Did I say “in bed? Yep. It’s normally not a good idea to fall asleep when you are doing yoga (you can overstretch your muscles if you fall asleep in a restorative pose and if you’re practicing conscious relaxation, well, being unconscious pretty much negates the positive effects you’re aiming for). However, there is one exception to this rule of thumb: when you’re lying in bed sleepless due to insomnia.
Whether you have trouble falling asleep initially or can’t fall back to sleep after waking in the middle of the night, instead of working on your To Do list (it’s tempting, I know), try a little yoga. There are a number of yoga practices that just might help you relax enough to finally drift off to sleep and/or improve the quality of your sleep.
|Patterns in a French Garden by Brad Gibson|
Breath Awareness. This is the simplest yogic breath practice and one of the most basic forms of meditation. Simply bring your awareness to the sensations of your natural inhalations and exhalations. When you notice your mind wandering to your To Do list or elsewhere, gently return your mind to your breath.
Extending Your Exhalation. After observing your natural breath for a few minutes, you can try extending your exhalation (while inhalations are slightly stimulating, exhalations are naturally relaxing). When you reach the end of your exhalation, instead of immediately inhaling, lengthen your inhalation by one or two beats. Keep it relaxed, and if at any point you find the practice irritating, return to your natural breath.
Silently Reciting a Mantra. Just as you would when you are meditating, you can use a silent mantra or any word or phrase in bed to keep your mind from drifting into anxious thoughts. This is helpful for those of you who don’t find focusing on the breath effective (or when you have a cold!). When you notice your mind wandering from your mantra to your To Do list or elsewhere, gently return your mind to your mantra.
Guided Relaxation. Following the instructions for a guided physical relaxation (see here), with or without ear phones, allows you to focus your mind on a soothing voice and your physical sensations, enabling some people to drift off to sleep.
Self-Guided Relaxation. When you are familiar with the basic instructions for deep physical relaxation, it’s simple enough to skip the relaxation track and just gradually relax your body by following your own instructions. Many years ago, my first yoga teacher recommended this as insomnia practice.
Slight Inversion. Take the pillow out from under your head and lie on your back with your knees bent. Lift your pelvis up and place the pillow underneath it. You’re now in a very low version of Supported Bridge pose, a gentle inversion that naturally triggers the relaxation response. Try to stay in the position for five to ten minutes.
Supported Forward Bend. If you sleep alone or aren’t worried about disturbing your partner and you find forward bends soothing, you could try a supported bend in your bed. Sit with your legs straight or in crossed-legs position (whichever is more comfortable and allows a deeper forward bend) and place a stack of pillows on top of your straight legs or in front of your crossed legs. Then lengthen your spine forward and rest your forehead and arms on the pillow and relax. Try to stay at least three minutes. If you can’t get comfortable in the pose, then this one isn’t for you.
If you suffer from insomnia, I sincerely hope you’ll something on this list that will help. Most of these are techniques are ones I’ve found useful myself (I'm a bit too lazy to sit up and try an actual pose, however). Readers, if you have any additional suggestions, please chime in!