As someone who has struggled off and on with insomnia, I know how rough it can be. You’re exhausted, and you’re lying in the dark, staring at the ceiling, but sleep just. won’t. come. Maybe your thoughts are racing, or maybe you feel like your body can’t settle down so that your brain can let go. If you deal with sleeplessness, yoga for insomnia may be able to help you sleep better and sleep more deeply.
The causes of insomnia are complicated, and yoga isn’t going to be a cure-all for every person who suffers from this condition. It’s definitely helped me and other folks that I know, though so I recommend giving it a go. You’re awake anyway, right?
If you’re new to yoga, I would suggest taking a couple of classes before practicing on your own. The poses below are pretty basic, but learning how to properly align your body is part of yoga’s benefit and can help prevent injury. Even a few classes with a teacher can help you get a feel for how your body should be aligned. Most teachers will take requests, so you can ask if it would be OK to include these yoga for insomnia postures in class.
Yoga for Insomnia: The Poses
1. Seated Forward Bend
What it does: This relaxing pose is calming and restorative. It also can help improve digestion. If digestive issues are keeping you up or waking you at night, this can be a big help!
How to do it: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, focusing on sitting up as straight as possible. Inhale, and raise your arms over your head, flexing your feet as you dive forward. Grab on to your feet, ankles, calves, or thighs. Don’t worry about how far you go. When you feel a gentle stretch in the backs of your legs, you’ve gone far enough to get the benefits of this pose. Keep your back as straight as you can, and stay here for 10-12 slow breaths.
2. Bridge Pose
What it does: A back bend might not seem like a sleep-inducing pose, but it can actually help you calm down and prepare for sleep. Inversions like bridge pose alleviate stress, which is one of the major factors that can contribute to insomnia.
How to do it: Start by lying on your back, then bend your knees, drawing your feet in, so that they’re flat on the floor right by your bottom. On your next inhale, press down with your feet and your arms to raise your bottom off of the floor. Use your inner thigh muscles to keep your legs from falling out to the sides, and clasp your hands together. Squeeze your shoulder blades together gently, and breathe in this posture for 10-15 slow breaths, then slowly release your back onto the floor.
photo via Faern, Faernworks Art & Photography
3. Reclining Bound Angle Pose
What it does: This is a relaxation pose that stretches your legs and reduces stress to help you sleep better and more deeply. It’s especially beneficial if racing thoughts or a restless body are keeping you awake.
How to do it: Start in a seated position, with your feet touching each other. Lean back, so one elbow is on the floor, then lower yourself down so that your back is resting on the floor, and focus on rolling your shoulders back and pulling your shoulder blades together. Your arms should be in a neutral position, palms up, like in the photo. Close your eyes and breathe, staying in this posture for as long as you like. You can use a blanket or bolster to support your feet, like in the photo above, if necessary. You can also tuck pillows or folded blankets under your knees or thighs, if you feel like you need more support there.
4. Shoulder Stand
What it does: A basic inversion like shoulder stand helps you slow down and relax. This posture calms the mind and relieves leg and foot soreness that might be keeping you awake.
How to do it: Begin by lying on your back, then bring your knees into your chest. Place your arms flat on the floor, so that your hands extend past your bottom, palms on the floor. Push with your arms, and curl your spine to bring your legs straight up into the air. Bend your elbows, and place your hands on your lower back to support yourself in this posture. If you find shoulder stand too intense, try Legs Up the Wall instead. It’s a simpler variation with many of the same benefits.
What it does: Have you ever fallen asleep during savasana at the end of yoga class? This pose may not seem like much, but the practice of lying still and letting your body soak in the poses you just practiced helps prepare your brain for rest and relaxation.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms in a neutral palms-up position by your sides. Close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Notice how your belly gently rises and falls as you inhale and exhale. There are quite a few technique that you can use while you’re in this pose. You can just focus on your breath, listen to soothing music, or choose a guided meditation to listen to. One meditation that I really like is the Rainbow Relaxation that was part of my hypnobirthing practice. After a few weeks of practicing that meditation every evening, I could instantly relax as soon as the music started. That’s just one suggestion, though! If you’re planning to go the meditation route, do a little bit of googling to find one that’s a good fit for you.