Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is characterized by difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early, and/or feeling tired upon waking. Acute insomnia (lasting from one night to a few weeks) is the most common and is usually caused by stress, hormonal changes, and/or emotional problems. Fortunately, the stress reducing, calming and natural balancing effects of yoga make it a perfect remedy for mild and acute insomnia, and along with good sleep habits insomnia can often be prevented or quickly cured.
A gentle practice of calming yoga poses will be generally effective to reduce stress and balance the body’s systems to promote good sleep. Since forward bending poses are traditionally known for their inherent calming effects, try to practice several of the following: seated and standing forward bends, downward facing dog, child, seated angle, seated head to knee, and yoga mudra.
If there is an emotional component to your insomnia that includes depression and anxiety, then incorporate the following poses to strengthen the energy of the body and open the heart center: fish, bridge, cobra, puppy dog, camel, goddess, warrior 1 and 2, and twisting squat. Also, practicing the Buddhist Metta meditation to cultivate loving-kindness to remove negative thought patterns will be helpful.
Hormonal imbalances are often a cause of insomnia. If so, forward bends and inversions will be particularly effective. Poses that massage the reproductive organs and activate the endocrine system will also be helpful, such as: bow, boat, bridge, crocodile, and seated twists.
If stress is contributing to your insomnia, then a more active or flowing approach to yoga would be warranted. Including some of the following hip openers and side bends in your yoga practice would also be beneficial: prayer squat, seated and standing angle, supine bound angle, half moon, half circle, and side seated angle. Establishing a daily meditation practice will also be important to calm the mind and effectively manage stress.
Always end your yoga practice with a 7-10 minute shavasana (relaxation) pose. You can also add a progressive muscle relaxation or a guided relaxation during shavasana to further calm and relax the body and mind.
Inversions, such as shoulderstand, plow, and headstand will be helpful to practice when you are having difficulty falling asleep. Also, practicing dirga pranayama, especially with an extended exhalation, will also be deeply calming to the body and mind, and can be practiced while lying in bed.
Chronic insomnia (lasting least three nights a week for a month or longer) will be harder to treat with yoga due to the possible underlying factors of other health conditions and/or side effects of medications. If chronic insomnia is present, consulting with a doctor or health professional will be essential to address any underlying medical issues.
A complete list of yoga postures, meditations and pranayamas that prevent and quickly cure mild insomnia is now available in our premium yoga therapy section. A yoga pose sequence for the calming the Heart and Mind is available in our premium yoga sequence section.