How well did you sleep last night? Yoga can help with sleep problems and the same poses that help with sleep also reduce headaches and blood pressure problems, such as obesity.
I have been exploring the idea of sleep over the past months and have been gathering information to share with you. All of it is under the umbrella of yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda. I came across a class I took over a decade ago and it was a sequence of poses specifically to help those suffering from Insomnia.
When performed effectively, this yoga sequence promotes the calming of the nervous system, regulates brain functioning, keeps your hormones in check, and stabilizes the breath. These combined effects create a sense of self-trust, as you tap into your innate ability to navigate life’s challenges and become more creative in shaping your desired outcomes.
How do I know this? There are scientific studies now on the benefits of yoga and why. But not all of yoga has been studied scientifically. Some of what I know is from my own experience. I walked into a sparsely populated yoga class in San Francisco shortly after finishing college and have been twisting, balancing, and going upside down ever since. I am not always such a good student, but as the decades go, I am consistent.
The sequence of poses that I am sharing below is Yoga For Insomnia. However, it has additional benefits for headaches and blood pressure problems. By practicing this set of yoga poses, you can simultaneously reap the rewards of all three benefits with just one effort. Here is how these three health problems relate and how yoga helps~
Lack of sleep puts strain on the body, leading to high blood pressure, hormonal changes, and other heart issues. The Mayo Clinic states this clearly in this article: Sleep Deprivation and Blood Pressure .
Sleep disorders and headaches are closely linked because lack of sleep can trigger headaches, and headaches can disrupt your sleep. Both of these disorders are connected to issues in the nervous system, as highlighted by studies such as the one published in The Journal of Headache and Pain .
I have had the privilege of learning from numerous excellent yoga teachers, whether they were born in India or studied there. Although I have visited India three times, I did not study yoga there. Instead, I pursued my yoga education in California.
I have many notebooks filled with yoga sequences and classes that I attended, mostly from the years 2000-2008. After that I started using my computer to document classes and then I just stopped altogether. I can mostly remember classes now. When I teach I can easily channel some specific detail or benefit for the posture. I like doing yoga poses because my body feels better, but I also like that it gives me a better state of mind. Better. State. Of. Mind. The difficulties of life give way to a steady presence from which I pull needed information when I am teaching or talking with someone.
This sequence of poses I am sharing below includes specific alignment instructions to maximize the benefits of each action. It is derived from BKS Iyengar’s system of yoga, commonly known as Iyengar Yoga. Here is a video of BKS Iyengar demonstrating yoga asana in 1976.
I learned this insomnia sequence from my yoga teacher in 2005, who was the top Iyengar yoga instructor in the United States at that time. This yoga sequence induces sleepiness, so it’s best not to engage in any significant activities after your practice—similar to the effects of taking insomnia medication.
The poses and their specific alignment instructions and variations are crucial, as is the sequence in which you perform them. It’s important not to deviate from the given instructions. Hold each pose for approximately one minute, unless otherwise stated.
Yoga Sequence for Insomnia
1. Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Place your thumb and pointer finger wide and firmly on the floor, touching the wall. Support your head on a block or similar prop to allow it to lean into the support. The rest of your body should be in a normal position, with fully extended limbs and an elongated torso. If possible, stay in this pose for five minutes. Set a timer.
2. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana): Support your head on blocks, a chair, or any prop that allows your neck to remain elongated and your head supported. Keep your shoulders and arms relaxed, using blocks or other supports to rest your hands on. If your head is not too far from the floor with the prop, you can use the floor itself. Try to keep your legs straight, but it’s acceptable to bend them if needed.
3. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana): This time, place a rolled blanket under your ribs before folding forward. You can bend your legs, but try to keep them straight.
4. Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana):Assume the pose as usual, using a block for support if necessary. When performing this pose in the sequence, make sure to look down. Perform on both sides.
5. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana): This time, place a rolled blanket under your ribs before folding forward. You can bend your legs, but try to keep them straight.
6. Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana): Perform the pose in the standard way. Instead of looking up, direct your gaze forward or downward toward the bent leg. Perform on both sides.
7. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana): This time, place a rolled blanket under your ribs before folding forward. You can bend your legs, but try to keep them straight.
8. Standing forward bend (Uttanasana): This time, do not use a blanket under your ribs. Support your head on blocks, a chair, or any prop that allows your neck to remain elongated and your head supported. Keep your shoulders and arms relaxed, using blocks or other supports to rest your hands on. If your head is not too far from the floor with the prop, you can use the floor itself.
9. Wide leg standing forward bend (Prasarita Padottanasana): Place your head on the floor or a prop, with your arms bent so that the elbows touch the inner leg.
10. Bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana): Use blocks under your shoulders.
11. Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana): Place three blankets under your shoulders and two under the occiput (the lower back part of the skull) or just above it.
Here is a 30 minute YouTube video where we practice most of the poses in this Yoga For Insomnia sequence. I taught this in Wednesday night Candlelight Restorative yoga class at 7 pm Pacific time.
Learning more about how to rest, quiet your mind and live life with less angst by joining me online each week here. [All classes are recorded so you can practice anytime].
p.a. Here is the Yoga For Insomnia sequence of poses all together to help you practice more easily on your own.