A guest blog by yoga and wellness expert Lydia Sasse. For more information and links to Lydia's work, please scroll to the bottom of this article.
These days sleep seems to be the topic of conversation amongst my friends and clients: who is getting it, who isn’t, how can we get more, how can we possibly function without it?
Our lives are getting busier, our bodies are being asked to do more work and our nervous systems are chronically overloaded. This means that the part of our nervous system that is responsible for rest and repair ( our parasympathetic nervous system) never gets a chance to kick fully into gear, resulting in less sleep, worse quality sleep when we do get it and a higher chance of burn out.
Yoga is one of the best ways we can begin to address this as the poses themselves and the breathwork accompanying them help us to drop into the parasympathetic nervous system and bring the body back towards balance.
When I am working with clients I always advise them to practice this simple routine on their bed right before sleep to help them release tension from tired muscles after the long day, reconnect them to correct breathing patterns and help them find the way back to a more relaxing night's rest. One of the many lovely things about bed yoga is that your mattress is a very forgiving surface, unlike a yoga mat, so it allows you to feel comfortable in poses that you might not usually love and the softer surface supporting your body gives you the chance to surrender more deeply and relax into the pose. The best thing of all though is when you have finished all you need to do is roll over, curl up under your lovely sheets and go to sleep.
Cobbler's Pose opens the hips and groin. Stretching the hips and inner thighs in this pose can begin to counteract the effects of spending too much time sitting at a desk or in a car. It will take pressure off a tight lower back and also help prepare you for other meditative seated poses, which require good flexibility in the hips and groin.
Begin seated with your legs outstretched straight in front of you.
- Bend your knees and place a pillow or bolster underneath them for support. Bring the soles of your feet together letting your knees fall out to either side.
- The placement of your heels depends on how open you feel in your groin and hips; the closer they are to your pubic bone the more intense the pose will feel. If you feel any pain in your knees simply move the heels further away from your body.
- Press the balls of your feet together.
- Sit up tall with a long spine and keep your shoulders down your back and drawing in towards the spine.
- As you inhale, find length in the spine and let the belly expand with air. As you exhale let the undersides of the knees release into the support of the pillow and draw your navel back towards the spine emptying the belly of air.
- You may also take this into a forward fold if it feels nice. Hold onto your shins or thighs ( wherever your hands naturally fall without reaching) Inhale and grow taller, exhale and fold forward, hinging at the hips, sliding your hands down your legs and letting your chin drop towards your chest.
- Once in a forward fold; focus on breathing deeply into the belly and softening through the muscles of the shoulders, neck, and face.
- Remain in this pose for 1-3 minutes.
- To come out of the pose, hold on to the underside of your knees with your hands and lift them up until the inside of your knees touch. Then straighten your legs out and circle the ankles a few times.
Child's pose gently stretches the hips, thighs, and ankles. It is calming for the brain and the nervous system and helps relieve stress and fatigue. This is one of the most restorative poses for back and neck pain. Child's pose is also known for helping us get to sleep easier and stay asleep for longer.
- Kneel on your bed. Bring your big toes together and your knees slightly wider than your hips and then sit back towards your heels,
- Inhale and bring length into your spine, Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs. You can choose to have your arms extended out in front of you, or bring your hands back either side of your heels.
- Lengthen your tailbone towards the wall behind you and soften your torso down into the bed. Make sure that your forehead is in contact with either a pillow or the bed.
- Rest here breathing into the belly and the back for up to 5 minutes.
- To come out of the pose, first come up onto your fingertips and lengthen the torso forward, then roll your spine up like a rag doll until you come back to kneeling.
Knees to Chest Pose
Knees to chest pose is often recommended for those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, it can help to relieve trapped wind, indigestion and constipation.
At bedtime, this pose helps to relieve lower back tension before you lie down to sleep. As well as this because your body is curled inwards in the pose, your thoughts are more easily drawn inwards too, which is useful for calming the mind and rebalancing a frazzled nervous system at the end of a long day.
- Begin by lying on your back, with your legs and arms extended.
- Inhale fully, breathing into your belly so that it expands like a balloon. As you exhale, draw both of your knees to your chest and clasp your hands around them.
- Keep your lower back pressing down onto the bed. Release your shoulder blades down away from your ears. Broaden across your collar bones.
- If it is comfortable for you to do so, softly rock backward and forward or side-to-side for a gentle spinal massage.
- Hold for up to one minute. Try to Keep your breath smooth and even.
- On an exhalation, release and extend both legs and arms along the bed into a full-body stretch.
Supine Spinal Twist
This simple supported twist has a host of benefits that help your tired body unwind at the end of the day.
It releases tight shoulders and a tight low back, it eases digestive discomfort and helps to lengthen the long muscles that run along either side of the spine that have to work so hard to keep us upright all day long. It also helps to stretch the intercostal muscles between the ribs that allow us to take bigger, deeper breaths. The longer and deeper our breaths, the calmer we feel which in turn enables us to sleep better at night without our busy minds disturbing us.
- Lay on your back and bring both knees into your chest as you did in the previous pose and then when you’re ready, bring your arms out into a ‘T’ with your hands in line with your shoulders and let your knees gently fall over to one side until they are supported by the bed or a pillow.
- You can keep both knees bent, straighten the top leg, or choose to draw the bottom knee backwards and kick your bottom foot back towards your top hand and hold it in your fingers for a deeper stretch.
- It may be helpful to adjust your tailbone tucking it under and forwards to lengthen the lower back.
- If you would like a neck stretch, point your nose to the side opposite your knees.
- Stay in this pose for a minute or two on both sides, making sure to breath into the belly and remind yourself to soften the shoulders, face, hips, and back.
- Be sure to do this pose on both sides with few breathes rest in between.
Legs Up The Wall Pose
Legs up the wall pose is what is known as an inversion; commonly we think of these as elaborately acrobatic things like handstands but they don’t have to be. There are many benefits to inverting your body. Here are just a few; when you put your legs up the wall or up your head board in this case, with your pelvis elevated on a pillow, lymph and other fluids that can lead to swollen ankles, tired knees, and congested pelvic organs flow into the lower belly; this refreshes the legs, the digestive system and the whole reproductive area.
This pose also gives the blood circulation a gentle boost toward the upper body and head, which creates a rebalancing effect after you have been standing or sitting for a long time and can relieve tension headaches or migraines. If you are stressed,or tired, this pose is especially beneficial.
- Sit side saddle on a pillow/ cushion at the base of your headboard so that your right side is near the wall.
- Place your left elbow on the floor and swing your legs—like a mermaid tail—up the wall. The rest of your body will naturally go down so that you end up lying on the bed, with your legs up the wall/headboard.
- Using your elbows, try to scootch your bottom forwards so that the base of your pelvis is as close to the headboard as possible.
- Once you are comfortably situated, let your arms resting by your sides, or back behind your head.
- Finally if you want to make it extra delcious; place an eye pillow over your eyes.
Stay in this pose for 5 to 20 minutes. If you are not used to restorative yoga, you may want to get up after 5 minutes, and that's fine. Over time, you will be able to stay longer.
Legs up the wall pose is a perfect position to try out a calming breath practice in. I always recommend a 4;6 breath to my clients as it is one of the quickest and simplest ways to bring the body back to that parasympathetic nervous system, we were talking about in the beginning. This is the place of deep healing, deep relaxation, and deep rejuvenation that we all need more of, especially as we head towards dreamtime.
- To practice a 4;6 breath all you need to do is start to focus your awareness on the length of your inhale, and exhale. First make sure you that as you breath in the belly is rising and as you breathe out the navel is returning towards the spine.
- Now begin to count the inhale and the exhale. See if you can make the inhale last for a slow count of 4 and the exhale last for a slow count of 6.
- Use the counting as a kind of mantra, to anchor your mind into the breath and prevent it from running off into stories about your day.
- You can use this breath at any time during the day or night to help bring you into a calmer and more relaxed state.
- When you are ready to come out of the pose, bend your knees toward your chest. Roll onto your right side and rest there for several breaths. Then, press your hands into the bed and roll yourself up to sitting, letting your head come up last.
- Sit quietly for a few minutes and feel the effects of your practice.
Now you should be feeling lovely and relaxed and calm and ready for a deep and peaceful nights sleep.
If you have any questions for Lydia, or want to follow her on social media or attend her workshops or classes please find her on Instagram @yogawithlydia, Twitter @yogawithlydia, or Facebook Yoga with Lydia.
Lydia also runs a health and wellness podcast with her friend Finn Murray owner of The Hopsack health food store in Rathmines, Dublin; you can find it on the usual podcast channels and youtube @wanderingintowellness
The beautiful photographs in this article are taken by the brilliant Irish photographer Hannah Jayne Rowe. Hannah specialises in weddings, maternity and mum and baby shoots. You can find her @hannahjaynephoto and hannahjaynephoto.com