Pranayama is the Sanskrit term for breathing techniques.

It seems that sleeping can be a really tricky thing for a lot of people these days. I tend to be able to fall asleep fairly easily but wake up through the night and/or very early. I have a little pact with myself though, not to get up earlier than 6. I know if I do, I’ll be wanting to go to bed around 7:30 the next night.

There are a few yoga breathing exercises that I use to help me fall back asleep. Lying on your back is probably best as mostly likely you’re in bed anyway. Eyes closed of course. Take a long slow deep inhale counting to 4. Feel the chest expand. As you exhale a slow count of 5 while feeling the contraction as you press the breath out. Repeat this several times. Then, at the end of each inhale feel how it is to be full, for a count of 4 and again at the end of each exhale, feel how it is it be empty for a count of 5. This is known as kumbhaka- the pause between the inhale and the exhale. So to recap you have an inhale count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 5 and hold for 5. It shouldn’t be like work though, so be okay with shortening or lengthening the breaths as suits you.

Another technique that my partner came across on Life Hacks is the 4-7-8 breathing exercise. Dr. Andrew Weil, a Harvard trained medical doctor has come up with this idea which we have both found very useful. An inhale count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7 and then an audible exhale while counting to 8. This is repeated 4 times. This system is described by Weil as “a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system” that eases the body into a state of calmness and relaxation. If practiced regularly, Dr. Weil swears you will eventually be able to fall asleep within a minute. I need to practice more but it does send me back to sleep.

Another approach I use is a body scan. Eyes closed feeling the breath in my body -the expansion and contraction as I take the focus of my mind to my feet. Is there tension? Could I let go? Then slowly drawing the focus up my body to my ankles, my shins, my calves, my knees, thighs, fronts of the legs, buttocks, pelvis, hips lower back, belly, middle back, rib cage, shoulder blades, chest, shoulders arms, elbows, fore arms, wrists, palms, fingers. Letting go of any pockets of tension I might find. In the mind repeating, “relax, release.” Drawing the focus back up to the collar bones, softening the throat, the jaw, mouth, lips, cheeks, letting the eyes sink back into the head releasing the forehead and the scalp letting them melt towards the pillow.

Of course these are just a few techniques to try. Hopefully at least one will do the trick. There is always of course the option of counting back from 1000. My partner Greg counts backwards from 2000 in French! He swears this has worked for him in the past. I guess you just bore yourself to sleep with it.

Good luck and restful sleeping. xx

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