Ayurvedic Tips for Better Sleep

Sleep is central to our health and livelihoods. For Vata season, I share my top Ayurvedic sleep tips from breathing techniques to restorative yoga.

Restorative Yoga 

Vata is characterized by lightness, mobility, and expansiveness (air, space).  To balance these qualities Yoga can help us focus on stability, grounding, and centering. 
As opposed to a swift Vinyasa flow, Restorative Yoga prioritizes a passive, supported practice that allows for maximal restoration.  Props are often used - bolsters, blocks, and blankets - to achieve optimal positioning and comfort. 
The objective of Restorative Yoga is to find complete stillness in the mind, stability and grounding from the earth, and warmth surrounding the body.  Most poses are in the seated position which allows for the greatest points of contact with the earth; this creates a rooted and grounded experience. 

Each pose is held for 2-10 minutes and blankets are used to cover yourself to keep you warm and cozy.  For example:

  • Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold): use blankets or bolsters on top of your legs to support your body weight as you fold over your legs.  Reach your arms either towards your feet; relax them at the sides of your legs; or sweet them back, palms up, towards the back of the mat.

  • Ardha Matsyendrasana (seated spinal twist): From a seated position with legs extended, take your right leg, bend it and cross it over your left leg.  Keeping a long spine and extending through your crown, twist towards your right, hooking your right elbow over the outer side of your right leg.  Use your right hand on the ground behind you as leverage to both reach tall, extending the back of the neck, and continuing to twist, focusing on the spine and not turning the neck.  Feel the space you are creating in the spine, back, and outer left hip.  Repeat on your other side.
  • Supported Eka Padha Kapotasana (half pigeon with leg), each side
    • Bring one leg parallel to the top of the mat, and the back leg perpendicular (square) to your hip bones.  This may be too intense for most people, so start to bring the front foot/shin closer to the body (less parallel) until you find the pose that best suits you (keeping the back leg and hips square).  The objective is to find space in the hip and outer thigh of the front leg.  You may also feel some hip flexor of the back leg.  Once you find your pose, begin to fold forward and find your limit of sensation.  Use props to hold yourself in this position and settle in.  Breathe deeply into the sensation you feel in the hip.

  • Nakrasana (Crocodile Pose):
    • Lay on stomach, cross arms in front of you at wrists, left on top of right.  Turn your head to the right and lay your left cheek on top of your left wrist, feeling a gentle stretch through the left neck on top of your shoulder.  Relax into pose and hold for 5 minutes.  Switch arms and direction of head and hold for another 5 minutes.
  • Supported Balasana or Yogi Mudra (Child’s Pose): 
    • Place blankets or a bolster under your belly and head, turning your head to the right or left.  Knees are spread wide towards the outside of the mat, toes come together to touch.  Arms can reach forward, beyond the head, pressing hands flat into the mat opening the back of the shoulders, or they can sweet back to the back of the mat, palms up, for a more relaxed pose.  Switch the direction of your head half way through the pose.

To end the practice, conclude with a light Pranayama practice.

Nadhi Sodani creates balance between the two sides of the body, the male and female sides, or Ida and Pingala srotas or nadis (channels).  Five minutes is plenty to cultivate equilibrium and stillness. 

Ready for Slumber

Doing a restorative Yoga practice followed by a brief balancing Pranayama sequence is an excellent way to prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep. Both the body and mind are settled and free of mental chatter, the ideal space for drifting off into a restful sleep. Consider a diffuser of Vata pacifying essential oils, like bergamot, vetiver, lavender, or chamomile, or light, ambient music for additional access to the senses. 

Sweet dreams.