Updated: Oct 14, 2021
“What is the best yoga posture for sleep?” It’s a question I get a lot, especially with all the turmoil and uncertainty in today’s world filling so many of us full of stress and anxiety.
But the answer to the question is not quite so straight forward as one might imagine. And that’s because the reason for our insomnia is also not so straight forward. THE REAL CAUSE OF INSOMNIA
Here’s the thing… Insomnia, whether that’s having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, is not the real problem. Your insomnia is merely a symptom; a symptom of a deeper problem. Of course, that deeper problem can vary widely, but in the vast majority of cases, central to the issue of insomnia is an over-stressed or otherwise imbalanced nervous system. And unless and until you address that, your efforts to get better sleep will likely end up only in frustration. YOGA’S SLEEP SOLUTION The reason that the practices of yoga can be such a powerful natural insomnia cure is because, rather than spinning around chasing symptoms like so many other remedies (Ambien, anyone?), yoga techniques, at least, when they are used intelligently, go right to the cause of the problem: the stressed and imbalanced nervous system.
You see, while most people believe yoga to be a physical practice, yoga is really just using the body to affect change in the brain and the nervous system.
And once we understand that the agitated nervous system is the real problem behind our insomnia, the solution is simplified. Soothe the nervous system, or we could say coax it back into its natural, relaxed state (something neuroscientists would call the parasympathetic mode), and sleep will largely take care of itself. SELECTING THE RIGHT YOGA POSTURES
So it's here that we must ask what type of yoga pose might help to reset the nervous system to this relaxed state, and I'll be honest, despite our want-it-done-now culture, a single yoga posture is likely not enough. To treat the nervous system to the soothing and nourishment it yearns for, we'll have much better result with a sequence of postures rather than a single pose. (but don't worry, even a sequence as short as 5-7 minutes can have a dramatic effect) But what postures to do? Well, it’s probably not news to you that different types of yoga postures will have different effects on the body-mind complex. For instance, back bending postures typically have an energizing effect, leaving us filled with brightness and vitality. It’s obvious that this type of pose (think camel pose or upward bow or upward dog) should probably not be on our insomnia practice list. On the other hand, other types of poses, like forward bends and twists (think child’s pose or seated forward folds or lying twists) can have a soothing effect on the body-mind that naturally coaxes the nervous system into that parasympathetic state, making sleep come effortlessly. So choosing postures that naturally have this calming effect is key.
HOW TO DO YOGA FOR INSOMNIA
But it’s important to note too, that it's not all about which postures you choose for your sequence. That’s because even more important than the pose selection itself, is how the postures are performed.
Here’s a fact: even the most soothing yoga posture, performed quickly or with force or impatience, will move the nervous system away from a good night’s sleep instead of toward it. That’s right, yoga can actually worsen your insomnia, at least, if you don’t apply it correctly. That means, the key here is to move slowly and mindfully while remaining attentive to the bodies needs and not asking more of it than it is comfortably able to allow. Remember, we’re trying to soothe the nervous system, not perfect some arbitrary physical posture or dramatically increase our flexibility. And better yet, just a handful of postures, when done in the right way before bed, can make a huge difference in your sleep. BEYOND THE YOGA POSTURES
Of course, there are many other yoga techniques in addition to the postures that can help you sleep like a baby. Breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation and yoga nidra, are just a few. But we’ll leave those for another time.
BONUS: A GENTLE 5 MINUTE YOGA SEQUENCE FOR INSOMNIA For best results, make sure to perform the sequence slowly and mindfully while respecting your body's limits. Modifications to suit your body's needs are always welcome. Child's pose Cat Cow pose (10 repetitions coordinated with breath) Quarter downward dog Thunderbolt pose with Yoga Mudra arms Downward facing dog
Standing forward fold Seated head to knee pose Lying twist Corpse pose