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I have a 22-month old. So sleep is a treasure.

And like any parent, or any person with a job/stress/responsibilities, sometimes my sleep is just crap. Maybe because the baby wakes, but often just because I am not in the habit of getting good sleep anymore.

Sound familiar?

I’m told the good ol’ days of ample, good-quality sleep will return to me one day. {Mostly by grandmas who melt over my bundle of joy, but are in the enviable position of never having to set an alarm clock again.}

But until that day night comes, I have learned something through yoga. Something I want to pass onto you, fellow tired person of the modern world:

 

In order for sleep to be the most nourishing, restful and healing, we need to do a little prep before bedtime.

 

Just a little. And it’s not watching ‘The Daily Show.’

It’s yoga. If you take just 5-10 minutes to do one or all of these poses before you crawl between the sheets, your sleep will be deeper, more restful and less interrupted. (I’m talking about mental interruptions here — sadly, these poses won’t do much for a wakeful baby.)

 

image via kellinahandbasket, Flickr

image via kellinahandbasket, Flickr

1. Viparita karani (legs up the wall)

It’s as easy as it sounds. You can do it in bed if you don’t have a headboard, or on the floor.

Sit with one hip flush against the wall, and then swing both legs up and lie down on your back. Your bum should be really close to or touching the wall. If you like, put a folded blanket or cushion under your hips.

Hands can go on the belly, palms-up out the side, or overhead. Just make sure it feels comfortable. Totally comfortable.

Start with deep belly breaths. Let the exhale get really long. This will help relax you. After 5 – 10 of them, allow your breath to go on autopilot. Practice watching your breath without controlling it.

 

image via kellinahandbasket, Flickr

image via kellinahandbasket, Flickr

2. Pachimottanasana (seated forward fold)

According to the ancient yogis, tension in different parts of your mind relate directly to different parts of your body.

Conscious tension, or stresses that we are aware of in waking life, manifest in the neck and upper back. Tension from our subconscious minds relates to the lumbar and hips. And unconscious tension — stresses we don’t even know we don’t know — is stored in the backs of the legs.

Now, this is a big simplification, but consider that a big factor in how well you sleep is what emerges from your unconscious or subconscious mind: dreams. For sweet dreams {literally}, it makes sense to release tension in the areas of the body related to those parts of the mind.

This is exactly what pachimottanasana does: it addresses tension in the backs of the legs and low back.

Sit with your legs extended in front of you and flex your feet.

Now, put your hand on your low back for a sec. If it’s rounded, then slide a folded blanket under your bum, bend your knees a little, or both. You want to be starting with a long, unrounded spine.

Take a deep breath in and let your sternum lift as your shoulder blades settle on your back. As you exhale, fold forward, bringing your belly toward your thighs. Let the arms rest comfortably — no need to muscle your way down further; gravity is enough — and relax your head. You want the shoulder blades to stay on the back, so it’s not rounded, but the chin goes to the chest so the back of the neck is long. (Lengthening the back of the neck helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, or relaxation response in the brain.)

Stay for several breaths and get interested in the tension wherever you feel it: backs of the legs, low back or both. Your knees do not have to be straight in order to feel this tension — unless you are very flexible.

image via marketing deluxe, Flickr

image via marketing deluxe, Flickr

3. Chakravakasana (cow to child pose)

Start on all fours. Take a deep breath in, and pull your upper arm bones back. This won’t be a big movement, but it will make it feel like your sternum is beginning to stretch through your upper arm bones, opening your chest.

Basically, the inhale creates a slight arch in your upper back. The shoulder blades pull away from the ears. If you’re very tight, this movement will look almost invisible if you watch yourself in a mirror. Which is totally cool. Just feel the stretch across your chest.

{If you’re completely new to this, check out my video on cat + cow pose.}

As you exhale, round your back. This means your chin drops to your chest and your tailbone tucks. As you round your back like this, send your hips all the way back to your heels and let your elbows bend and touch the floor along with your forehead.

You land in child pose at the end of the exhale.

Then, on inhale, travel back to fours and open up your chest again into that arch (cow pose). Exhale back to child again. Rinse and repeat.

For the breath on this one, let your exhales get longer and longer, until they are preferably twice as long as your inhales. This, coupled with the action of really letting your head rest on the floor and get heavy in child, has a powerful effect on the brain — triggering that relaxation response I already mentioned.

That’s it. My 3 fave poses for better sleep. Give ’em a try, and let me know how it goes.

As always, thanks for reading, lovelies. 🙂

 

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PS: The next yoga nidra workshop {which I offer a couple times a year} is coming up Nov. 15, 2015. You can sign up here -- I'd love to have you! :)