.
These postures help to cool down your body, which relates to decreased pitta energy. Also, it helps to release stress and tension in the body. Beware of coming out of the post slowly, so the relaxing benefits remain.
Child pose. Left – supported child pose with a bolster (or pillows). Right – wide-legged child pose (knees are as wide as a yoga mat). This posture can be done in bed.
3) Restorative poses
Another cooling and soothing type of yoga poses are the restorative poses. Examples of restorative poses are legs up the wall, reclined goddess pose and savasana.
These highly passive poses encourage a relaxations response. It stimulates the rest and digest functions, which reduces your stress, increase your immune system and slow down your respiration and pulse.
Legs up the wall: left – variation with a block; right – variation with legs on the wall. This posture can be done in bed.
4) Spinal twists
Twists are detoxifying and grounding and have very beneficial effects on the overall health of your spine. Some examples are the reclined twist, seated spinal twist and rotated head to knee pose.
These poses increase Kapha and reduce Vata. Yet, they also increase Pitta. If you are an energetic person and have too much Pitta already, this might not entirely work for your sleep. It is essential to listen to your body and how it reacts to spinal twists.
Supine twist. This twist can easily be done directly in bed.
Let’s practice together!
To help you to discover more about the impact of relaxing yoga poses on your body, I have recorded a 10-minute video which a sequence that can prepare you to sleep.
You can find more tips in the How to Fall Asleep in 10 Minutes guide. I teach three proven relaxation techniques that you can do right before going to sleep or whenever you wake up during the night. Download the guide below.