When you work a day job, have a lot of household chores, and still want to clock in enough hours for a good night’s sleep, there’s barely enough time to squeeze in that ashtanga or vinyasa class at your nearest studio. In fact, sometimes you’re just too tired for that full-body, dynamic yoga workout that most studios and gyms offer – and that’s completely okay.
Nonetheless, it’s still important to dedicate time to self-care. 10 minutes of mindful breathing and gentle yoga can relax the nervous system, reduce anxiety, stretch out tense and tight muscles, and improve the quality of your sleep.
Below, I’ve prepared 5 yoga postures you can easily do before bedtime. You can do these poses on your mat, perhaps near your bed or in any quiet, comfortable space at home. I recommend that these be done in a sequence, in order to maximize the benefits of a full body stretch. Enjoy!
Balasana (Child’s pose)
Grounding oneself is essential to begin any yoga practice, especially at nighttime. Your time on the mat—whether it is only 5 or 10 minutes—is completely yours, and an opportunity to let go of thoughts and worries that may take your mind elsewhere. It is important to ground oneself in the present moment and to become very aware that now is the time to relax, restore, and release the day that has passed.
Child’s pose is an effective way to ground oneself. On your mat, sit on your heels with your big toes together and knees wide apart. Your belly and chest will fall in between your thighs. Your forehead will relax onto the mat, although I like placing a block on my forehead (you may use a folded blanket, as seen in the picture below) to provide myself with more breathing space. Inhale deeply, feeling the breath expand from your lower back all the way up to your belly, and all the way to the center of your chest. Exhale completely.
Child’s pose stretches out the lumbar spine (the lower back). If you would like to deepen the stretch, straighten your arms until your forearms lift from the mat (you may feel your hips lift off the heels, so continue to ground the hips down), then wrap the triceps (outer arms) in as the biceps (inner arms) roll out towards the ceiling. Soften the shoulders away from the ears, and even out the breath. I like staying here up to ten full breaths.
Parsva Virasana (Side Twist in Hero Pose)
Twists detoxify the internal organs and help unwind any tightness that may have built up in your spine throughout the day. Energetically, ending the day with a gentle twist would help relieve negative energy that you may have gathered during work or a tiring commute.
Beginning from child’s pose, crawl your fingers back towards your hips and sit up onto your shins. Classical virasana (hero’s pose), is a gentle stretch in the ankles and the quadriceps. If you have sensitive ankles (like me), you may sit on a block. Sit up tall, rooting your buttocks down onto your shins or your block. Slightly engage the belly, lift the sternum up towards the chin, and then lengthen the crown of your head away from your shoulders.
To take the twist, take your left hand on the outside of your right thigh. Take your right hand behind you, gently resting (not pressing) it on your lower back. This shape will already orient your body towards the twist. Important: twists should always be coordinated with inhalations and exhalations. As you lengthen your spine, take an inhalation. Exhale as you rotate your rib cage towards the right side of the room. Inhale again, open the chest, and then exhale to rotate the center of your chest towards the right. Finally, take the twist up to your shoulders – breathe in and grow tall, breathe out and take the right shoulder back and the left shoulder forward. Stay in this shape for five, deep breaths. Repeat on the second side.
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)
Lie down on the mat, relaxing your shoulders towards the earth. Lift up your legs and spread them wide. Bring your knees towards your armpits and take hold of the outer edges of your feet. Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose) is a very silly, carefree pose, and helps us connect with our inner child.
The hips and the groins can get very tight throughout the day, especially if you work a desk job that requires you to sit for several hours. Happy Baby Pose opens the hips and releases the inner groin muscles, and can be held passively without much effort. If you’d like to massage your lower back, you may roll from side to side (literally, like a happy baby). Otherwise, hold in stillness. Close your eyes, and you may hold this for eight full breaths.
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclined Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
In the previous poses, we’ve stretched the spine, detoxified the internal organs, and opened the hips – all in under six minutes! Next, let’s target the hamstrings (or the backs of the legs).
Supta Padangusthasana is most advisable with a yoga strap. Even if you can touch your toes with your fingers, I would still recommend using a yoga strap (you may use a towel or a belt). This way, your shoulders can relax on the mat and you can deepen the stretch in your legs. Remember: flexibility is a result of, NOT a prerequisite for yoga.
Begin by lying supine on your mat, with your legs outstretched and the back of your shoulders and head relaxed and flat on the mat. Bend your right knee in towards your chest, and hug your shin in towards your belly. Take your strap, and loop your strap around the ball of your right foot. Straighten your leg and flex your foot towards the ceiling. Your toes will point towards your face. You’re going to feel the stretch in the back of your right leg. I recommend staying here for eight to ten breaths, before switching to the next side.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose)
Viparita Karani is one of my favorite poses of all time. First, it relieves any swelling or cramping in the feet and the legs – if you spent a good part of your day on your feet (perhaps on the bus or on the train), then this will be perfect for you. Second, it’s a gentle inversion – that said, it improves circulation without having to do a fancy headstand. Third, it relaxes the nervous system and calms anxiety.
To get into the pose, begin by sitting sideways against the wall. Connect your lift hip and your left shoulder to the wall, and walk your right hand over the side. Use your right hand to keep you stable, as you lift your legs and press your buttocks and thighs against the wall. Relax your back, relax your shoulders, and release your head onto the mat (or on the floor). Your hands may be kept at either side of your body, or you may rest your hands on your belly and facilitate mindful breathing. Stay here for as long as you like, just feeling your blood circulate back to your heart, and becoming very aware of cooling energy traveling all the way up to your solar plexus.
You may end your practice here, or you may eventually move away from the wall and lie down in savasana (corpse pose – completely supine, lying flat and relaxed onto the mat).