Seeking better sleep? Try these 6 easy yoga poses
A few simple poses before sleep 'gives your nervous system permission to calm down'
A long day at the office, a stimulating evening with friends or even a marathon Netflix session can sometimes leave you too wound up to drift off peacefully to sleep.
Even if you've never tried yoga before, there are some easy poses you can try to unwind before bedtime.
CBC News asked two Charlottetown yoga instructors — Genevieve Loughlin of Kinetic Fitness and Samantha Sambrooke, director of teacher training and owner of the Maritime Yoga College — for some of their favourite poses to help make the most of their shuteye.
"If you have maybe 10 or 15 minutes to put aside to do a few gentle poses, it can really benefit — just giving your body the message, and your brain the message, that it's time for sleep," Loughlin said.
Louglin advises holding each pose for three to five minutes, Sambrooke says one to four minutes.
"The key to relaxation poses for sleep is to remove tension from your body, not create tension," Loughlin said, so if your body disagrees with any of these — tension or shooting pain — switch to gentler ones, she suggests.
"Even if you could go deeper in some of these positions, you don't. You just find a gentle sensation just to the point where, yeah, you feel a little something happening," adds Sambrooke.
Make sure while you're in the pose you are able to breathe long, deep breaths, she adds.
1. Child's pose
This is a common pose in most yoga classes. Keep your knees wide and your big toes touching, says Loughlin, while extending your hands to your front.
This pose will stretch your back and create space though your hips.
To lessen the stretch, put a yoga block or pillow under your head.
Remember to breathe slowly in and out at least 10 times.
If your hips or knees object to this pose, do it on your back instead, tucking in your chin while gently hugging your knees to your chest, focusing on lengthening your back.
2. Gentle twist
Lying on your back, hands to the side or gently reaching upward, knees are bent with feet yoga-mat wide.
Let your knees sway back and forth, then let them fall gently to one side.
If this stretch is too intense, walk your heels closer to your body and have a pillow or two under your knees where they fall.
3. Relaxation pose
A resting pose from the yin style of yoga, in relaxation pose you're on your back with knees bent and together.
Place your feet wide and turn toes in.
Hands can be reaching over your head or down by your sides, depending on your shoulder mobility.
"You're creating space in your low back," said Loughlin. "And it's quite supportive, cause your knees are touching."
4. Forward bend
Sambrooke's specialty is yin yoga, in which participants hold gentle poses longer.
You can do a forward bend seated with your legs stretched out in front of you, said Sambrooke, or standing. Make sure your knees are bent as much as you need them to be.
"It really helps to relieve stiffness in the spine that might have accumulated during the day," Sambrooke shares. "Forward folds are also introspective, and they're very calming."
5. Butterfly pose
On your back on the floor, gently bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees wing out to the sides.
"Hip-opening postures are great to counter sitting in chairs all day," said Sambrooke.
"We also tend to hold a lot of emotions in our hips... they are very good poses to help release on all levels."
6. Legs up the wall
To get into this pose, sit with one hip to the wall. Put your elbows behind you, and swing your legs up the wall over your head.
"There's a little bit of scooching involved to get your seat really close to the wall," laughed Sambrooke.
If you have tight hamstring muscles, this pose might be slightly tough at first. If so, back your butt away from the wall slightly.
"This is an excellent pose to relieve tired feet, especially if you're on your feet all day."
It also helps increase blood flow to the brain and calms the mind, getting us "into that rest and digest state."
More sleepytime suggestions
Keep your breathing slow and clear your mind. Don't ruminate over today or make lists for tomorrow — focus on the present moment without interpreting it, says Loughlin.
She also advises creating a technology-free environment — no phone, no screens — in your bedroom, avoid working out before bed and consider using an essential oil diffuser with lavender or a woody scent to create relaxation.
Sambrooke suggests a relaxing breathing technique: close off the right nostril with the right thumb and extend the other fingers straight up and breathe only through the left nostril.
"The left side connects to the yin energy — or the lunar energy — of the body and that helps us to relax," she said.
Another breathing technique: focus on breath retention. Inhale deeply and hold it — just to the point where you want to release then hold it a bit longer, without straining. Exhale completely, again pausing a moment at the end. Repeat for at least three minutes or until you fall asleep, whichever happens first.
Avoid eating late or drinking caffeine before bedtime, Sambrooke said, adding "perhaps some soft, ambient music may be more suitable than, say, Game of Thrones!"