Nothing throws a spanner in the works of a productive and energetic day like sleep deprivation. That out-of-body feeling, no concentration, heightened emotional sensitivity, and simple tasks taking forever to complete. We all know how much better we feel, perform and function after a good night's rest, and in contrast how depleted we are if we don't get it.
I've been there.
You've been there.
We've all been there.
The vain attempts of buying a bottle of valerian pills from the supplements section of our local supermarket, the old wives' staple of a warm glass of milk or spending a ridiculous amount of money on a brand new fancy lumbar supportive mattress. We will try anything and everything to shut off our minds for the night.
When it comes to sleep, different things work for different people, and the same can be said for the reasons that we are having trouble sleeping. The usual sleep disruption suspects often come to the forefront of any sleep deprived late night googler... no screen time after 8pm, ensure you have a nice quiet space in the bedroom (where you don't do any work), and try to maintain a regular bedtime for switching off the lights and shutting down for the day. All these things are great on paper, but when those thoughts of unfinished work permeate on the pillow or the angst of tomorrow's very busy schedule won't let up, we can find ourselves again not getting the rest we need and deserve.
If this is you, or someone you love who isn't getting some quality resting, I would love to encourage you to try adding a few Yin Yoga postures into your evening routine.
One of the reasons why I first fell in love with Yin, was not only its ability to slowly stretch the tissues of the body, but it is the pace of the practise itself which allows us a space to process the thoughts and emotions that will inevitably come up during our time on the mat. Yin Yoga as a practise is as mediative for the mind as it is restorative for the body.
For me personally, a Yin practise gives me time to let thoughts and angst rise to the surface knowing that I am able to process them gently and not to brush them away or try to bury them back down. It also reminds me that I can come back gently to the rhythm and sound of my breath, when certain thoughts in mind are too intense of overwhelming.
By incorporating a small Yin practise before you go to bed, you may find that your body and mind get the extra buffer space to wind down before you simply take the whole backlog of your day and crash into bed with it (an excellent recipe for hours of bumper car thoughts disturbing your pillow peace). You could also think of a small yin practice as a place where you can clear out some of the things you might have stored in your physical body over the day as well. Where do you hold your work tension? Neck muscles? Upper back? Lower body?
For some, the idea of doing a Yoga practise before bed can feel like a chore, like its exercise or too physical, and that it might actually have the opposite effect of winding down. I would recommend for this sort of practise that you don't roll out your mat and avoid things that connect the activity to feelings of being exercise such as putting on any of your normal yoga clothing. It should all be very doable in your pyjamas and shouldn't need more than 15-20 minutes to really have an affect on your relaxation state. Sometimes I even do a few yin shapes when I am already in bed for the night.
Yin Yoga Postures to Encourage Sleep
These are some postures that I would recommend for a night-time Yin Yoga practise to help aide a good night's rest. Aim to stay in each posture between 3-5 minutes with a 60-90 second rebound between asanas. Where possible, try to eliminate any distracting noise or light, personally I find some simple Tibetan bowl sounds (rather than Netflix) can really help me to wind down for the day and help me to focus on my breath and sensations in my body arising from the practise.
At the end of the day, incorporate whatever yoga posture works for you. There are no rules on what works and what doesn't, it's about finding what's right for you.
This is a lovely asana to either begin or conclude your bedtime Yin Yoga practise, you could even bookend the practise using the posture twice in your sequence.
You begin by sitting on your heels before folding forward slowly and gently, as you bring your chest toward your thighs and your head comes to the floor. If you find it is placing too much pressure upon the neck, stretch the arms forward. If you cannot get your bottom to your feet, try using a bolster or even a couple of pillows to to rest the head on. You can even use the bolster underneath the chest for additional support if you feel you need it.
In Child's Pose, the knees do not have to touch, allow them to be as close together as you can manage or where feels comfortable. If you feel any pinching at the front of the body or around the hips, this can be a good sign that you need to widen the knees further.
Remember, it is more important that you feel comfortable than what the shape looks like. The introverted nature of this shape can help cultivate the feeling of "turning inward" after a day where you have been expending your energy outward. It also creates a lovely position for you to tune into the sound and rhythm of your breathing.
Sleeping Swan is another lovely shape that has an "inward" feeling on offer. The primary area being targeted in the body is the glutei and outer thigh of the front leg. For some people, the feeling of intensity as this tissue is stretched can be very strong, If you find that to be the case in your body, please give yourself permission to keep adjusting your legs, or sink your torso into some pillows, and even try sitting the buttock of the front leg further to the side in order to soften the intensity and breathe with ease.
To move into the posture, begin on all fours before moving one leg in front of you. Start with your front foot close to your inner thigh. The back leg can be straight, or slightly bent (as demonstrated in the picture). It is not important to have the hips squared per se, the focus will really be in the sensation you get in the glute and outer thigh of the front leg. If you don't feel enough satisfaction in that sensation, you can try wiggling the front foot more forward, so long as the front knee is happy with that. If you find the sensation to be too strong in the body, a bolster or pillow running longways under the chest can be a wonderful alternative here.
With this posture, aim to explore the asana for 3-5 minutes before a 60-90 second rebound before repeating Sleeping Swan on the opposite side of the body.
Banana Pose or Bananasana is an incredible way to potentially stretch the whole side of the body, from the tissues in the legs, through the obliques all the way to the fascia through your neck, shoulders and arms. Some people will feel it along the whole side, and others will feel it in one or two concentrated areas.
This Yin Yoga posture provides a wonderful stretch for the gallbladder meridian helping it to open up. When we look to the horary clock (Chinese Medicine's body-energy clock) the gallbladder meridian sits between 11pm and 1am where we find our bodies in the sleep cycle. By opening and stretching this meridian prior to going to bed, we are helping to promote the body's natural sleep cycle by gently stimulating one of the channels that helps the natural rhythms of the body to circulate.
Begin lying on your back with your legs together and straight. Take your arms over your head, bringing together your hands or your elbows. Now it's time to use your body to create that banana shape, much like a side bend on the floor, where the upper body and legs will move to the same side.
When you get there, you can experiment crossing your feet together, right over left, or left over right depending on how your body responds or simply let your feet fall uncrossed into the floor.
With this posture, aim to hold the asana for 3-5 minutes before a 60-90 second rebound before repeating Banana Pose on the opposite side of the body.
Caterpillar is a lovely Yin Yoga posture that aims to open and clear the back chain of the body, which can get really stiff and tight after a day of sitting and focusing on a screen. It also has a very "inward" orientation, which can helps to draw your energy back to your centre after a long day.
You can add as many props to the shape as your body needs. For example, you may find your hamstrings are more supported if you have a small cushion under your buttocks, and a bigger cushion under your knees. As you fold over the legs, the intensity can be strong, so you may need to start with the head resting on props as well and this can include your own hands cradling your chin or forehead.
With this posture, aim to hold the asana for 3-5 minutes before a 60-90 second rebound. As this shape can create a very strong rebounding sensation in the lower back, you may want to hug your knees to your chest and rock slowly from side to side before or after the rebound as a soothing movement.
Legs Up The Wall
This posture is especially good for people who are on their feet all day, helping to encourage circulation through the body and to let gravity rebalance the body.
At its heart, this posture is incredibly simple. Place a blanket underneath your hips and swing your legs up the wall, keeping your feet shoulder width apart. Your pelvis should not be hard up against the wall, leaving a few inches of space between yourself and the wall.
On a particularly long or stressful day, you might even find that you do this one single yoga shape before bed (maybe you could already be in bed and swing around to place your legs up the wall).
The wall is such a useful tool to assist the body in yin yoga. If you're enjoying the sensation of postures utilising the wall, I have a full 60 minute practise available where we explore this in detail that you might enjoy.
Another less physical option to help you wind down is with a Yoga Nidra. This is something you can do in bed and required little to no movement and will feel very similar to listening to a mediation in that way. This is Nidra that I recorded last year in the midst of the anxious state of the world, I hope it might be able to offer you some peace before you rest.
The internet is full of so many wonderful resources to help you wind down and get your sleeping patterns back to normal. Whether that is meditation, a yoga practise or reading a book, I hope that you can find something that works for you and your body, and I wish you a wonderful night's rest.