Written for CasperSleep.com. You don’t need a spacial mattress for this practice, however I was recently introduced to this new memory foam mattress company who have designed a mattress that not only allows you to get a good night’s sleep, but serves as a great platform for staying physically healthy too, through practicing yoga or exercising in whatever way makes your body feel good!
If it’s the comfort of your bed and warmth of the duvet that stops you from rolling out your yoga mat to practice each morning, or you find yourself collapsing on to the mattress each evening rather than taking the time to practice before bed, there’s still hope…. Thankfully, many yoga postures and breathing exercises can be practiced anywhere, even from your very own bed! Start and end the day with a few of these mattress-friendly postures, and you’ll feel the difference in your body and mind throughout the rest of the morning, afternoon and evening.
Morning Practice For A Feel-Good Start To The Day
Starting the day by becoming aware of how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally – rather than rushing from the bed and through our morning routine as fast as possible before we head out of the door – can set us up for an all together more centred day ahead.
Overnight, our fascia (an intelligent type of connective tissue, which wraps and weaves throughout our entire body, and is moist and ‘springy’ in it’s healthiest state) becomes dehydrated and ‘hardened’ due to lack of movement and stimulation. If we don’t move our bodies in the morning, our connective tissue doesn’t get a chance to re-hydrate, and that’s when we feel ‘tight’ and ‘stiff’ in our bodies.
So, the moment you wake up, spend some time really getting into your skin!
As you open your eyes, begin the day by taking a few big inhales and exhales to expand the lungs fully. This rush of oxygen will help enliven the brain and nervous system, and prevent that grogginess which keeps us buried under the duvet.
Supta Urdvha Hastasana (Supine upward facing hands pose)
Start moving by interlacing the hands above the head (palms facing away) and lengthening the whole body, reaching out of the toes and the hands, stimulating the circulation of blood around the body.
Supta Jaṭhara Parivartānāsana (Supine lying spinal twist pose)
Twisting the spine helps keep the spinal disks healthy and strong, while also stimulating the kidneys and abdominal organs. Most incidents that end in back pain often occur early on in the day, because our muscles are not usually ‘warmed up’ at this time. By encouraging the spine to be supple from the moment we wake up, we can help to prevent any aggravating back pain!
From a supine position, bend one knee and cross it over the body to bring a gentle twist in the spine. Relax the hips and shoulders and continue to breathe deeply, expanding through the abdomen.
Seated Side Bends
When you’re ready, roll along the length of the spine (which is also another great way of waking up those spinal muscles!) and come to a seated position on your bed.
Side bending helps to open the intercostal muscles that surround the lungs, and aid us in being able to breathe fully. When these muscles are ‘tight’ due to lack of movement, we’re not able to take large breaths, which is the key to staving off fatigue and ensuring our mood is bright when starting the day.
In a seated position, place one hand down beside you, and raise the other arm up and over the head, along side the ear. Keep the hand and fingers active and reaching, in order to open the whole side of the body. Stay here for a few breaths, inhaling to create space in the ribs and lungs, and then repeat the other side.
Seated Heart Opener
From your seated position, interlace the hands behind the back to open the chest and heart. This can help to lengthen the pectoralis minor muscles – which tend to become shortened due to long amounts of time spent sitting, driving, typing at a keyboard and generally holding ourselves in a ‘hunched position’ as we go about our day. The pectoralis minor is also another accessory respiratory muscle, helping us expand those lungs to their full potential.
Surya Bhedana (Right nostril breathing / sun piercing breath)
Surya Bhedana works to enliven our more masculine and energetic Pingala nadi, located on the right hand side of the body. This breathing exercise primarily activates the left hemisphere of the brain, which is more of our ‘thinking and doing’ part of the brain. It’s useful to practice this when you need a little more energy and will help you really awaken to the day.
This simple action of extending and flexing the spine while inhaling and exhaling helps to both warm up and lengthen the muscles of the back and the abdomen. The organs in the belly are stimulated here, preparing the digestive system for breakfast.
In an all-fours position, with the hands underneath the shoulders and the knees underneath the hips, begin to inhale as you draw the shoulders back and open the chest, bringing the tailbone up to the sky. As you exhale, round the back and draw the navel in towards the spine, pressing the upper back to the ceiling. Continue this for a few rounds, simply allowing the breath to initiate each movement.
Simhasana (Lion’s Breath)
Before you finally get out of bed and face the day, here’s a bonus practice to get you fired up and ready for anything….
Said to cure a bad breath (I wouldn’t recommend this in place of a good old tooth brush, though!), simhasana brings a fresh supply of blood and oxygen to the face, and is an energising way to start the day. The act of forcefully exhaling can be your metaphor for letting go of worries and unnecessary tension, so that your day starts on a positive note.
Take a deep inhale, and as you exhale, open the mouth and stick your tongue out. Exhale loudly through the mouth, relieving any tension in the body and mind.
Evening Practice For Sweet Dreams
Rather than sleeping when the sun sets and waking as it rises as our bodies would naturally love to do, most people instead spend evenings staring into computer and TV screens – these screens emit a type of blue light that inhibits our bodies from winding down into sleep mode. Our bodies should naturally secrete melatonin in the evenings – a natural chemical found within us that helps relax our nervous system and prepare us for good quality sleep. When we stay up well past our natural bed time and continue to work or watch TV into the night, our bodies don’t get the chance to release tension, and our brains are unable to ‘re-boot’ properly.
If we’re not getting enough rest, our bodies are unlikely to be able to let go of the habitual tension we store deep down in our tissue. Over time, this all adds up to symptoms of fatigue, unhealthy food cravings, and a bad mood!
Taking the time to do something for yourself before going to bed – rather than answering last minute emails, watching another late night trash TV program, or scrolling through endless Facebook posts – is the best way to ensure we’re properly rested and able to wake up feeling our best the next day.
Pranayama: Chandra Bhedana (Left nostril breathing / moon piercing breath)
98% of most people’s day is now spent in the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight system), due to hectic schedules, the constant stream of stimulus we receive via phones and computer screens, and the general busy-ness of the culture we live in. This takes its toll on our bodies and minds, and we end up living in a state of state of stress. We know stress isn’t good for our minds or our bodies, but luckily there’s a very simple way of calming things down….
Our breath is one of the biggest factors in determining how our nervous system is working, and just by beginning to take conscious, deep and slow breaths, we can switch from our sympathetic nervous system, over to our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest system), in which our bodies can heal from all the damage caused by stress.
The key is to ensure you’re breathing in through the nostrils, as they have a very direct connection to the brain and the nervous system. When breathing in through the left nostril in particular, we can help to primarily activate the right hemisphere of the brain – our more feminine aspect of the brain, which governs our emotional state, and helps elicit a more calming, cooling energy. The left nostril is also linked to the Ida nadi – the feminine, calm and cool subtle energy channel.
Begin this practice seated, and by taking the right hand into Vishnu mudra. Your other hand can rest in the lap. After you next exhale, take the thumb of your right hand to block off the right nostril, inhale through your left nostril. Now, block off the left and exhale through the right nostril. After exhaling, block the right nostril off and again inhale through the left. Continue this cycle of breathing in through the left and exhaling through the right. Continue for a few minutes and notice the calming effect it has on the mind.
Having the arms in this position can help to relieve tension from the neck, shoulders and upper back – three places we tend to store the most stress if we spend a lot of time sitting at a desk or carrying heavy bags.
To come in to this position, bring your right arm out in front of you, with the elbow bent at a 90 degree angle, and the palm of the hand facing in to the left. Begin to wrap your left arm underneath the right, and spiral the arms around each other so that the palms meet. Press the palms firmly together and up and away from the face. The act of pressing them up and away is especially important to properly open the muscles of the neck and back.
The hips are another place physical and emotion tension tends to hold itself. Opening this area up can help up us relax more fully overnight, and the forward folding aspect helps the nervous system remain calm.
From a seated position with the legs straight, bend the knees and bring the soles of the feet together in towards the groin. If you tend to hold a lot of tension in the hips, the best option is to press the outer edges of the feet into the ground (or your bed!) to engage the ligaments around the knees in order to protect them. (‘Tightness’ in the hips tends to cause pressure to be directed down in to the knees, which can explain a lot of knee problems we may suffer from). Stay here for a minute or so, allowing the knees to drop away from each other. If your body allows, begin to fold forwards, letting the spine round at the end of the fold.
Forward-folding is naturally relaxing for most people. The act of surrendering and relaxing in to a fold can help us to cultivate a sense of pratyahara or ‘sense withdrawal’, allowing the mind to let go of all the busy-ness of the day, and to quieten down in time for resting.
With the legs lengthened out in front of you, begin to bring the body into a forward fold by exhaling and drawing the abdominals gently in, and leading with the chest. It’s important to relax the hands here, instead of reaching towards the feet in order to pull yourself in to the posture, as forcefully pulling the muscles tends to cause them to contract even more, which will begin to stimulate the nervous system again.
Viparita Karani (Legs Up The Wall Pose)
Inverting the body helps bring a fresh blood and oxygen supply to the body, refreshing our organs and circulation. We spend nearly all of our time upright throughout the day, so this will help to keep everything on the inside ticking over healthily. This posture is also especially useful after a long flight or travelling in a car etc for many hours.
If you have a wall close by, begin by sitting side-on to the wall. Roll on to your back so that your buttocks are facing the wall and begin to straighten your legs and slide them up the wall. Stay here for a few minutes with the upper body resting on the bed, and the legs resting up against the wall in an L-shape.
Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby Pose)
This playful little posture helps relax the hips and groin muscles, and by gently rocking to each side, the lower back receives some love and relief from muscular tension too.
Come back to lying in the middle of your bed, and bend the knees so they’re hip-width apart. Raise the legs so the feet face up to the ceiling, and reach the arms on the indside of the legs. Take hold of the inner arches of the feet, and ease the knees down towards the floor. Keep the weight in the sacrum and gently rock side to side.
Supta Baddha Konasana
Again, this posture helps to open up the muscles of the hips, the muscles we tend to habitually contract when in a state of stress – the psoas muscle particularly opens up here. This is an important muscle to relieve tension from, as when it is shortened and ‘tight’, it tends to cause nagging back pain and lordosis in the lumbar spine (the lower aspect of the spine). The psoas also connects to our diaphragm, so opening it out also helps us breathe fully.
From a supine position, again bend your knees and bring the heels relatively close in to the body. Bring the soles of the feet together and drop the knees out to either side. Rather then attempting to press the knees down, think about releasing the hips. Stay here for a couple of minutes, or longer if this position feels especially good for your hips.
Much more than just lying down – Savasana encourages us to observe our body, mind and breath while being in absolute stillness. Scanning through our bodies and being aware of each inhale and exhale can be a brilliant way to focus the mind. Rather than concentrating on those distracting thoughts about work, deadlines and what might happen tomorrow – instead, gently focus on scanning through the body – be aware of each inhale and exhale as you drift off to sleep.
Lie in a supine position, with the palms facing up, legs straight, and the feet dropping out either side. Allow the body to be completely relaxed and the mind will follow….
As the weather gets a little colder and a warm bed seems more inviting, make these practices part of your morning and evening routine to encourage a positive start and end to each day.