Restorative yoga helps the mind and body deeply relax by using props to create positions of total ease and comfort. When the body feel fully supported in this way, we are able to relax; physically, mentally and emotionally, releasing deeply held tension, which in turn improves sleep and overall well-being. The restorative yoga poses featured here have been chosen for their effectiveness in preparing the body for deep, restful sleep. It’s important to highlight that restorative yoga is about ‘opening’ and ‘releasing’ as opposed to stretching. Whilst these poses can be practised in the evening before bedtime to help the body and mind prepare for sleep, they can also be used during the day to help ‘mop up’ after a lack of sleep the previous night. Read on to find out the top three yoga poses for sleep.
Before we begin
I often use this restorative routine with my clients who are struggling with sleep, and whilst the majority notice an immediate effect, for some it may take longer and so I recommend giving it at least a couple of weeks of practice. The most MAGICAL part of the practice is focusing on the breath, which I have outlined beneath each pose.
To aid the practice, you might want to dim the lights and diffuse some lavender essential oil. I also recommend that you wear socks and warm layers as the body cools down once relaxed.
Restorative yoga is about easing tension and not causing it. If you find discomfort in any of the poses, feel free to adapt the props but if it continues, then discontinue.
It is best to avoid this practice if you are pregnant or less than 3 months post natal. If you have an injury which might get impacted by any of these poses, check with your medical practitioner before starting the routine.
- Creates a massage for the internal abdominal organs and for the kidneys and adrenal glands.
- Is extremely quieting for the mind.
Set up the pose
Bring the big toes in towards each other and the knees out towards the edges of the mat. Bring the pillows in between your hips so that you are resting on them. Lay your torso over the bolster from the pubic bone to the top of the head. Sit back comfortably on your heels. If this is too difficult you can roll up a blanket and place it under your bottom. Relax over the props with the forearms resting flush to the floor and creating a right angle between the upper and lower arms. If your head is dropping, add another blanket. You should feel fully supported. Ensure that you turn your head onto the other side so that you spend equal time on each side.
- Connect with the breath.
- The breath often feels constricted at first but slowly ease yourself into it by focusing on long slow exhalations.
- Feel the skin on your back gently stretching with each inhale.
- Notice where you can feel the body moving with the breath – the chest, shoulders, abdomen rounding, pelvis.
- Focusing on your exhalations, allow the body to completely release and let go. Sense if you are holding on anywhere and if so, allow the body to soften and completely give way to the props supporting you.
Legs Up the Wall
- Quiets the brain and soothes the mind.
- Can help to reduce exhaustion and fatigue.
- Lowers blood pressure and refreshes tired legs.
This can either be done using a chair (with a stable base) to rest your lower legs on or with the legs up the wall. If you are using a chair, ensure that you are positioned so that the upper and lower legs are at right angles. If you are practising with legs up the wall them its vital to keep the bottom far away enough from the wall so that there is no tension in the ships and hamstrings, yet close enough so that the legs are supported. The challenge of using a wall can be getting into the pose. I suggest you sit sideways to the wall, as close to the wall as possible and then swing your legs up as your turn and lie down.
Ensure that the chin is slightly lower than the forehead without tensing the back of the neck. The best position is when the back of the skull rather than the neck is resting on the floor.
Stay here with palms facing upwards and arms out to the sides or resting gently on the tummy if that feels more comfortable.
- Bring awareness to the body on the floor.
- Focus on long exhalations and start to soften the back muscles.
- Inhale for the count of 2 and exhale for the count of 3.
- Once this feels comfortable, inhale for the count of 3 and exhale for the count of 6.
- Do this for around 5 rounds before allowing the breath to return back to it’s natural rhythm.
- When you are finished, gently release the legs and roll onto your side.
Supported Bound Angle Pose (aka Goddess Pose)
- An essential power down; a restoring and replenishing pose.
- Relieves fatigue and insomnia.
- Reduces nervous tension and stress.
- Increases overall energy levels and if practised in the day, can help mop up after insufficient rest.
- Opens the chest, enabling deeper breaths and quiets the abdomen.
Stack 2 pillows together and place a folded blanket on the top end of the pillow. Sit in front of the pillows and slowly recline back along the length of the pillows. It’s important that the back of the skull is supported and so use a folded blanket beneath the head. Bring the soles of the feet together with the knees bent outwards and place support beneath the thighs, using cushions or blocks. Allow the arms to rest by your sides with the palms of the hands face up.
- Place your hands gently on the area just above your navel and feel the movement of the natural breath, the rising of your abdomen as you inhale and the falling of your abdomen as you exhale. Don’t force the breath in any way but ensure that this area is soft and able to move freely with the breath. Do this for around 10 breaths and then release your hands back to the ground. Continue to breathe this way, ensuring that the breath is smooth and long. Now gently exhale, then hold the end of the exhale for a count of 2 before inhaling; do this 5 times before allowing the breath to return to its natural pattern. Never strain if you feel out of breath, resume normal breathing until your breath has normalised ad you can complete this breathing exercise.
- Allow your body to become heavy and see if the body is able to release just that bit more.
- After around 5 minutes in this pose, bring the knees back together before bringing yourself back to sitting, or to roll over straight to bed!
Please note: This article is not to be used as medical advice. This post may contain affiliate links.
Donna is a restorative yoga teacher based in the UK, certified with Yoga Alliance and holds a Health and Human Science BSc. Donna focuses on yoga for sleep and anxiety and carefully weaves breath work and mindful meditations into her work.