Week 3: Yoga Exercises For Nighttime Relaxation

One of the hardest parts about stress is that it makes it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which leads to us not being at our best the next day. It’s a vicious cycle.

You know I am a huge proponent of yoga for stress reduction—and one of the smartest times to utilize the practice is before bedtime. These exercises will help you slow down your sympathetic nervous system (a.k.a. what controls your ‘fight or flight’ responses and alertness levels), easing you into a peaceful state.

So, dim the lights, light a few candles, and get out your mat.

Restorative Yoga

In restorative yoga (basically a catch-all phrase for several types of relaxation-based yoga practices), you’ll typically spend long periods of time lying on yoga blocks (which you can place under your body if you’re not very flexible yet) and blankets, holding a few simple poses and breathing continuously to achieve relaxation. Essentially, this practice feels like you are giving your body a lengthy, warm, nurturing hug. Hard to say no to that!

One of the best restorative yoga poses is Savasana. Savasana is the Sanskrit term for “corpse pose.” It may sound a little morbid, but it really just means lying flat on your back with your arms at your sides, palms facing up (or however you feel comfortable).

In most yoga classes, it is the final pose. In fact, it is widely considered one of the most important poses, as it allows for total integration of mind and body. It may seem easy, but it requires you to stay completely still, while being both in the moment and detached from it. It requires you to just be. You can lie completely flat, or use a blanket underneath your back for support. Slowly release all your attention as you do this, body part by body part.

Reclining Spinal Twist

This pose massages your abs, hips, and spine, so it’s perfect for those of you who sit all day at work or keep their tension in your back.

How To Do It:

  1. Bring the knees into the chest and roll to the right side, keeping the knees aligned with the neck to allow the spine to participate in this activity.
  2. Then, carefully lay the knees over to the right side and open your arms out wide creating a T shape.
  3. Place your right hand to face down. The left hand should be palm-up, either flat on the ground or slightly hovering.
  4. Turn your head to the opposite side to achieve an additional stretch in your neck.
  5. Do this two times on each side for 8-10 breaths.

Yoga Nidra

Also called yogic sleep, Yoga Nidra is the state between sleep and awake. It is a meditative technique, also done in Savasana pose.

Here is calming, meditative yoga nidra exercise you can do before bed:

  1. Get into Savasana pose and choose an intention or mantra. Place a pillow or folded blanket behind your neck for support, and use another pillow or folded blanket under your knees for added comfort.
  2. Close your eyes.
  3. Mentally think on the intention or mantra you set for yourself three times.
  4. Take a couple deep breaths, emphasizing the exhalation.
  5. Starting with your right side, rotate your awareness on all your body parts, limb by limb. Follow this progression: each finger, palm of the hand, back of the hand, hand as a whole, forearm, elbow, upper arm, shoulder joint, shoulder, neck, each section of the face (forehead, eyes, nose, and so on), ear, scalp, throat, chest, side of the rib cage, shoulder blade, waist, stomach, lower abdomen, genitals, buttocks, whole spine, thigh, top and back of knee, shin, calf, ankle, top of foot, heel, sole, and finally, your toes.
  6. Be aware of your body as a whole.
  7. Repeat the rotation on your left side, ending with the whole-body awareness described in Step 6.
  8. Repeat Steps 5 through 7 one or more times until you achieve an adequate level of relaxation.
  9. Continue to be aware of the whole body and the space surrounding it, feeling the stillness and peace.
  10. Mentally reaffirm your initial intention three times.
  11. Mentally prepare to return to ordinary consciousness.

Try each of these exercises throughout the week, and pick the one you like best to perform every night before bedtime.