Pause for a moment and bring your attention to your breath.
Is it short and shallow with the breath feeling as though it stops in your chest? Why does our breath change during our sleep meditation, walks in nature, or savasanas at the end of yoga class? Here’s what you need to know.
Our breath changes to reflect our emotions.
When we’re excited or nervous, our breath shortens and breathing becomes more rapid. When we’re calm and relaxed, the breath naturally slows down. We start breathing into our diaphragm and the body begins to relax.
The importance of deep breathing is often overlooked, but it’s essential to regulating our moods, hormone levels, and digestive system.
Breathing deeply into our belly before bedtime stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the neck to the abdomen. This cues the vagus nerve to turn off the flight-or-fight response, which signals to the body that we are safe and puts us in a parasympathetic or “rest and digest” state.
Sustaining this state as much as we can improves the balance of our nervous and digestive systems, reduces inflammation, regulates our hormone levels, and enhances our overall sleep quality.
Breathing Exercises for Sleep Meditation
One of the most powerful self-healing tools we possess is our breath. Setting aside time to focus on how we breathe can give us immediate positive results.
Here are three breathing techniques you can use alongside guided sleep meditation that just might give you the best slumber of your life.
1. Alternate Nostril Breathing
A popular technique with yoga and meditation practitioners is nadi shodhana pranayama or alternate nostril breathing. It is highly regarded for its ability to calm the mind and reduce stress, and can also help those struggling to fall asleep.
Nasal breathing allows your body to drop into a relaxed state. When combined with alternating open and closed nostrils, it creates balance in the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. See, when you alternate nostrils, you synchronize the left and right hemispheres of the brain, resulting in a calmer mind.
How to Do It
- Sit in a comfortable position, your right hand near your nose.
- With the right thumb, close the right nostril and inhale as slowly as possible through the left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Pause. Open the right nostril and exhale through it slowly.
- Inhale through the right nostril, then close it with your thumb. Pause. Open the left nostril and exhale through it slowly.
- Inhale through the left nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Pause before opening the right nostril and exhaling through it slowly.
- Inhale through the right nostril before closing it with your thumb again.
- Repeat for at least 10 cycles. When alternating nostrils, practice gently, rhythmically, and slowly.
2. The Papworth Method
The Papworth method came out in the 1960s, and is known to help reduce anxiety and alleviate symptoms of depression. The method combines breathing and relaxation techniques, where you are taught to breathe slowly and deliberately from the diaphragm, with an emphasis on nasal breathing. Relaxation techniques are then introduced and practiced in unison with the breath.
Studies have also found the Papworth method effective in relieving symptoms of asthma. Many asthmatics have problems sleeping at night and this technique helps them fall and stay asleep, while simultaneously retraining the unconscious habit of mouth-breathing.
How to Do It
The Papworth method involves slowly breathing in through your nose and breathing out through pursed lips as though blowing out a candle. The aim is to make sure your exhale is double the length of your inhale, and that you’re breathing using the diaphragm and abdomen instead of the chest.
3. The “4-7-8” Breath
This form of deep, rhythmic breathing is prescribed for times of heightened stress and to help ease people into sleep. Many claim it soothes a racing heart and calms frazzled nerves.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique helps bring the body into a state of ‘rest and digest.’ It’s highly recommended if you’re experiencing anxiety, stress, or repetitive overthinking. Also known as the “relaxing breath,” this technique can help you get to sleep in one minute.
Studies suggest that six weeks of practicing pranayamic breathing, or controlled breath movement such as this technique, may have a positive effect on a person’s heart rate variability. It is also been found to reduce stress, improve cognition, and relieve anxiety.
How to Do It
- Get in a comfortable seated position and place the tip of the tongue on the tissue right behind the top front teeth.
- Empty the lungs of air.
- Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds.
- Exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds.
- Repeat for at least 10 cycles.
There are many research-backed benefits of regularly practicing breathing techniques. These include stress reduction, better sleep quality, and improved health. Try practicing these three exercises with your sleep meditation and include them in your nightly routine. They just might be all you need so you can finally get your nice, juicy zzz’s.