Leicester, UK

Yoga & Chill: My Favourite Poses for Relaxation

Sleep is not always my friend. More often than not it evades me, leaving me tossing and turning in bed for hours, feeling very groggy when I get up the next day. When life is busy with so much commanding your attention every single day, it's hard to convince your brain to calm down and allow you to recharge your batteries. Lately I've been turning to yoga in an attempt to switch off - I have talked about yoga plenty on my blog before, sharing my yoga retreat experience from last summer, but I often struggle to keep in the routine of daily practices. In an effort to motivate myself, recently have been putting together a short sequence of postures that really help me to chill and get some sleep. Today I'm sharing a few of those poses with you in the hope that they will help you with some much needed relaxation as well. But first, some all important prep work...

Before you begin

There can be a lot of snobbery around yoga. You may feel the pressure to have the fanciest mat on the market and a new wardrobe of garishly printed yoga leggings for every practice but honestly, that's not what yoga is all about. The photos in this post show me exactly as I am during every practice, wearing a scruffy old pair of leggings and an oversized Primark jumper that keeps me cosy whilst allowing freedom of movement. Comfort really is king when it comes to yoga so if you're not someone who feels at their most relaxed in a yoga top that resembles a jigsaw with 45 criss-crossing straps, don't sweat it.

close up of abbey's crossed legs on a yoga mat, her hands in the mudra position

One piece of equipment that is handy to have, however, is a yoga mat. Some poses to involve pushing your knees, sit-bones and ribcage into the earth, so if you're yoga-ing on a hard wooden floor, it ain't gonna be pleasant. But you needn't spend hundreds to get a yoga mat that ticks all of the boxes! I was very kindly gifted the Wailana Willow Tree Yoga and Pilates Mat that I'm using in this post by Jump Up Online, which costs a very reasonable £25. The mat has a slightly sticky quality that means you can plant your bare feet with confidence - you won't be slipping and sliding around. It provides soft cushioning for even the most taxing poses and is very strong if a more athletic practice is your thing. The subtle and unique willow design is beautiful too. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this mat to all yogis, novice or experienced! Now, let's get into some poses, shall we?

abbey is demonstrating child's yoga pose, kneeling on the floor and stretching her hands out in front of her

Extended Child's Pose (Utthita Balasana)

How to get into the pose

Start in a kneeling position, with your bum resting on your heels. Slowly walk your hands forward, keeping them out in front of you, until your torso is resting on the tops of your thighs. Separate your thighs, pushing them out to either side so that your torso then rests between them.

Why try it?

Do You Yoga says that child's pose reminds us of what yoga is all about - cultivating a sense of balance. Resting postures such as this show us you how important it is to stop and take time out, giving an opportunity to focus on your breath and quieten the mind. Child's pose also elongates the lower back, which is incredibly beneficial if you spend a lot of time compressing your back whilst sitting at a desk.

Making it work for me

I'm an old lady with dodgy knees. Too much pressure on my knees and I start to experience discomfort, so a standard child's pose where your torso remains resting on your knees and thighs just doesn't work for me. Whenever I'm directed to move into child's pose in a yoga class or as part of an online tutorial, I simply use the extended version, with the knees outward to reduce discomfort. I used to beat myself up about not being able to "do it properly" but now I recognise the importance of just doing what works for me. It's not worth giving myself an injury just to achieve the right form.

abbey demonstrating a forward bend yoga pose

Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

How to get into the pose

Begin in a standing posture. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, bend forward at the hips. Bend your arms, holding on to the right elbow with the left hand and vice versa. Let your head hang down. Try to keep your legs straight but do not lock your knees. Keep breathing as you hold the pose, relaxing deeper into it with each outward breath.

Why try it?

Yoga Outlet says that the standing forward fold is a very relaxing pose, as dropping your head below the level of your heart calms the brain, reducing stress and fighting anxiety. The pose also works to strengthen your legs, in particular the calves and hamstrings, as well as relaxing the upper body, especially the shoulders and neck.

Making it work for me

When you see pro yogis demonstrating this pose, it's an absolutely incredible thing. They can fold themselves just like a Barbie doll so that their torso is flush with their thighs. Me? I'm nowhere near that, as you can see from my photos! So to make this pose work for me, I simply refuse to put pressure on myself. You feel the benefits of this pose whether you're super flexible or whether you can only bend down a little way. Holding my elbows really helps this as I'm not tempted to over-exert myself by trying to grab my toes.

abbey demonstrating a gate yoga pose, kneeling on the ground with one arm bent over her head

Gate Pose (Parighasana)

How to get into the pose

Start in a kneeling posture, raising up one hand straight above your head, inhaling as you go. When you exhale, reach the raised arm over your head and feel the stretch in the corresponding side of your body. Use your opposite hand to support your body if necessary. Repeat on the other side.

Why try it?

Yoga Journal says that the gate pose is fantastic for stretching the spine and the torso, all the way from the hips to the armpits. It also opens up the shoulders and stimulates the abdominal organs and the lungs. If you hold a lot of tension in your upper body, this is the pose to help you relieve it. 

Making it work for me

Any real yoga aficionados reading this post will notice that I'm not technically performing all of the actions of the gate pose here. The full gate pose extends one leg out to look like the diagonal beam that holds a gate together (hence the name). I usually choose not to do the full pose because my balance sucks. If I'm wobbling around everywhere trying to keep upright, I find the pose a lot more stressful and it doesn't help to quieten my mind as much. If I'm doing an energetic yoga practice, I will attempt the full pose but if relaxation is the name of the game, I keep things simple, resting on both knees.

abbey demonstrating reclined cobbler's yoga pose, lying on her back with legs bent like a frog

Reclined Cobbler's Pose (Supta Baddha Konasasa) 

How to get into the pose

Start lying flat on your back, then raise your knees up towards your bum and draw them out to the side, like a frog. Press the soles of your feet together. Allow your arms to drop down to your sides or place them lightly on your stomach. Keep your spine straight but relaxed.

Why try it?

This Is How I Flow says that the reclined cobbler's pose is a restorative posture which can help ease mild period pain whilst gently opening the hips, chest, and shoulders. It can also aid the digestive system. The pose is also said to help relieve anxiety and restlessness if a little weight is added to the legs and belly, such as by covering yourself with a pillow or blanket.

Making it work for me

If I'm at the end of a long, hard day, I will often put a pillow under my head whilst in the reclined cobbler's pose. While my Willow Tree mat is very comfortable, an extra support under my head really helps to tell my body that it's now time for bed. As this pose is so relaxed, I also like to repeat some short positive mantras in my head whilst I'm in the posture just to stop my mind from wandering back to worries or troubles. Something as simple as "breathe in love, breathe out love" is really effective for this.

Now it's over to you, are you a fan of yoga? If so, which are your favourite postures? Which would you most like to try? Let me know down in the comments.

Until next time,

A x

*The yoga mat mentioned in this post was sent to me free of charge in exchange for a blog post review.

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