Full-time work, parenting, studying, grocery shopping, deadlines.…. The list goes on! We all have such busy lives it’s no wonder our minds are constantly in action, maybe thinking about the past and future, struggling to focus on the present moment. Our constant mind activity can lead to difficulty falling asleep in the evening, or finding a deep sleep through the night.
A good night’s sleep is super important for a number of reasons. Sleep keeps all of our systems running smoothly, including our metabolism, nervous system, brain function and emotional wellbeing. Sleep also repairs our body tissues and keeps up our immunity. It is recommended that we get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, less than this could result in poor memory, lack of focus, anxiety, chronic health issues and increased mistakes in daytime life.
Yoga can calm our minds and aid in a good night sleep by soothing and regulating our autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is comprised of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as our ‘fight or flight’ response and is generally responsible for letting our body know when we are in danger. The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, helps our body to clam down after the stressor has passed. When we have racing thoughts and a busy mind our sympathetic nervous system is often unnecessarily in over drive. Yoga practices can help calm the sympathetic nervous system and encourage the parasympathetic nervous system to take over.
We’ve put together a list of 4 Yoga practices to calm your mind and improve your sleep. This sequence can be practiced either before bed, or at any other time of the day when you feel you need to relax. If you don’t have time to perform the entire sequence just choose one or two to help you.
Due to the forward fold and contracted position, child’s pose can create a feeling of safety and security. The closeness to the earth is also excellent for times when we are feeling anxious or overwhelmed as it can create a feeling of grounding and solidity.
- Sit on your heels in a kneeling position with your feet together and legs either together or apart
- As you exhale let your body come forward towards the earth, resting your forehead on the floor
- Either reach your arms out in from or rest them back by your side
- Hold for 20-30 deep breaths
- Inhale to sit up
- Repeat as often as you like
Tips: If your forehead does not easily rest on the floor you can place a cushion underneath it, or place your hands in fists on top of one another and use as a rest.
Supta Baddha Konasana/Recline Bound Angle Pose
Supta Baddha Konasna is fantastic for calming due to the openness of the chest and hips, both areas where we may hold a build up of tension.
- Sit on your mat with a bolster behind you, so it runs the same direction as your mat
- Place the soles of the feet together comfortably in front of you, let the knees drop wide, if this feels too strong place pillows or blocks underneath your knees so they are resting
- Slowly let your body relax backwards onto the bolster
- Let your arms hang wide and close your eyes if comfortable
- Breathe into your chest and lower belly for 20-30 breaths or as comfortable
- To release use your hands to help you sit upright and bring your knees back together
Tips: For some of us, this posture may feel very deep in our hips and knees, or strong emotions may arise. If this is the case for you, try to focus calmly on your breath, or move your feet further away to make the posture it softer on your knees and hips.
Viparita Karani/Legs-up-the-Wall Pose
Legs up the wall gives the heart a rest from working so hard and provides oxygen to the lungs, creating an overall soothing feeling. The posture stops our sympathetic nervous system by turning it upside down (literally) and allows your body to reset itself in a calm manner.
- Move your body as close as you can to a wall, facing it
- Shift your bottom towards the wall
- Swing your legs to the side and rest the backs of your heels against the wall, don’t worry if your legs aren’t fully straight
- Lay down on your back keeping your legs up
- Rest your arms our wide
- Close your eyes if it feels OK to do so
- Hold for 20-30 breaths, or as long as comfortable
Tips: If you feel your body is too far away from the wall to straighten your legs you can rest the soles of your feet against the wall and keep your knees bent.
Anuloma Vilouma/ Alternate Nostril Breath
This is not a Yoga posture but rather a pranayama or breathing practice. Anuloma balances our ‘doing’ energy with our ‘calming’ energy, helps our nervous system to settle and re-sets our minds.
- Sit with a neutral spine, make Gyan mudra by touching the thumb and first finger of your left hand and resting it on your knee. Make Vishnu mudra by placing your right hand in a fist and releasing the thumb, ring and pinky fingers
- Close you eyes if you are comfortable and take one full breath, exhaling fully
- Cover your right nostril with your thumb, slowly inhale into your belly through the left nostril,
- Close your left nostril with your ring finger and release your right nostril
- Slowly fully exhale through your right nostril
- Inhale through your right nostril, close your right nostril
- Exhale through the left nostril
- Repeat 5 – 10 rounds
Finish with a long Savasana of 10-15 minutes.
Are you looking for more ways to calm your mind and body? Gentle Pranayama is an excellent tool to use. Find out more in our articles outlining an introduction to pranayama or introductory practices.