By Sadie Nardini
Whenever my friend Shannon can’t sleep because too many thoughts are barreling through her mind, she calls it “riding the A train.” She’ll text me at 3 a.m., “I’m on the A train again.” Of course, I get the message because I’m awake, too. My type A personality and business responsibilities are battling it out with my dire need for some mental stillness and rest.
Fortunately, I have a snooze-inducing ally in yoga, and when I get up and do the following sequence, miracles happen. In about 10 minutes, I’m back in bed, shifted toward sleep in a natural, easy way that no pill can provide.
Yoga has been proven to calm the mind, relax the body, and release anxiety, all crucial components of drifting off into quality slumber and staying there all night long. However, sometimes, it’s not as effective to stick only with calming poses, as a runaway train needs a strong push to make it stop dead in its tracks.
So, I’ve included some stronger poses here, ones that will help you let off the steam of stress that builds up when the mind gets to running and sleep seems miles away. Then we’ll move into postures that balance the adrenals, to create a more mellow central nervous system. You’ll stretch the back body to relieve the itchy, restless leg syndrome that can happen when stress hormones build up in the muscle tissues. Lastly, we’ll move into two restorative, relaxing poses, which will still your mind and cleanse and release you from the responsibilities of your day.
Before you know it, you’ll be an expert in hopping off your own A train, whenever and wherever you choose. You’ll wake up centered and refreshed, ready to start your day off right.
This sequence can be done with or without a yoga mat, assuming your floor isn’t slippery. Keep your sleepwear on, and remember to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose for the entirety of the practice.
Step your right foot forward and your left leg back into a lunge stance. Your front knee should be over your heel, or behind it, and your back heel is over the ball of your foot. Inhale, and lift your arms up. Exhale a little more strongly, sweep fists into the side of your hips. Let the inhales bring more breath into your chest, and on the exhales, draw in the navel as you lengthen your tailbone down. Practice releasing more tension on every exhale.
Take five to 10 rounds of breath on one side, then switch legs.
After your fists of fire lunges, come to stand with feet hip distance apart. Bend your knees and fold forward, bringing your fists into opposite elbows. This helps to relax the large muscles of your back, shoulders and neck. Release your head completely, and let the jumble of thoughts drain out as you envision the space that’s left behind.
Repeat for 15 to 20 breaths
Come to sit in janu sirsasana (seated forward bend) with your right leg extended and your left leg bent, foot into the right inner thigh or groin. Roll the flesh of your seat back, and ground your legs into the floor. Frame your long right leg with your hands (lifted onto fingertips), and fold forward with a long spine and open heart.
Take five to 10 breaths here, then proceed to the next variation on the same side:
Remain low in the pose, and walk your hands away from your straight leg toward center between your legs, or until you can feel a stretch along the groins and inner thighs. You may want to move your bent leg wider, until the foot rests in its own inner thigh. As you fold, keep your head lifted along a straight spine. Fold at your hip creases — not your lower or mid back — for the best possible stretch.
Take five to 10 breaths here, then come slowly to sit, shake out your legs, and switch sides.
Come to lie on your back, legs extended on the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your head, and lift the shoulders off the floor. Inhale at center, and exhale, draw your right knee into the chest, and twist so both your elbows are pointing at the knee. Inhale as both legs lengthen, and exhale, twist with the left knee in. Keep your feet on the ground, or for more action, lift them an inch off the ground. Exhales tone the navel toward the spine as your low back lengthens.
Take five to 10 rounds on each side, then relax the head, shoulders and feet to the floor, reach overhead and take a full body stretch to counterpose.
After the fire of core scissors, cool it down and counter-stretch the front body by getting back into bed and placing a bed pillow or yoga bolster beneath the heart. Let your arms rest to your sides, palms up to receive the blessing of calm that comes after a strong, breath-conscious practice.
Breathe here for one minute or more, then progress to the last pose.
Move the pillows or bolster under your hips, and lift your legs up the wall or into the air. This is a full-body detox only when your legs and hips are higher than your heart, and the head is below the heart. Once you’re situated, keep your hands by the sides or clasp your elbows overhead, rest, and breathe.
Practice the slow breath here: Inhale, pause for a few seconds, exhale, pause. Allow your breathing to slow, and follow the sound with your mind.
Know that as you cleanse and center from your day, the tools of yoga are always available to you. Practice often, and you’ll master the ability to switch off the mind and rest easier.