"Stretching should be an important part of your evening routine," explains international yogi Claire Grieve. "Regular stretching helps to melt away daily tension, stress and worry. Stretching your hips is particularly useful for clearing the emotional junk from the day. Stretching in a passive, restorative way will prime your body for sleep by helping you to enter a state of relaxation."
Cycling through a few cat-cows to start your morning may be second nature, but adding a bendy element in the evening can help you chill out while also releasing some of the daytime tension from your body. "Stretching at the end of the day should be more restorative than at other times of day when maybe you would engage in a more active stretch," says Grieve. "The important thing is to listen to your body. What your body needs will be different from day to day, so take this time to really tune into what your body is telling you."
Meanwhile, stretching also boosts major gains for your brain as well. "While stretching, endorphins are released in the brain which can help improve your mood along with feelings of relaxation and calmness," says Jeff Brannigan, program director of New York City's Stretch*d recovery studio. "I'm sure we can all think of a time that we were laying in bed unable to sleep because we were either too sore or stressed to catch some ZZZs."
To get ready for max relaxation, start by connecting with your breath, and take some deep luxurious inhales and exhales as you envision breathing into your muscles. Then, be sure to hold each pose for at least 30 seconds or up to five minutes. If you're a stretching newbie, consider taking a yoga class or meeting with a coach to ensure proper alignment with your moves—the last thing you want is to hurt yourself in pursuit of doing something helpful.
Six-move yoga sequence to help you fall asleep
1. Forward fold: A yoga class classic, the forward fold is meant to help release tension in your hamstrings." So many people suffer from tight hamstrings, which can throw your entire alignment out of whack," says Grieve. "Forward fold will also quiet your mind and help you rebalance after being upright all day."
2. Low lunge or lizard pose: If you've been hunched over your laptop keyboard or running around in high heels all day, this is the move for you. "This is a delicious stretch for your hip flexors, which tend to get really tight if you sit at a desk, drive, walk, or travel all day," says Grieve.
3. Melting heart pose: "This is one of my favorite poses," says Grieve. "It will lengthen and align your spine and is an absolutely divine stretch for your chest and shoulders. It also helps to decrease tension, anxiety, and insomnia.
4. Reclined big toe stretch: "This is the ultimate hamstring stretch," says Grieve. "I do this stretch with almost all of my clients. It is helpful for releasing the tension from the day for both people who work long hours in the office and those who are super active. Use a strap to deepen the stretch."
5. Happy baby: "This pose may feel silly, but it is incredibly effective at opening up your hips, which will allow the release of both physical and emotional tension," says Grieve, but there's a reason why babies (and, okay, adults) love it so much. "This release will set you up for a restful sleep," she explains, due to it's hip-opening, emotion-soothing abilities.
6. Legs up the wall: Finish off your stretch sesh with a gentle inversion by lying on your back and putting your legs up the wall, which will help you relax and unwind into a deep, limber sleep.
Now that you've got the moves down pat, there's one last thing to keep in mind: "Consistency is key!" says Brannigan. By adding stretching into your daily pre-bedtime routine, you'll begin to see that you're falling asleep faster and waking up feeling looser."
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