Like many, I sometimes find it difficult to drift off to sleep at night. My thoughts and anxieties about the day just past, and the day/s ahead, seem to have trouble leaving me in peace once my head hits the pillow.
In order for our bodies to repair their cells and to remove toxins, we require at least 6-8 hours sleep per night. Without adequate sleep, our minds tend to feel fuzzy, our health slowly but surely declines, the ageing process grabs hold, and our moods tend to swing.
In yoga, an 'asana' refers to a pose or posture. The literal meaning of the word 'asana' is 'seat', and originally the only asana was one in which a person could sit comfortably for an extended length of time in meditation. Today there are a wide variety of standing, seated and other asanas, and each one is not only a form of muscle stretching and toning, but a key to opening the energy ('nadis') and psychic ('chakras') channels of the body, prompting a positive physical, emotional, mental or energetic effect. In turn, yoga asanas assist in healing the body, and calming and controlling the mind.
If you're struggling to get enough quality sleep, or finding it hard to fall asleep when you hit the hay at night, these simple pre-sleep asanas may help you.
Throughout these poses, focus on a slow, deep breath. Feel the stretch, but do not allow any feelings of pain or fatigue. Hold each asana for as long as it is comfortable, relaxing and beneficial for you.
1. U T T A N A S A N A
Stand with the feet around six inches apart, and fold your upper body onto your thighs, moving from the hips. Let your fingers dangle to, or lightly touch, the ground, or cross your arms and hold the opposite elbows. Bend the knees as much as necessary to avoid feeling any pain or strain in the backs of the legs, especially the hamstrings.
Uttanasana can help lower stress levels and relieve insomnia.
2. B A L A S A N A
Also known as Child's Pose, or Resting Pose. From a kneeling position, with your big toes touching and your knees slightly apart on the floor, fold forward until your forehead rests on the ground. Lay your arms by your side, palms facing upwards. Rest and breathe.
Balasana calms the mind, gently stretches, and helps to relieve back and neck pain or discomfort. It's used as the resting pose following any asana in a yoga sequence or practice.
3. S U P T A B A D D H A K O N A S A N A
I love this pose. Also known as Reclining Butterfly, it feels as beautiful as its name. Laying on your back, bring your feet to touch, and let your knees fall to the sides. Move your feet as close or as far away from your body as feels comfortable for you. If your knees need some support, place a block, folded blanket, or cushion underneath to allow you to totally relax.
This pose calms the mind, and stimulates the heart, digestive and reproductive organs, bladder and kidney for optimal function.
4. S U P T A M A T S Y E N D R A S A N A
This simple spinal twist releases back tension and improves digestion. Laying on your back, bring the right knee into your chest, then slowly over to rest on the left side. Extend the right arm outwards and turn your face to gaze in the same direction. Breathe into the twist before repeating on the other side. You can also twist with both knees bent to the side, depending on what feels most comfortable for you.
5. V I P A R I T A K A R A N I
Easily my favourite asana, this is an easy inversion (upside-down) asana. Inversions are fantastic for regulating digestion, relieving stress, regulating blood pressure, and reversing the effects of gravity (as we live so much of our lives upright). This asana is known as Legs Up the Wall pose, and is very easy to get into. Once in position, breathe and relax for five or more minutes. You may choose to place a cushion, folded blanket or towel underneath your back for extra comfort. I particularly like to imagine a stream of calm flowing down my legs and into my belly as I exhale, before the rise of my belly of my inhale continues the stream's path upwards, into and over my head. Viparita Karani will relieve the tired muscles of the legs and calm the nervous system.
6. S A V A S A N A
The easiest asana of them all: corpse pose. This asana is usually taken at the end of any yoga practice, as it is an opportunity for your body to absorb the effects of the practice and to enjoy meditative rest. Lay with your legs slightly apart, feet dropped comfortably apart, and arms resting slightly away from your sides. Keep your neck and back flat, relaxed and comfortable. Here, focus on the breath and let the thoughts and worries drift by - notice them, but don't let them dwell; instead, watch them float by like clouds. Enjoy the sensation of total relaxation before climbing into bed for a sound sleep.
Do you enjoy a regular yoga practice? What are your favourite asanas?