Yoga can do a lot of things—invigorate you, improve flexibility, help you focus on breath and even help you sleep better. Good sleep hygiene often includes a ritual that preps your body and brain for a solid night’s sleep. Many yogis keep a special “sleep yoga mat” in their bedroom that’s meant only for relaxation. Any energy that’s drummed up in your morning power vinyasa classes or afternoon Bikram sessions is kept separately.
Lavender is renowned as one of the best essential oils for relaxation, so start by misting it near your nightly yoga session is a great way to cue your mind that it’s time to start winding down. For at least 30 minutes (and preferably one hour) before your night practice, avoid any screen time such as the TV or computer. Give yourself a window of at least two hours between your last meal and your night practice. Now that you’re prepared, try out some of these asanas for a better slumber:
1. Legs up the Wall
You can literally put your legs up the wall or hold your legs straight up without support—yogi’s choice. This reverses the blood flow that you’ve been experiencing throughout the day. Reversing the flow and forcing it back into your trunk is one of the best ways to decompress. Hold the pose as long as you like, but for at least five deep breaths.
2. Supine Twist
This can be done with either one knee bent or both knees bent. Keep the shoulder blades squarely on the mat, arms held out to a “T”, and face the opposite direction of your knees. This should feel like a great de-stressing twist and can also be held as long as you like. Just make sure to hold for the same amount of time on each side.
If plow is part of your practice, it’s an excellent segue into bedtime. If you’re working towards plow or prefer a modification, try dead man’s pose (which is like plow, but with knees bent on either side of the head). This is technically an ab workout, but also does wonders for relaxing.
4. Shoulder Stand
An alternative or complement to legs up the wall, this is preferred by many yogis who want an extra boost of balance and even more extreme blood flow reversal. Just make sure to move into plow or dead man’s post to come out of it, and do it gently. Legs don’t have to be static here—you can move them, scissor them, spread them into a V and back or whatever else feels good.
5. Bridge Pose
Whether you prefer a gentle bridge with hands flat on the mat before bed or the full wheel expression is up to you. However, this isn’t a time to test your flexibility—it’s a time to slow down. Make sure the flutes aren’t clenched and that you’re relying on your quads for most of the strength. Keep the face upwards and leave enough space between your chin and chest for an imaginary grapefruit.
6. Happy Baby
Grasp either the outter edges of your feet or your ankles, and feel free to rock back and forth along the spine. This is a great hip and thigh opener, but also a time for a mini back massage. When coming out of the pose, hug the knees tight into the chest. To really capitalize on this movement, hug in one knee tightly at a time into the corresponding armpit.
However, the best yoga of all for night is simply pranayama. Try out different breathing exercises instead of counting sheep or worrying about your to-do list. It’s the nightcap you’ve always been looking for.