Whether you sit in a chair all day, like to garden, or are on your feet for extended periods of time, you’re probably no stranger to sore muscles at the end of a long day. Because our bodies tend to repeat the same physical motions using the same muscles, the aches we experience can get worse over time if they aren’t tended to.
While we know that gentle yoga stretches are good for our tired, aging bodies, it’s hard to find time to stretch during the course of a busy day. But what if we told you that you could stretch those tight muscles right from your bed before hitting the sack? Instead of scrolling through your phone when you lay down for a good night’s rest, try these bed yoga poses to help ease that nagging tension in your back, neck, and other common pain zones. Even better: Relaxed muscles lead to deeper sleep, so you’ll rest easier and wake up feeling refreshed.
Pain traveling into your mid and upper back? The movement of cat-cow pose works to strengthen and stretch the muscles along the spine, while also promoting healthy circulation.
To do this pose:
- Start in a tabletop position with hips stacked above your knees, shoulders stacked above your wrists, and head and spine are in a neutral position.
- On an inhale, push your belly towards the ground, while curving your tailbone and neck up towards the ceiling, pressing into your hands and feet.
- On an exhale, press into your hands and feet as you curve your middle spine up towards the ceiling and drop your head and tailbone down towards the bed. Repeat and move with the breath for 5-10 breaths.
(Photo Credit: Lara Alexiou)
Much of our back pain originates in the hips, especially if we live a lifestyle that requires sitting in a chair all day. Fire-log pose combats tight hips that cause lower back pain by stretching the muscles around the hips as well as muscles associated with the groin and buttocks.
To get into this pose:
- Begin sitting on your bed with your legs out in front of you.
- Bring each leg in toward you (as though you were going to sit cross-legged), and stack your right leg on top of the left leg, right ankle on top of the left knee. The aim is for knee, hip, and ankle to form a ninety-degree angle, but if your legs are bent a bit, that’s OK too.
- Sit up straight, and breathe deeply into the hip.
TIP: If this version of the pose is too intense, try just sitting cross-legged with one ankle stacked on top of the other (make sure to sit up tall and breathe). For an even deeper stretch, inhale your arms up over your head, then exhale and fold over your legs.
Stress and tension get stuck in our necks and shoulders, causing pain in the upper back. Puppy pose benefits the upper thoracic spine, an otherwise hard-to-reach area of the spine. According to Yoga International, “The main function of the pose is to reverse the thoracic curve of the spine, located between the shoulder blades. The thoracic spine is also where the sympathetic nervous system (aka the ‘fight or flight’ system) resides. When the thoracic spine extends, like when doing a backbend, the rib cage lifts and the rib heads (where rib bones attach to the spine) move up and forward, pushing into sympathetic nerve receptors. This triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response in our body, which is really just the brain preparing the body to deal with a stressful situation, resulting in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, perspiration, and mental focus.”
To get into puppy pose:
- Come into a tabletop position.
- Slowly start to walk your hands out in front of you, keeping your arms shoulder distance apart, and keeping your hips stacked over your knees.
- Rest your forehead down. Pressing firmly down into your hands and arms, drop your chest towards the bed. Breathe into the shoulders and rib cage for 5-10 breaths.
TIP: For an even deeper stretch, lift your head and rest your chin down, keeping your gaze forward.
Baby Cobra Pose
Similar to puppy pose, baby cobra pose also helps to stretch and lengthen the thoracic spine. Baby cobra pose is also known for easing digestive distress through massage of the digestive organs.
To practice baby cobra pose:
- Lie flat on your belly.
- Place your hands right underneath your shoulders.
- Keeping elbows glued to your rib cage and putting barely any weight on the hands, lift yourself up using the strength of your back muscles.
- Stay here and breathe for 5-10 breaths.
Another hip-opener, pigeon pose stretches the hip-flexors and rotators, helping to release the muscles in the lower back and hamstrings.
To get into pigeon pose:
- Start in a tabletop position.
- Bring your right knee towards your right wrist and your right ankle towards your left wrist and reach your left leg straight out behind you. The aim is to eventually get your right knee to be exactly perpendicular to your hip, but don’t force your leg further if there is sensation or pain in the knee.
- Placing your hands on the sides of your hips, sit up tall and inhale deeply, feeling your sitting bones reaching toward the ground, spine straight.
- Exhale as you fold over your front leg. Stay in the pose for 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
TIP: This pose can be a bit intense if your hips are really tight, so if it's too much, take the pose lying on your back by laying down with both legs bent, feet on the bed. Rest your right ankle on your left knee. Thread your hands underneath your left thigh to pull the left leg in toward you while pushing the right knee away from you. Breathe deeply and repeat on the other side.
Reclined Supine Twist
Twists are great for a healthy spine as well as healthy organs. The reclined supine twist benefits the digestive system by massaging the colon and digestive tract, while also giving you a good shoulder, glute, hip, and back stretch in the process. The supine twist helps to elongate the muscles along the spine and undo shoulder tension that may have accumulated from hunching throughout the day.
To practice a reclined supine twist:
- Lay flat on your back with knees bent, feet planted on the bed.
- Extend your left leg long on the bed. Bring your right knee into your chest and pull it in towards you.
- Scoot your seat slightly to the right, then drop your bent right leg over to the left side.
- Place your left hand on your right knee, and extend your right arm out beside you, palm facing the ceiling.
- Feel your right shoulder grounding towards the bed as you breathe deeply. Hold for 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Fold
Forward folds help to release tension and stretch the muscles all the way from the heels of the feet, through the hamstrings, and into the upper spine. This seated version will help to send calm through the central nervous system just as you’re winding down for bed.
To do a seated forward fold:
- Sit up tall with your legs stretched out long in front of you and your feet flexed (toes pointing toward the face, heels pushing forward).
- Inhale your arms up above you, feeling the rib cage expand with the breath.
- Exhale and fold forward over your legs, trying as best you can to maintain a flat back and not round your spine. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.
Helpful Tip: To be sure you’re not rounding your back too much in the pose, fold from your lower belly by pulling your belly button in towards the spine. This lifting of the lower belly will help you fold deeper. Pause with every breath to send more space into the tight areas on each inhale, and fold deeper on each exhale. Imagine stretching your heart forward instead of down as you fold.
Supine Hamstring Stretch
Those who suffer from sciatica can experience increased low back and hip pain originating in the hamstrings. The hamstring muscles become tight given daily activities like sitting for extended periods of time. Tight hamstrings lead to a decrease in mobility of the knee and hip joints. A supine hamstring stretch can help you bring length and fluidity back into that muscle tissue to ease back and hip tension.
To perform a supine hamstring stretch:
- Lie flat on your back.
- Lift your right leg straight up, keeping the pelvis on the bed.
- Clasp both hands underneath your thigh or calf, pulling the leg toward you. Do not lift your shoulder blades off of the bed. If you feel your shoulder blades lifting, reach for a lower spot on your leg.
- Hold the pose for 5-10 breaths, pressing the tail-bone towards the bed and breathing deeply. Repeat on the other side.
Thread the Needle Pose
If you sit for a large portion of the day, chances are you are carrying some tension in the shoulders, upper back, and neck. Thread the Needle Pose helps to open these areas and releases tension that is commonly held in the upper back and between the shoulder blades.
To do thread the needle pose:
- Start in a table-top position.
- Extend your right arm up towards the ceiling, and then slide it underneath your left arm, as though you’re threading a needle. The right shoulder and the head should be resting on the bed.
- Extend your fingers out long, and breathe into the stretch for 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Child’s pose is one of the most soothing yoga postures in the practice, and this one is sure to help you wind down just before your head hits the pillow. Child’s pose releases the lower back and extends the spine nice and long, and provides you with the added benefit of ultimate relaxation.
To get into child's pose:
- Start in a table-top position.
- Rest your butt down onto your heels and bow your upper body forward.
- Either extend your arms out in front of you or along your sides.
- Rest your forehead on the bed and breathe deeply into the back body. Stay for 5-10 breaths.
TIP: For more of a hip stretch, take your knees wide with big toes touching in the pose.