You know that glorious restfulness and peace that you experience at the end of a yoga class, when you relax while lying on your back? Ahhhhhh. Now that’s bliss.
While you probably can’t attend a formal yoga class every evening, you can do a few moves each night to cultivate a taste of that nirvana as you prep for sleep. In fact, a daily practice may be an excellent way to improve your slumber and, at the same time, manage stress. Yoga and other mind/body modalities, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, are called “practices” because their repetition helps train the mind and body to behave and respond in a certain beneficial, healing way. And that, in turn, can translate to better zzz’s.
Stuck in the Stress Response
When you’re faced with a perceived threat, such as a loud noise, your body goes into what’s called fight or flight: Your internal alarm system, made up of nerves and hormones, switches on and increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and activates your energy reserves. But over time, chronic stresses, such as a heavy workload or family responsibilities, can keep your system stuck in that “on” position. This puts you at risk for health problems such as anxiety and weight gain; it can also cause sleep problems, such as insomnia.
Tapping Into the Relaxation Response
Luckily, there’s no need to panic. Learning to cope with stressors by training yourself to elicit an opposite mechanism, known as the relaxation response, may be the antidote. Yoga helps halt the fight or flight hyper-arousal reaction. When your body is in a calming pose, your breathing slows, which sends a signal to your nerves to downshift, turn off the worry center in your brain, and slow your heart rate. Over time, a consistent yoga practice may even lower blood pressure, reduce amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, and reverse some of the damage caused by stress. Regularly triggering this relaxation response also helps decrease your chance of developing stress-related health conditions.
As you wind down before bedtime, try a few of these calming moves. You can even do these on your bed!
To start, get on your hands and knees. Keep knees in line with hips and wrists; elbows and shoulders should be perpendicular to the floor. As you inhale, slowly round your spine toward the ceiling. Drop your head toward the floor, mimicking the shape of a frightened cat. Hold that pose for one second. Next, exhale and return to starting position. Now, Inhale and lift your chest and tailbone to the ceiling as you curve your back down. Raise your head. Hold that pose for one second. Repeat these motions five to 10 times.
2. Seated Forward Bend
Start in a seated position and extend your legs in front of you. Sit tall. As you inhale, reach arms overhead. Exhale as you fold forward and reach for your toes. Hold that position for 10 seconds. Return to start. Repeat.
3. Seated Twist
To start, sit in a cross-legged position. Exhale and place your right hand on your left knee. Place left hand behind tailbone. Twist your torso to the left, gently, as you look over your left shoulder. Hold that position for 10 seconds. Return to start, then repeat on the opposite side.
4. Legs Up the Wall
Sit near a wall. Roll onto your back, push your buttocks as close to the wall as possible, and lift your legs up in the air, over your hips, and rest them straight against the wall. With arms by your sides, turn up palms up. Hold that position for 10 to 20 seconds.