Editor’s Note: Think you don’t have time for a workout? Join Stephanie Mansour for a five-part series of five-minute workouts to get moving again. This is Part I.
Having a morning routine to boost energy is a great way to start the day, but what if you wake up every morning knowing that your bedtime routine is really to blame for your lack of energy and focus?
A good night’s rest isn’t just important for energy and focus; research has shown that it’s especially important for a strong immune system and fighting off infection — something that’s top of mind especially because of the pandemic.
Maybe your sleep has taken a hit amid the uncertainty of our current times. Perhaps you fall asleep easily but have a difficult time staying asleep. Or, you’ve spent countless nights lying awake in bed frustrated because you can’t fall asleep. One study showed a high frequency of insomnia during the pandemic. And some sleep neurologists are even calling it “Covid-somnia.”
Whatever your situation is, I’ve designed this five-minute yoga routine to help you sleep better every single night. A regular yoga practice, according to the National Sleep Foundation, helps people with insomnia sleep for longer, fall asleep faster and fall back asleep more quickly in the middle of the night. Stretching large lower body muscles like the hamstrings and hips that may be causing aches that keep you awake or low back pain is one of the goals of this yoga practice.
While doing this routine, focus on your deep breathing in through the nose and out through the nose. This slower breathing and control of the breath, research has shown, helps with the parasympathetic nervous system, your body’s ability to rest and digest, as well as the central nervous system.
Breathe in slowly through the nose as you fill your stomach up with air, and then exhale slowly as you feel your stomach deflate. In each yoga pose, focus on your breathing and the sensations you feel in your body.
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Reclining big toe pose
This pose stretches the hamstrings, hips and calves in a relaxing and soothing way due to the reclined position.
Lie down on your back with your legs straight in front of you. Then bring the right knee into your chest, and place your hands behind the right thigh. Straighten the right leg up towards the ceiling. If you feel a stretch in your hamstring, stay here. If not, walk the hands up to the calf.
For an even deeper stretch, reach the right hand toward the right foot and grab onto the right big toe with the thumb, index and middle fingers.
Flex your foot and feel a stretch behind the back of the leg. Relax the shoulder of your right arm and make sure that your low back stays on the bed. Hold for three breaths. Repeat on the other side.
This pose is especially helpful for loosening up the hip flexors which become constricted from sitting at a desk or in cramped positions all day.
From your hands and knees, step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. Keep the right knee bent over the right ankle. If you’re more flexible, you can step the right foot out to the right a bit more and open the foot to the right. Place your hands inside of the right foot, and hold here.
For a deeper stretch, you can come down onto your forearms or onto a pillow. Relax the shoulders and feel a stretch in the front of the left hip. Hold for three breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Bound angle pose
Release tension with this pose that helps stretch and relax the inner thighs, groin and hips.
Sitting upright, bring the soles of your feet together in front of you. Open your knees wide. Place your hands onto your ankles and sit up tall. Take a deep breath in and exhale as you fold forward. Relax the shoulders and feel a stretch on the inside of the legs. Hold for five breaths.
This pose really isolates the muscles of the hips and ultimately softens stiffness, which makes you feel lighter and more relaxed.
From your hands and knees, bring the right knee forward and line up the right shin so it is parallel or close to parallel to the foot of the bed. Straighten the left leg behind you.
Walk the hands in front of the right shin. Hold here, or if you’d like to deepen the stretch, walk the hands further and allow your chest to fold forward over the right shin. Hold for five breaths, and then repeat on the left side.
Legs up the wall
This pose helps recirculate the blood flow in your feet and legs and calms the nervous system.
Lie down on your back so that your feet are toward the headboard of the bed. Scoot your butt as close to the headboard as possible (if it’s resting on pillows at the head of the bed, that is OK!).
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Go through this yoga routine every evening as part of your bedtime routine. Train your body and your brain to unwind before you drift off into sleep so that come morning, you’ll be ready to start your day.
Stephanie Mansour, host of “Step It Up With Steph” on PBS, is a health and wellness journalist and a consultant and weight loss coach for women.