yoga for insomnia
Over a year ago I designed a class for insomnia, because a number of students asked what could help them sleep. I did a bit of research, but for the most part I offered what had helped me the most. Sometimes a pose just shifts me out of monkey mind toward slumber. There are all sorts of recommendations in the interwebs, including some sequences with poses (especially backbends) I would never do at night, much less before sleep. But we’re all different. Below is a series of what has worked for me.
These poses are all take or leave. You don’t have to do them all, in fact, you could just choose one or two and hold them for a few minutes. If you know you hold in a certain area, choose a pose that will help you release there. If you aren’t sure, ask. Choose poses you enjoy so that you aren’t fighting with yourself before bed.
If insomnia is a problem for you, your habits around bedtime are important. First, you should have a bedtime. Seriously. If you drop in bed when you can’t hold your head up in front of the computer anymore, but your mind is still reeling, you won’t sleep. You need to set a reasonable time to retire and commit to it. I try to be ready for bed an hour before that time, and get in bed with a book. You don’t have that time? Log out of facebook. You have time. Electronic devices, news, stimulating TV and movies, even stimulating music can keep us from settling down. So, an hour or two before bed, unplug. Then try this series.
- Start with a few optional sun salutation As. Don’t jump though. Step forward and back. Do no more than three.
- Lie on your belly for salabhasana (locust pose), but in this variation, don’t lift your chest. Only your legs. Lower and repeat once, holding until you feel a bit tired.
- Relax for 10 to 30 breaths, feeling your front body move against the floor as you breathe.
- Press back to balasana (child’s pose). Stay here as long as you like.
- Roll up and take a few long forward bends. Forward bends calm the mind and start moving your awareness inward. If you feel fidgety or anxious, just keep drawing your awareness back to your breath, and deepen it. Don’t engage the muscles as much as you would in an active class. Try to relax and let go. The longer you stay in the pose, the quieter you will become.
- Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) with a few pillows or blankets on your lap or under your knees to make it restorative
- Janu sirsasana (head-to-knee(ish) forward bend), also with lots of pillows, and/or
- Tarasana (diamond pose)
- If, and only if, you have a strong sirsasana (headstand) practice, do it. If you aren’t totally there, skip it for now.
- Sarvangasana (shoulderstand): As Geeta Iyengar notes in Yoga: A Gem for Women, “Sarvangasana and its variations are useful for developing a healthy mind. The nervous system is calmed and one is freed from hypertension, irritability, nervous breakdown, and insomnia. They are a boon for combating the stresses and strains of our daily life. They give vitality and self-confidence.” So this is your moment. Hold for 25 breaths to 5 minutes. Then lower the legs for halasana.
- Halasana (plow). This pose is a miracle for insomnia. It’s one of the two poses that just shift something for me and in comes the Sandman. If your feet do not reach the floor, rest them on a bed or chair. Do not let your legs dangle. It is not restful. And you deserve better.
- Roll out of plow as gracefully as possible and if you are not ready for sleep, try a restorative pose or two. Supta Baddha Konasana (supine bound angle pose) is nice and can be done in bed. Use blankets or pillows under your knees.
- Supta Virasana (supine hero pose) is the other miracle pose for me (keep in mind, I might hold differently than you, but for me, it works). I think it’s the quad stretch, but this pose helps me sleep. Be VERY VERY careful with your knees. Use a bolster or pillows under your back and a block under your butt. DO NOT do the pose if you feel any knee strain. Just don’t. Hold 25 breaths to 5 minutes. Then take a slow, quiet down dog to iron you out.
- Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine spinal twist) — our classic closing twist, any leg variation you like.
- Savasana (corpse pose) is our final pose. Take your index and middle fingers together, and hold your ring and pinky fingers down with your thumb for some chandra bhedana pranayam (moon piercing breath). In class we do a similar breath through each nostril with a different hand position. Here, use each hand (index and middle fingers) to close off the respective nostril. To help sleep, you will inhale left, exhale right, over and over. Don’t switch the inhalations. Instead, keep repeating inhalation through the left nostril and exhalation through the right for 3 to 5 minutes. Then relax your arms, palms up. If you aren’t in bed, get there and relax flat in corpse.
This should help you sleep. If you have questions, want a video, or more pics, drop me a line or comment. If you have sleep problems and want me to design a sequence just for you, drop me a line. I use a sliding scale, and you can always bring an insomniac friend and split the cost.