A busy mind plagues a lot of us as we try to fall asleep. Eyes close, head hits the pillow, but our mind keeps on running. This can bring a lot of frustration and keep us from getting the kind of quality rest and sleep that we desire. Breathing exercises are a powerful way to calm the mind and prepare your system for sleep. They help to calm the nervous system and bring awareness from the chatter of the mind into the body. There are a lot of different breath exercises you can utilize for a better night's rest. Try the following next time you are ready for sleep but your mind has different plans.
Belly breathing is simple, effective and can be done anytime, anywhere to help relax and prepare for rest.
To practice belly breathing, either lie down or sit upright with your spine long and shoulders relaxed. Place one hand on your lower belly and as you inhale, fill the lower belly and feel it expand into the hand, isolating the breath here. As you exhale let the air fall out of the belly as it contracts and repeat. Keep a long continuous breath pattern, not holding at the top or the bottom but letting the breath flow in and out continuously without pausing. Practice for a minimum of 5 minutes.
Three part breath
Three part breath pattern is another simple and effective breath pattern. It requires slightly more effort than belly breathing, but can be done in the same postures and has a similar feel.
Find your seat or lie down on your back. Place a hand on your heart and one on your lower belly. As you inhale, fill the lower belly, then immediately direct the breath into the mid ribs, then the chest. Exhale once you are at the top. Think of the breath as a wave that starts in your lower diaphragm and ripples up to your chest, then falls out on the exhale effortlessly. You can say to yourself as you breathe “belly, ribs, chest” as you breathe into each section if it helps. Continue for around 5 minutes.
Alternate nostril breath (Nadi Shodhana)
Alternate nostril breath is a form of pranayama that helps balance the left and right hemisphere of the brain and is deeply calming for the body and mind. It involves alternarnating the inhales and exhales through opposite nostrils to stimulate both sides of the brain and achieve a deep state of peace. It is highly meditative and very simple to do.
On your right hand, tuck in your pointer and middle fingers into the base of the thumb. Plug your right nostril with your thumb and inhale through the left nostril. At the top of the inhale, plug your left nostril with your ring and pinky finger, and exhale out of the right. Inhale through the right, plug the right nostril at the top and exhale through the left. Inhale through the left, plug the nostril at the top of the inhale and repeat. Continue this pattern for at least 21 rounds.
Box breathing is a simple and very effective breath to relieve anxiety almost immediately. It is incredibly easy and can be done anywhere at any time. Box breathing consists of an equal length inhale and exhale as well as a breath retention at both the top and bottom of the breaths.
To practice box breathing, inhale for 5 counts, hold the breath for 5 counts, exhale for 5 counts, and hold at the bottom for 5 counts before beginning again. If the count of 5 is too short or long for you, find a count that feels best for you and your body and stick with that. Try to continue this pattern for at least a few minutes, ideally five minutes or more, to find relief and soothe the mind.