The Yoga Sequence Our Wellness Editor Swears By For A Good Night's Sleep
I'm a notoriously good sleeper. I fall asleep easily, sleep through the night, and have no problem clocking the seven and half to eight hours I need to be a functional, energetic person. Even if I stay up late working, go out with friends, or am traveling—in most cases, I'm able to adjust and sleep soundly.
There are measures I take during the day to make sure I don't disrupt the night's sleep. For example, I have only one caffeinated beverage, first thing in the morning. I break a sweat daily and have started taking nightly magnesium supplements, which made a big difference especially when traveling. I love using a white noise machine when I sleep, too. But the one thing I do every single night before bed, no matter how many drinks I've had, where I am, or how exhausted I feel: I do yoga.
Most nights it's 15 slow, easy minutes give or take a few. I aim to stretch out my hips, psoas, and spine, all of which are connected to the nervous system. When we're in a sympathetic state—which is easily triggered by anxieties of modern life—it's tough to lull yourself into sleep. By moving energy through these large muscle groups, you can calm your nervous system, re-enter your body, and set up for a good slumber. Here's the magic sequence:
1. Cat and cow.
Set yourself up on all fours, shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Inhale and flare your sits bones up and back while pressing your navel toward the ground, spreading your collarbones and extending your gaze upward, like a cow. Exhale, pressing your hands and tops of your feet into the ground, rounding your spine, sucking your navel in and up. Do a few rounds like this and go slowly.
2. Stirring pot.
Remaining on all fours, plug the tops of your feet into the ground as you start to make circles with your hips. Eventually make them bigger, imagining that you're scraping a jar of cashew butter with your hips, hitting all parts of the circle equally. When you've had enough, start moving in the other direction. This should feel good, especially if you've been sitting for most of the day.
3. Down dog.
Come to downward-facing dog and root the heels downward as you tilt your sits bones upward while plugging your index finger ball mounds into the ground. Feel the stretch in the back of your legs.
4. Crescent lunge (right side).
From here, bring your right foot forward alongside the right thumb. Your back knee taps down and your right knee is stacked directly over the ankle. Plugging the top of your back foot into the ground, put both hands on your right thigh and begin to bring the suggestion of a backbend into your pose. The gaze is forward, as you lean ever so slightly forward, tucking your tail. This tilting movement of the hips should increase the sensation in the left psoas. Breathe deeply here.
5. Low-lunge circles.
Plant both hands on the ground framing the front foot. Keeping the back knee down or lifting it, your choice, make little circles with your hips. Experiment with moving backward and forward and side to side. These movements are small, but you should feel your hips continue to release.
6. Pyramid pose (right side).
From here, move your back foot up one foot's length on your mat and straighten both legs or straighten as much as you can. Inhale and lengthen the spine; exhale, drape the chest over your right thigh. Tack your right hip back as you inhale and exhale, folding even deeper. Feel free to make your stance shorter or to use yoga blocks on either side. Send the breath to the back of your leg.
7. Crescent lunge (left side).
Take a little vinyasa if you choose, planting the palms down to frame your front foot and pushing back into down dog. Wave it forward to an up dog and back to a down dog. From here, bring your left foot forward alongside the left thumb. Your back knee taps down and your left knee is stacked directly over the ankle. Plugging your back toes into the floor, put both hands on your left thigh and bring the suggestion of a backbend into your pose. The gaze is forward as you lean ever so slightly forward, tucking your tail. The movement of the hips should increase the sensation in the right psoas. Breathe deeply here.
8. Low-lunge circles.
Plant both hands on the ground framing the front foot. Keeping the back knee down or lifting it—your choice—make little circles with your hips. Experiment with moving backward and forward and side to side. These movements are small, but you should feel your hips continue to release.
9. Pyramid pose (left side).
From here, move your back foot up one foot's length on your mat and straighten both legs. Inhale and lengthen the spine; exhale drape over toward your left thigh. Tack your left hip back as you inhale and exhale, folding even deeper. Feel free to make your stance shorter or to use yoga blocks on either side. Send the breath to the back of your leg.
10. Gomukhasana legs on both sides
Come to all fours and swing your legs to the side to find a comfortable seat. Bring your right leg out in front of you and position your left leg so the outside of your left foot is in line with your right hip (or close to it), with your left knee bent. Cross the right leg over the top of it, knee stacking over knee, with the outside of the right foot in line with your left hip. Adjust accordingly (you may need to spin your hips slightly to the left). Ground yourself through sensation by placing your left hand on the right foot and vice versa. If desired, make tiny circles with your hips or micro cat/cows with your spine.
Repeat on the other side.
11. Windshield wipers.
Rinse the hip joints by placing the soles of your feet on the floor in front of you, parallel. Using your hands behind you to support you, swing your legs from side to side slowly.
Then, lie down and do the same motion, massaging your lower back.
12. Supine spinal twist (right).
Extend your left leg forward and move it to the right 2 inches. Swing your right leg over to the left side, keeping it bent at 90 degrees. See if you can inch your left shoulder along the ground toward the left. Keeping your left leg straight, look over to the right side and allow gravity to work.
13. Supine spinal twist (left).
Extend your right leg forward and move it to the left 2 inches. Swing your left leg over to the right side, keeping it bent at 90 degrees. See if you can inch your right shoulder along the ground toward the right. Keeping your right leg straight, look over to the left side and allow gravity to work.
14. Constructive rest OR legs up the wall.
For constructive rest, come back to center and place the soles of your feet on the floor as wide as your mat or a little wider than your hips and let your knees collapse in toward each other. Place both hands on our belly and breathe here.
For legs up the wall, come back to center. Find a wall close to your bed or access the wall from your bed (best option). Scooch your butt as close to the wall as it will get and extend your legs, slowly bringing them to the wall. Try to get as much of your leg to make contact with the wall as possible without causing a strain up the back of the leg.
Feel free to add or subtract as you move through this on your own. Sometimes I do pigeon instead of or in addition to gomukhasana, for example. I do most of this routine with my eyes closed. See if you can feel the sensations with your mind's eye. And although it's tempting to leave your phone open on the ground with Instagram open, that'll have the opposite effect. Turn it on airplane mode. Here's to a sweet, stretchy slumber!
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Lindsay Kellner is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based out of Brooklyn, NY. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology at New York University and earned a 200-hour yoga certification from Sky Ting. She is the co-author of “The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide to Ancient Self Care,” along with mbg’s Sustainability Editor, Emma Loewe.