Yoga, Sleep and Mental Health; A 12 Minute Yoga Practice For Getting Better Sleep

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“She’s strong, but she’s exhausted.” -r.h.sin

The importance of ample rest and sufficient sleep is incredibly significant in one’s overall health. Sleep plays a major role in one’s physical, mental and emotional health.

People who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, impulsive behaviors, mood swings, chronic inflammation and weight gain, just to name a few. When we sleep, our bodies are able to repair and detoxify. Rest and sleep, for example, allow the body to: Heal and repair the heart and blood vessels, maintain a balance of hormones (including those responsible for mood and pleasure as well as those that play a role in feeling hungry and/or full) and keep the immune system in check so that the body can fight off foreign or harmful substances and manage inflammation. Restful and regular sleep is responsible, in part, for good decision making, a healthy sex drive, a more positive and consistent mood, a boost in creativity and motivation and sharper attention and focus.

Sometimes difficulty falling or staying asleep can trigger anxiety, stress, feelings of fear and/or disappointment. And it is not uncommon that, during the stillness and quiet moments as we prepare for sleep, we experience an increase in physical pain or muscle tension and anxious thoughts-Our minds begin to race, planning the next days to do’s, ruminating and replaying the events of the day or the days to come, which can make it more difficult to relax and wind down.

While it may not seem easy, there are some small adjustments you can make to your evening routine that will make getting a good night sleep more attainable. Some of these include: Minimizing technology use and reducing external stimulation (ex. turn the lights down low at least an hour before bed), journaling, using essential oils (try lavender or ylang ylang), reducing evening sugar intake, slightly raising body temperature (taking a warm bath), or engaging in gentle yoga practice.

A gentle yoga practice, focused on tension release, slowing and deepening the breath, and grounding, can be effective in easing your racing mind and preparing your body for restful sleep. Yoga practices, in fact, help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system-The part of our nervous system that is responsible for rest, relaxation and restoration…And deeper, more restful sleep. Below is a 12 minute gentle evening yoga practice that can help you to sleep a little more soundly tonight.

12 Minute Gentle Yoga Practice for Better Sleep

Optional Props – 2 blocks and 1 blanket

Start in Child’s Pose – Come on top of your knees with shins on the ground. Place your knees a little wider than your hips, big toes touching and lower your hips towards your heels. Place your forehead on the mat or a block and let your arms rest either reaching forward or by your sides.

Child’s Pose – Side Stretch Left/Right – Move your arms and torso to the right – take 5 breaths into your ribs and belly of the opposite side. Move your arms and torso to the left side – take 5 breaths into the ribs and belly of the opposite side.

Downward Facing Dog – Press your hands down and forward while you lift your hips up and back. Keep a slight bend in your knees as you create an inverted V shape with your body. Head below your heart > Take 5 breaths

Lizard Pose Right/Left – Step your right foot in between your hands. Heel toe your foot out to the right and place both hands about shoulder distance to the inside of your right foot. Option to place blocks under your hands or forearms and lower your torso closer to the ground as well as an option to place the blanket under the opposite knee for padding > Hold each side for 1 minute

Downward Facing Dog – Hold for 5 breaths

Table top (all fours) and then lower down onto your belly.

Moving Cobra Pose – Lower down onto your belly – place your hands in line with your ribs – press the tops of your feet into the mat – gently engage your abdominals drawing your lower belly in and up toward the belly button – press your pubic bone into the mat – gently squeeze your shoulder blades toward your spine as you lift your head and chest off the ground – press your hands down and pull them gently back as you draw your chest forward and gently up>take 3 rounds inhale to lift/exhale to lower.

Press Back to Child’s pose – Take 5 rounds of breath

Seated Janu Sirsasana/ Head to Knee Pose Right/Left – Extend both legs forward. Bend your right knee and place the sole of your foot on the mat then lower your knee out to the right (option to place blanket or block as support under the knee) – left leg is extended forward – turn your torso to face the extended leg > drawing opposite ribs toward the extended legs inner thigh. Option to keep your torso upright or fold forward over extended leg as much as feels comfortable in your body. Option to use the blocks as support underneath your forehead. Place your arms in a position where the shoulders can soften and release. Hold 1 minute each side.

Seated Forward Fold – Extend both legs forward. Option to keep your torso upright or fold forward over extended legs as much as feels comfortable in your body. You can also sit on top of the blanket for added height if you feel discomfort in your low back and/or use the blocks underneath your forehead for support. Hold for 1 minute.

Restorative Bridge Pose (use block) – Lower down onto your back – Bend your knees and place your feet on the ground about hip distance. Place your arms by your side. Lift your hips and place one block on the low or medium height underneath your sacrum. Hold for 2 minutes. Remove the block once you are done and lower your hips down onto the mat. Place your feet a little wider than your hips and knock your knees together – Take 5 breaths.

Supported Reclined Simple Twist Right/Left – Draw your knees into your chest and lower them onto the left side (if you feel discomfort in your knees or hips place your blanket either in between the legs or underneath both bent knees). Extend your right arm out to the right in a position that is comfortable for your shoulder. Let your head fall to whichever side is most comfortable for your neck. No strain or pain. Hold for 2 minutes each side

Reclined Bound Angle Pose – Roll onto your back – bend your knees and place your feet together- lower your knees out to the sides with soles of feet together. Place your arms by your sides or rest them on your belly or chest. Choose a variation that is comfortable for your shoulders. Option to place your blocks underneath your thighs for support for your hip flexors and low back. – Hold for 2 minutes.

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