There’s a reason that yogis always seem so upbeat and well rested: Practicing sun salutations, downward dogs, and other poses can be a great, natural way to improve sleep. And you don’t have to be a pro to benefit. People with insomnia who do yoga daily for at least eight weeks fall asleep faster and get more sleep at night.
Yoga may also be able to help if work, relationship, or other angst is keeping you awake long past bedtime. In fact, over 85 percent of people who practice yoga say that it cuts down on stress. So what are you waiting for? Pull out a yoga mat, grab a water bottle, and stretch and bend your way to better sleep with these moves.
Start on your hands and knees with your knees positioned directly below your hips and your hands directly under your shoulders. Then center your head and look toward the floor. (Imagine that you’re making a tabletop with the top of your back.) Exhale while rounding your back toward the ceiling, as if you’re a frightened black cat on Halloween. Then, inhale while lifting your chest toward the ceiling and letting your belly drop toward the floor. Continue flowing smoothly between the two positions, paying attention to your breath.
Stand with the skinny side of a yoga block placed between your upper thighs, with your feet parallel, toes pointing forward, arms raised above head, and hands together. Squeeze the block with your upper thighs as you bend your knees and push your rear back, as if you were about to sit in a chair. Continue to squeeze the block as you hold the position for about 30 seconds.
Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose
Lie on your back with your legs extended, then bend your left knee and draw the leg into your torso. Place a yoga strap around the arch of your left foot, holding the ends of the strap in both hands. Keep your right leg flat on the floor. Straighten your left leg and press your left heel toward the ceiling so that leg is perpendicular to the floor, and then hold it for about 30 seconds. Repeat the move with your right leg.
End your practice with this relaxing move. Lie on your back with your legs and arms straightened and extended slightly outward, palms facing up. Close your eyes and try to remain completely still. Let your breath come naturally, allow your body to sink into the floor, and relax and release your body from head to toe to nix any tension. Pro tip: If you start to get chilly as your body cools down, cover up with a yoga blanket.
Yoga poses can be difficult to master, so if you’re having trouble—or aren’t sure whether your form is correct—consider checking out a local class. Yoga DVDs can also help guide you through poses to ensure that you get the most out of your practice while avoiding injury.