It's 1 a.m. You've been tossing and turning since 10:30 p.m. when you first went to bed, but you can't seem to relax your body and shut off your mind. The harder you work at getting to sleep, the more awake you are, and all you can think about is all the work you have to do tomorrow.
Our daily schedules -- battling traffic, shuttling the kids here and there, working, preparing meals, fitting in a social life, even exercise -- can make it difficult to relax. At the end of the day we expect our energy-charged bodies to shut down instantly and make way for sleep. Whether you have trouble falling asleep, or have trouble staying asleep, sleep disruptions can hamper your effectiveness and increase your stress.
To ease into sleep, try a relaxing yoga routine. Yoga has many different forms that aim to "free the student of their ties with the material world" in order to return to the original, ecstatic state of enlightenment and relaxation. Simply put, yoga and its meditative qualities can help you sleep better. Tonight, once you've completed your normal evening rituals, set aside 10 minutes for a five-step relaxation process.
Step 1: Standing Stretch
Stand comfortably with your feet shoulder-width apart. As you inhale deeply, raise your arms above your head with hands clasped, and come up onto your toes. Stretch your whole body upward. Exhale and bring your arms to your sides; lower your heels to the floor. Repeat once more. (Click here to see the exercise.)
Page 1 of 2 -- For step-by-step instructions on how to do bedtime yoga, see page 2.
Step 2: Easy swing
Find slow rhythmic movement. Stand with your feet slightly apart and knees slightly bent. Gently swing both arms first to the right, turning your head to the right. Then swing to the left, turning your head to the left. Repeat several times in a continuous movement. Relax, with your legs together and arms by your sides. At all times, focus on your breathing and release tension throughout your body. (Click here to see the exercise.)
Step 3: Seated pose
Ease into a seated position. You do not have to choose a traditional yoga posture, simply opt for one that allows you to remain still for as long as possible. Breathe evenly and deeply so that your abdomen rises as you breathe in. Exhale slowly and begin to calm your rushing mind. Withdraw your attention from your surroundings. Focus on the rhythm of your breathing for 10 to 12 full deep inhalations and exhalations.
Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing can help you to deal with stress more effectively and improve your ability to sleep. But this type of breathing doesn't come naturally to most people. Yoga promotes breathing that is deep, smooth, even, quiet and free of pauses. Focus on breathing through your nose and deep within your diaphragm. (Click here to see the exercise.)
Step 4: Child's pose
Child's resting pose (Balasana) helps relieve stress and fatigue, calms the brain and will bring you a step closer to relaxation. Start by resting on your knees and then sink back so your thighs and buttocks drop between your knees.
Spread your knees as wide as a yoga mat, keeping your big toes touching.
Bring your belly to rest between your thighs and bring your forehead towards the floor.
Either stretch your arms in front of you with your palms toward the floor or bring your arms back alongside your thighs with palms facing upwards. Remain in this posture for a few minutes. Allow all of your weight to sink to the floor and continue to focus on your breath. (Click here to see the exercise.)
Step 5: Corpse pose
Corpse pose (Savasana) is a resting pose, but it's not the same as sleeping. Usually you should stay present and aware during the five to 10 minutes of this relaxation. In this case, however, you may want to settle into bed and allow the relaxation carry you into sleep. Lie on your back and let your feet fall out to either side. Let your arms drop alongside your body with palms turned upwards.
Focus on the breath and allow your thoughts to drift away before they take hold. Continue to focus on the breath and allow your body to sink deeper into ease. (Click here to see the exercise.)
When you first try these exercises, don't set time limits on any one portion. Rather, focus your efforts of the breathing and heaviness that should enter your mind and body.
Need to get away? Try a yoga retreat!
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