I Should Go Do Yoga...Insomnia
Now I have to admit that I don't usually have trouble falling asleep, it's the waking up part that I struggle the most with! However, recent life changes (i.e. being self-employed) have meant I have a lot more running through my head than I am used to. This has led recently to some pretty crazy dreams, and often, difficulty dropping off to sleep. I also have close friends and family who suffer with insomnia far more than I do, so I can empathise if getting a good nights' sleep has become somewhat of a challenge.
It's not news that yoga can be amazing for relaxation and clearing the mind, particularly when paired with a regular meditation practice, but unless you're going to your restorative or yin class right before you go to sleep, you probably have some time between class and bedtime for the usual stresses of everyday life to start creeping back in, and the mind starts to whirr again just in time for bed.
Luckily for those of you who know exactly what I'm talking about, I've put together a perfect pre-bed routine for you to achieve ultimate ZEN status right before you hit the pillow...
Now before we get down to the 'yoga' part there are a few things I want you to do first:
1. Take a really hot shower or have a hot bath; the rise in temperature and then cooling again will cause your body to naturally get sleepy
2. Get into your comfies; either your PJs or some sweats (see pictured: very old primark trackie bottoms and creased t-shirt = ultimate chill)
3. Make yourself a hot caffeine-free drink to sip during the session (I recommend camomile or passionfruit tea)
4. Set the scene: turn the lights low, or better still, light some candles. Clear the space of clutter or anything related to work (out of sight out of mind), grab a bunch of big pillows or cushions (I use sofa cushions and pillows) and a blanket if you like and put on some relaxing music. I've created a Spotify Playlist which you can access here with my favourite chill-time songs. You can also burn some incense, or to really induce sleep, rub some lavender essential oil on your temples and forehead, giving yourself a massage at the same time....yum.
5. Make sure you've eaten at least 2 hours before you go to bed, and try to avoid any blue electronic lights (phone, tablet, laptop, TV) at least an hour, if not more, before you go to sleep. So set your alarm for the morning now and note down these poses on a piece of paper, the good old-fashioned way so you don't have to keep checking the computer for the next one!
Right, now we're set, let's get started!
Uttanasana (Forward fold)
To start with we're going to take a simple forward fold; with the feet hip-distance apart and the toes facing forwards, bend the knees and try and bring the belly towards, or touching, the thighs. Let the head hang heavy and hold the opposite elbows with your hands and just let gravity do it's thing.
Breathe evenly though the nose here, close the eyes and focus on breathing in and out. Try to stay here for 20 breaths if you can, the longer the better.
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
From forward fold, plant your hands on the mat and step your left foot back and drop the knee to the mat (you can pad the mat with a blanket if it hurts your knee). Walk the right foot to the edge of your mat, toes pointing out about 45 degrees, and so your hands are both on the inside of the foot. Lean into this groin and hip stretch and focus on your breathing in and out through the nose. Try to focus on 20 breaths, and maintain softness in the pose; if it hurts, pull back.
When you're ready to come out, step the right foot back and rest in child's pose (see below) for a couple of breaths before stepping the left foot forward and doing the same on the other side.
Thread the Needle
This pose is a lovely spinal twist and shoulder/neck de-stresser. From your Lizard Pose step the front foot back and come to a table-top (all fours) position. Lift the left hand off the ground, and palm-facing-up reach the left hand through the space behind the right arm and in front of the right thigh and come to resting on the outside of your left shoulder and the left side of your head. Neck should be relaxed. Support yourself with your right hand on the mat, wherever is comfortable.
Hips should be high and in line with the knees still. Focus on your breathing; in and out through the nose for twenty breaths or more if you can. When you're ready, change over to the other side.
Balasana (Child's Pose)
This is an ultimate relaxation pose. From kneeling, bring your weight down on your heels and fold your body over your knees so your head rests on the floor. Bring your arms down by your sides and relax the shoulders.
If you feel pain in the hips or compression in the backs of the legs you can support yourself with a pillow or cushion length-ways between the legs. If your head doesn't reach the floor then place a block or a book or pile of books underneath your forehead in a comfortable position.
Focus on your breath here, 20 breaths in and out through the nose, if not more.
Gomukhasana (Cow Face Arms)
Stretch out those shoulders and release any tension left lying around in that area with these shoulder stretches. First lift the right hand high in the sky, bend at the elbow and bring the fingers down between the shoulder blades. Bring the left hand out in front of you and turn the palm outwards, thumb facing down. Swing the left arm all the way to the left until it won't go any more, bend at the elbow and bring the fingers up the back to meet the other hand.
If they don't touch you can just leave the hands where they are, or use a belt or strap (see I Should Do Yoga...Shoulders). Try to keep the right elbow pointing up to the sky and the spine nice and straight. Look forwards and breathhhheeeeee. 20 deep breaths if you can, through the nose. Let your muscles relax, try not to stay in that position tense in any way, if it's too tense, back off.
Legs Up the Wall
This pose is really relaxing as it gives all your organs a break; letting gravity bring the blood back to your heart. Try to get your bum as close to the wall as possible (you can pad the ground with a blanket if you need to), feet straight up in the air, supported by the wall.
Close your eyes and focus on breathing in and out through the nose, minimum 20 breaths, if not more.
Supported Supta Badakonasana (Supported Reclined Butterfly)
Right, now we grab the big sofa cushions and as many pillows as you need. Place them length-ways along the mat behind you and keeping your bum on the floor, lay back and relax into the slight back-bend. Bring the soles of your feet together and let the knees fall out wide. You can bring your feet further away from your bum if it's too much on the hips/groin area, or even better, support your knees with pillows under each knee too - absolute bliss.
Make sure you feel fully supported by those pillows (add more as you need) and let the hands fall to the ground. Close your eyes and breathe in and out through the nose...you got it...at least 20 times if not more.
OK OK don't freak out...I called it that because I didn't know what else to call it. Basically this final pose is about sealing in all that Zen-ness you've just created. Either seated, or laying down (pictured is a variation which is nice on the lower back: knees as wide as the mat, knees falling in together supporting each-other) place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your belly.
Breathing through the nose focus on how your hands rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. On your inhale your belly and chest will expand, and on your exhale they will fall. Focus on this sensation and how it feels to fill your lungs and belly with air for as long as you can. If thoughts come to your mind, acknowledge them, but don't beat yourself up about them being there, just return your attention to the breathing, the rise and fall of your hand and how it feels.
When you're ready, return to your normal breathing pattern and stay here for as long as you like (I usually wait until the music stops playing as my cue).
Now slowly, and gently, keeping your eyes closed or your gaze soft, push yourself up to a seated position, crawl around the house blowing out the candles and find your way straight into bed...