By Stepfanie Romine, for
In addition to the physical benefits of yoga, it has plenty of mental benefits as well. Certain poses can help energize you and others can help relax you.
While I wouldn't recommend a full yoga practice just before bed, doing a few of these gentle, restorative poses before going to sleep can help you rest easier.
You can do most of these poses in your bedroom while wearing your pajamas. You might want to have a mat under you for comfort.
To facilitate your voyage to dream land, turn off the TV and dim the lights. Before beginning, come to a comfortable seated position on your mat and close your eyes. Start breathing in and out through your nose, in long, even breaths. After 10 breaths, open your eyes and begin these poses. You can hold each one for as long as you'd like, at least five breaths.
Child's pose (Balasana):
Benefits: Stretches hips, thighs and ankles gently; can help alleviate back pain.
How to: Starting in a kneeling position.
You have two options to start: Keep your knees together but separate the feet and allow your bottom to rest on the floor. Roll your calves away from your thighs (use your hands) to help you get comfortable.
For a deeper stretch: Sit back on your heels, shins together. (Place a rolled-up towel between your heels and hips to ease this stretch.)
From here, start to lower to the floor. Your belly will rest on or between your thighs, and your forehead will reach towards the mat. (Place a towel or a yoga block under your forehead if it won't reach the floor.
Stretch the arms out in front of you to feel a stretch up the length of the back.
Stretch the arms alongside the body, with the fingertips facing the toes, to stretch between the shoulder blades.
TIP: Roll your forehead back and forth across the mat with your arms along your sides to help alleviate sinus congestion.
Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha svanasana):
Benefits: Calms and energizes the body; stretches the shoulders, arches, hamstrings, calves, and hands; strengthens arms and legs; helps insomnia and stress.
How to: Come on to your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly under your shoulders, your knees under your hips.
Tuck your toes under and push your hips up, your body forming a triangle with your bottom as the peak.
If your legs are tight, keep your heels lifted and legs bent if needed.
Pull your bellybutton in and let your head hang, moving the shoulderblades away from the ears.
Spread your fingers and toes wide and try to keep the weight evenly distributed.
To take the weight off your arms and make this more of a restful pose, engage your quadriceps (by lifting your kneecaps).
TIP: If your arms need some help in this pose, try placing your hands on the seat of a chair set against a wall.
Head to knee stretch (Janu sirsasana A):
Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings.
How to: From a straight-legged seated position, slide your right foot inside your left thigh, the right knee coming out at least a 90-degree angle.
Center your torso over the extended left leg and exhale as you begin to lower to that thigh.
Flex your extended foot and reach for your toes (or use a towel as a strap).
With every inhale, feel your spine growing longer (imagine the crown of your head reaching out in front of you to the wall); with every exhale, allow the body to sink lower (the chest is getting closer to the floor).
Inhale as you roll slowly up and repeat on the other side.
TIP: If your knee can't rest comfortably on the floor, roll up a towel to support the bent knee.
Click here for the rest of the poses, with picture demonstrations!
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SparkRecipes.com editor Stepfanie Romine is a certified yoga teacher and co-author of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A vegetarian and runner, she has lived and cooked on three continents.