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Sleeping Tips: 3 Yoga Poses for Sleep (and 3 Breathing Exercises)

Author imageThe Mattress Warehouse

Author: Genna Pearson – Hotpod Yoga Johannesburg Studio

It’s dark. You hear your partner breathing steadily in, steadily out. And it frustrates you because, for some reason, you can’t sleep yet they can. Maybe you are stressed about an upcoming job interview, maybe it’s tomorrow’s exam keeping you awake? Or maybe you suffer from insomnia? Perhaps you’ve tried all sorts of remedies and still sleep doesn’t come easily. So now you want to try out a couple of yoga poses for sleep. Keep reading because, in this article, Hotpod Yoga Studio partnered up with The Mattress Warehouse to show you three super easy yoga poses that can help you to fall asleep. Moreover, as a bonus, we added three breathing exercises that could do the same.

Reasons why yoga can help you sleep better

Yoga can aid in sleep because doing a simple yoga pose or two before bed can help your body and mind relax. But before we carry on, let’s take a closer look at what yoga is.

What is yoga?

Yoga is a mental, physical and spiritual practice that revolves around moving into specific stances or poses and focused breathing exercises to allow for increased blood flow and lymph circulation. There are eight branches of traditional yoga, but popular yoga (as practiced in the western world) mostly follows two of those disciplines, namely:

  • Asana – This is the third branch of yoga and it focuses on postures (like the ones that will help you to fall asleep).
  • Pranayama – The fourth limb of yoga concentrates on conscious breathing exercises. In other words, you have to think about your breathing and focus on your breathing. These exercises or techniques can help to calm your heart rate and help you relax.

There are also certain styles of yoga. In the west, we mostly practice Vinyasa (flow yoga), where you move from one pose to the next in sequence. And it can give you quite the workout too!

Yoga developed in northern India around 5000 years ago. Even though the original context of yoga was spiritual development practices to train the body and mind in creating self-awareness involving meditation, yoga does not involve praying. Moreover, it is not a religion. It is simply a way of connecting physical and spiritual awareness.

7 benefits of yoga

Regularly doing yoga can increase your quality of life (as well as help you sleep better).

How, you might ask?

Well, let us discuss this a bit more.

1. Calm your mind

When you do yoga, the instructor will often tell you to focus on a specific thing. It can be the body part you are currently activating or the way you breathe in and out. And the fact of the matter is, if you focus on that particular muscle or breath, it’s difficult to focus on something else. And if you follow along with the lesson, your focus will shift from one muscle to the next. One pose to the next. And before you know it, you’ve temporarily forgotten those things that bother you.

2. Aids sporting performance & endurance

Apart from assisting in preventing repetitive strain injuries in athletes, practising yoga regularly can improve your core strength. Some yoga poses target muscle groups that you wouldn’t ordinarily use when you’re out for a jog, so you get a more all-round workout. With an increase in core strength, you also improve your balance. Yoga can also improve the range of motion in muscles, which will help an athlete move more freely on the track or field. More importantly, being able to breathe properly using techniques practised in yoga will aid in improving lung capacity and endurance.

If you are an active person, you can agree that the following;

  • Increased core strength
  • Better balance
  • More range of movement
  • Increased endurance

will most likely improve your game.

3. Can assist with rehabilitation from injury

Sustaining a serious muscle injury or undergoing surgery often leaves you with underworked, atrophied muscles. And unfortunately, once the cast comes off, you can’t just go back to doing everything you did before the injury. You must systematically work on those atrophied muscles to regain strength. As practising yoga promotes blood circulation to your muscles, they will recover faster.

And we aren’t just saying so. Ex-junior Springbok Andre-Louis de Villiers agrees that yoga is great for muscle rehabilitation.

4. Helps alleviate pain

Regular yoga sessions can reduce inflammation and pain. Moving your muscles in a controlled manner helps your lymphatic system drain excessive fluids from inflamed areas. Moreover, doing yoga stimulates the release of “feel good” hormones, also known as endorphins, which help to fight off pain.

5. Improves mental health – combats depression & anxiety

We just mentioned that yoga promotes the release of endorphins. Well, not only does it relieve pain, but it also helps to improve your mood. And besides releasing hormones that make you feel better such as oxytocin, yoga also helps you focus on the present. And if you are focussed on what is going on in your body, right now, it takes your mind off of those things that might make you anxious.

6. Helps regulate hormones

Certain yoga poses promote thyroid function, while others stimulate the pituitary gland. Both of these glands play an integral part in regulating the hormone levels in your body.

7. It helps you sleep better

This is what you came here for, isn’t it? Doing a simple, non-taxing yoga routine before bed can do wonders for your sleep. It is really as simple as slowing down your heart rate, increasing the amount of oxygen in your blood and focusing your mind on the here and now. With a calm mind and low heart rate, the onset of sleep should come easily.

Talking about sleep, here are some of the simplest and best yoga poses for sleep.

The 3 best yoga poses that help you sleep well (asanas)

Even though some advanced yoga poses are great for promoting sleep onset, not everyone can do them. If your body is not used to doing yoga, you might just hurt yourself while trying to maintain a tricky stance. And that will definitely not help you sleep better. It will do the exact opposite!

The best yoga poses for sleep are all restorative poses – simple and safe.

Oh, and another thing. Don’t eat yourself full right before you do your pre-sleep yoga routine. Try to sit upright after eating and give the food at least 30 minutes to settle before you start doing yoga. In fact, take a look at how food can affect your sleep with our article about the 7 Foods that help you sleep better, as endorsed by a registered South African dietician.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Tip: if you have an eye or heart condition, don’t do inversion poses where your head is lower than your heart. 

1. Child’s pose (Balasana)

Child’s pose relaxes your back and the muscles around your hips. It is a resting pose that does not cause undue exertion, so it helps you relax, especially if you focus on your breathing while you do it.

You have probably heard of this one before, but for those of you who haven’t, let’s take a quick look at how to get into child’s pose.

  1. Kneel on your yoga mat with your big toes touching each other and your knees hip-width apart.
  2. Keeping your knees on the mat, sit your buttocks down on your feet.
  3. Lower your chest onto your thighs and your forehead towards the floor.
  4. Relax your shoulders.
  5. Now relax your jaw.
  6. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth.

And that, in a nutshell, is how to get into child’s pose. But you might be wondering what to do with your arms. You can stretch your arms forward, leave them hanging limply by your side, put your palms together in front of your head or rest your forehead on your fists.  For sleep, resting your forehead on your fists (stack one on top of the other) is the best option.



Woman performing child's pose on a blue yoga mat.

Try this iteration of child’s pose to relax.

Keep this pose for five minutes before bedtime, focus on your breathing, and within no time, you’ll feel your heart rate slowing down.

2.  Legs up the wall pose (Viparita Karani)

Viparita Karani is another straightforward pose that doesn’t require a lot of effort from you, although it is an inversion so is not suitable for everyone. This restorative pose will benefit you by increasing blood circulation and lymphatic fluid movement, as well as reducing stress and anxiety. You see, having your legs up high allows for improved blood circulation to the head from your legs (great if you spend a lot of time standing up each day, have swollen ankles or leg pain or even a headache). It also alleviates pressure from your lower back and spine, and stretches out the back of your neck, which will help your body relax.

How to get into this pose? It’s all in the name…

  1. Find a spot against the wall where there is no clutter on the floor or wall hangings against the wall.
  2. Lie down on your back and get your hips as close to the wall as possible. Your body should be at a 90-degree angle to the wall.
  3. Move your feet up the wall so that your body makes an L-shape.
  4. Rest your arms out to the sides. Alternatively, you can just drape your arms across your belly.
  5. Relax your neck.
  6. Relax your jaw.
  7. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth.

As you lie with your legs in the air, try to regulate your breathing and focus your mind on those areas that feel stressed. Consciously relax your jaw. It sounds funny when we say that, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you clench your jaws if you are stressed.

Woman performing one of the best yoga poses for sleep - Legs up the wall pose.

Focus on your breathing to gain the most from this pose.

Legs up the wall pose might be uncomfortable at first but repeat it regularly to build up a tolerance for it. Don’t keep the pose for longer than five minutes, and if you feel uncomfortable anytime before the time is up, stop.

3. Corpse pose (Savasana)

The simplest pose of them all, but not always the easiest to maintain. Regularly used to end off yoga sessions, this is known as the “final relaxation” pose, and it is perfect for ending off your day. You can even do it while lying in bed! Like all restorative yoga poses, it helps to calm your heart rate and breathing. Furthermore, it relaxes your muscles and mind.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Lie down on your back with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Relax your feet and let them fall naturally to the sides.
  3. Straighten out your arms next to your body and, leaving a gap between your arms and torso, let them lie on the mat/floor/bed with your palms open and facing upward.
  4. Lightly tuck your shoulder blades back for additional support under your body.
  5. Close your eyes and be aware of your breathing.

Now you are in the right position, but it doesn’t stop there. You now have to actively relax your body. Sound like a contradiction to you? Let’s explain exactly what we mean so you can do it.

  1. Start off with the easy parts, your hands and feet. Let go of tension in the hands, and let your feet flop out.
  2. This is where the active part comes in. Focus on your facial muscles and relax them. Soften the forehead, unclench your jaw, and loosen your tongue.
  3. Relax your neck and let your shoulders sink into the mattress.
  4. Let your lower back and hips sink into the mattress or floor.
  5. You get the picture, so carry on like this. Focus on your body and where you feel soreness or stiffness, relax that area. Make your body parts feel heavy and envision sinking into the floor.

Young woman lying in corpse pose on a grey yoga mat against a white-washed brick wall background.

Final relaxation is the perfect pose to end off your yoga session and day.

Do this for five to ten minutes, or if you are already in bed, until you fall asleep. If you are on the floor, set an alarm for the time you wish to stay in this pose and then immerse yourself in the pose without thinking about time. Your alarm will tell you when it is time to go to bed.

Hotpod Yoga classes always incorporate this pose at the end of their sessions to help participants to calm down, relax and gain the full benefit of their workout.

3 Breathing exercises for better sleep (pranayamas)

You might have noticed that we keep on telling you to breathe. Well, breathing is important… And these three breathing exercises are sure to slow you down and prepare you for some serious sleeping.

All of these pranayamas are related, and the cool thing is you can do all of these while you hold your restorative pre-bed yoga pose.  That’s right, you can try these exercises while doing child’s pose, legs up the wall pose, and corpse pose. Or you can simply do it while lying down comfortably on your back.

When you do these breathing exercises, imagine your tummy is a balloon that you must inflate and deflate. Relax and let the breath push your stomach out as you breathe in. Now, as you exhale, tighten your stomach muscles as if you are using them to push the breath out.

Woman breathing deeply with closed eyes and hands together in front of her chest.

Breathing in through your nose is important. Remind yourself to do it every now and then…

16 seconds

Inhale through your nose to the count of four. Hold your breath to the count of four. Exhale to the count of four. Hold the empty breath for the count of four. Inhale through your nose to the count of four. Hold your breath… You get the idea. Repeat this exercise several times to start feeling your heart slow down.

Also called the 16-second meditation, it helps you bring presence and calmness to a stressful situation by focusing the mind on just the breath.

8 + 10 + 12 +14

Inhale through your nose to the count of four and exhale to the count of four. Now inhale and exhale to the count of five. Then inhale and exhale to the count of six. Then seven and possibly eight. Once you have reached your optimal count (whether it is 5/6/7/8) do a few rounds in your own time and see how much more relaxed you feel afterwards.

8, 9, 10, 11, 12…

A modification of the previous exercise is to breathe in through your nose to the count of four and breathe out through your nose to the count of four. Count to four as you breathe in through the nose, then count to five as you breathe out through your nose. The next round is to breathe into the count of four then breathe out the count of six. Are you catching on? Keep your inhalations the same, but add another count every time you exhale. Try to lengthen the exhalations as long as possible – this will help calm and relax you the longer you breathe out.

Sleep well with The Mattress Warehouse

So, if you’re wondering how to get a good night’s sleep and sleep better, try out these breathing exercises, and yoga poses before bed. It isn’t difficult or mythical, it’s just a good way to unwind before you hit the hay. And if you want to know more about how to get a good night’s sleep, follow The Mattress Warehouse’s blog for healthy sleep tips. 

About the author

Genna Pearson is a practising South African yoga instructor and studio owner. She has been practising yoga since 2005 and qualified with a Hatha vinyasa 200hr training course in 2008. Genna also did various additional yoga training courses in yin yoga, as well as pre-and post-natal courses. She had her fair share of doing extreme running and mountaineering, so she has first-hand experience of how yoga can enhance sporting performance and restore weary muscles. 


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Mattress Warehouse. 

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