The next time you find yourself lying awake at night, grab your yoga mat: Research suggests this ancient form of exercise can help combat insomnia, relieve stress, and ward off aches and pains that can keep you tossing and turning. Closing your eyes and breathing long, slow breaths can have a sedating effect on the body, says Sara Ivanhoe, featured instructor on VH1's Celebrity Rehab. "I've had trouble sleeping since I was an infant," she says. "One of the reasons I got into yoga is because I wanted to learn to relax on command." (Watch her interview here.)
Here are some of Ivanhoe's favorite calming and comforting moves. For best results, put on your pj's first and do them right before you turn in for the night.
Easy-to-hold Iyengar yoga inversions, which send blood to the head, can help send you off to dreamland. The gentle Supported Standing Wide Leg Forward Bend is easy to relax into and will help still your thoughts.
How-to: Stand with hands on hips and feet approximately four feet apart, toes slightly turned in. Place a block or short stack of books on the floor in front of you. Breathe deeply; exhale, fold forward, and place hands on floor shoulder-distance apart with fingers spread. Lengthen spine forward and place crown of head on block so both head and neck are fully supported. Draw shoulders away from ears and hug elbows in. (If you feel a hamstring stretch, widen legs and raise block.) Close eyes; breathe slowly in and out through nose. Hold up to five minutes, then come out of pose slowly.
A pounding head can keep you from falling asleep at night, but you don't always have to pop a pill. This move, called Legs up the Wall, gently stretches the muscles in your neck (often the culprit of tension headaches) and relaxes you at the same time—a combo that can ease your ache in just a few minutes.
How-to: Sit on one end of a mat with your right hip touching a wall. Lean back, turn to lie flat on the mat, and extend your legs up the wall; your butt should be nearly touching the wall and your legs should be together. Put your hands on your belly or rest them on the mat above your head. Close your eyes, relax your jaw, and drop your chin slightly. Breathe deeply and slowly in this position for 3 to 10 minutes.
Slipping into bed should be a peaceful experience, but many Americans suffer from chronic back pain that prevents them from relaxing comfortably. This reclined twist will give you on-the-spot relief and ward off future trouble by stretching and strengthening muscles and ligaments near your spine.
How-to: Lie on your back on a mat, bend your legs, and squeeze your knees to your chest. Keeping your legs bent and knees together, lower both knees toward the mat on the left side. Hold your knees in place with your left hand and gently twist to the right. Extend your right arm and look right; hold for 5 to 15 breaths. Bring knees and hands back to the center, then repeat to the right. Stretch to both sides three times whenever you feel tightness in your back.
Relaxing for one minute in Child’s Pose gives your mind and muscles a chance to escape everyday madness.
How-to: Sit back on heels with the insides of legs and feet touching. Lean forward, bowing torso over thighs and lowering forehead to mat. Extend arms forward, palms down. Relax into pose, widening knees or bending elbows a bit, as desired. Focus on breathing, taking four to eight counts for each inhale and exhale and relaxing deeper into pose with each exhale.