Your Nighttime Zen Guide: How 7 Philly Yogis Prep for a Good Night’s Sleep

Consider this pre-bedtime required reading.



Sleeping can be hard work, y’all. We all have to do it, but many of us have a really hard time doing it well. And now, thanks to Netflix in bed and iPhones under our pillows, turning off the lights and tuning out of the world for a solid seven hours is harder than ever.

So in an effort to help us all master the sleep game, I went to the zen masters of Philly: I asked seven Philly yoga instructors to dish on their bedtime routines. While each of the instructors had their own unique pre-bed rituals, including calming essential oils and — gasp! — whiskey, one theme rang true throughout: Nearly all of the instructors mentioned a conscious practice of gratitude before bed.

Tonight, when I hit the sack, instead of driving myself crazy thinking of all the things I wish I had or wish I’d done today, I’m going to try this whole gratitude thing. Hopefully, a long and uninterrupted night of shut-eye will follow. See what else these Philly yoga instructors’ bedtime routines call for below.

Daniel Cordua, Mama’s Wellness Joint, Dhyana Yoga, and The Yoga Garden   

“To make sure I get the best sleep during the night, I require these four things during the day: meditation time, singing or chanting, physical yoga practice, and proper nutrition. Once it’s time to actually hit the hay, I need to eat a meal later in the evening. As ‘un-yogic’ as this sounds, I have a fast metabolism and a later meal helps me not wake up in the middle of the night starving.

“Another un-yogic thing I always do is have a glass of whiskey close to bedtime. I do this right before I get in bed and kiss my girlfriend, which — along with the whiskey — is the best thing to soothe my mind, body, and soul into the land of dreams.”

Jennifer Schelter, founder, Mindful Strategies for Living 

“I’ve tried to create a lovely yoga teacher ‘pre-bed ritual’ like you see and read in magazines, but I’ve always failed miserably, or eaten a bowl of popcorn and felt like I blew it. You know the feeling, right? So instead, I’ve created a potpourri of things to do before bed to calm me and help me prepare for sleep. Here they are: Read inspiring poetry like Jack Gilbert, Rumi or Beth Kephart’s Handling the Truth; take a walk in the dark and enjoy the silence; recount the day with my boyfriend and laugh until I’m talking gibberish and he’s snoring; pet my cats, Enzo and Oscar, and listen to them breathe and purr; enjoy a hot shower and floss (I hate flossing, but it makes me feel like I’ve really been a good and healthy person, and that makes me sleep better); take two melatonin to help me relax; light a candle, close my eyes and say ‘Thank you for … ‘ and list off everything and everyone I love and am grateful for; meditate on what’s essential for a positive mindset, and let go of everything that doesn’t serve that; close the shade, block out light, and make darkness my friend.”

Emile Sorger, Amrita Yoga & Wellness 

“To me, falling asleep has a lot to do with forgiveness. I learned this from someone who is very special to me. I start when I’m brushing my teeth and I look myself right in the eyes the entire time, not a searching or challenging gaze, but reflective and curious. I acknowledge the way I feel, how the day left its mark on me and, in doing this, I start to release self-criticism. Before going to sleep I do a few gentle forward folds, with very little effort and slow breathing. I follow this with a few minutes of seated meditation in bed. Before I fall asleep I make sure to voice my gratitude, ask that those I love be safe and ask for sleep to come easily.”

Paige Chapman, owner, Mama’s Wellness Joint 

“When it gets close to bedtime, I do my very best to step away from the phone and computer. If I’m really trying to get quiet with myself, I even dare to set my phone to ‘Do Not Disturb.’ A hot bath or shower is also great medicine for me before bed, and dousing myself in calming essential oils is the icing on top.”

Mariel Freeman, owner, DIG Yoga 

“I’m notorious for what’s come to be known as the Freeman Face Plant. I go, go, go until I completely run out of energy and crash, usually face down, anywhere. The one thing I always try to do is go to sleep with a full heart. Before I fall asleep, I close my eyes and call to mind and heart my dearest loved ones so that I fall asleep with a heart full of love and gratitude. (Then I peek at the baby monitor one more time and my heart bursts.) This sets my mood for dream time!”

Justine Bacon, co-founder, Philly Yoga Factory 

“I am a night owl by nature, so I really need to make a conscious effort to unwind. And that’s what it really is about: allowing myself some carved-out time to shed the day, disengage and settle in. We are all so fast-paced, busy and wound tight from the everyday, and it becomes easy to lose track of time, working until the very last ounce of energy is stripped. When I give myself 30 minutes to an hour before bed for ME, I function optimally all the way around. And when I don’t, I notice that, too.

“My bedtime rituals vary, but my favorites are what I’ll share with you. I like to take a nice steamy shower with calming and opening essential oils (lavender, eucalyptus and spruce). I follow this up with my newest favorite practice of Abhyanga, an Ayurvedic practice of self-massage with warm oil, and cup of hot bedtime tea. I wrap myself in a robe and prepare my body with a few postures in bed, depending on what I need that day: usually hip openers like pigeon, supported bridge for my lower back, plow for my upper back, and legs up the wall for my nervous system. Finally I release into Supta Baddha Konasana, reclined bound angle pose, for a deep and balancing Pranayama, right and left alternate nostril breathing, just before extending myself out in Savasana. It sounds like a lot, and I deserve every bit of it.

“The key to all of this, no matter what you do, is to take your time, soak in each moment and keep the stimulation to a minimum: dim lights, no phone, no computer. You’re worth it!”

Malik Wilson, Dhyana Yoga and Yoga on the Pier  

“I really struggle with getting adequate sleep. I fall more in line with being an insomniac. It is my understanding that not getting enough sleep is often rooted in anxiety. To cut down my anxiety, I try to begin my days with a to-do list. Crossing things off the list during and at the end of the day gives a feel of accomplishment.

“One thing I’ve tried to help me sleep, that I really love, is Valerian root tea, which I drink midday instead of before bed. I find when I incorporate that into my routine, I feel well-rested the following morning. Lately I’ve been practicing yoga before bed, usually on one of my late nights when I’ve eaten a late meal. The practice is rigorous, and I notice I sleep well on those nights.

“Also, being a yoga teacher I pay particular attention to my breath. I notice if it’s hard for me to sleep or if I wake up during the night, my breath is usually labored. Deep inhales from the lower belly up, and equally exhaling tends to bring a calming effect.”

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