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One Small Change

Breathe Yourself to Sleep

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Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep? Do you toss and turn more than a short-order cook during the lunchtime rush? If so, the cure may not lie with Sominex, sheep, or even higher-thread-count sheets. It’s actually possible to breathe yourself to sleep—in just 5 minutes or less.

The technique is drawn from pranayama, an ancient Indian practice that basically means “regulation of breath.” Although breathing may seem like an unconscious mechanism, it is entirely controllable and, once tamed, can influence heart rate, blood pressure, circulation, hormone production, stress levels and many other bodily functions.

“The breath is the common denominator in everything we do,” says Al Lee, co-author of Perfect Breathing. “It touches every dimension of life. It directly and dramatically affects your health, your ability to heal, your emotions, your physical performance, your creativity, and it’s used by every spiritual tradition to help achieve deeper states of prayer, meditation and contemplation.”

And it can settle you enough to put you to sleep. I recently experienced this firsthand in a yoga class where the teacher had us sit comfortably in a circle, close our eyes, and do the following exercise:

  • Inhale through the nose for a count of 6
  • Hold for a count of 3
  • Exhale through the nose for a count of 6
  • Hold for a count of 3
  • Repeat this series 4 more times
  • Next, inhale through the nose for a count of 6
  • Exhale through the nose for a count of 6
  • Repeat this series 4 more times.

By the end, I was peacefully relaxed, despite having been previously wired from the demands of the day and a large Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. And after doing it a few more times, I actually nodded off. (And no, it wasn’t from lack of oxygen.) Since then, I’ve been using this exercise whenever I can’t fall asleep. I find it instantly quiets my body and settles my mind.

But you don’t have to hit these exact same notes for your breath lullaby. As long as you follow the same pattern of inhaling/holding/exhaling/holding, you can do it for a count of 3, 4 or more—whatever feels comfortable.

Or you can follow Lee’s advice and simply become more mindful of your breath as you lie in bed. Instead of trying to alter your breathing, just become conscious of it, he says. Doing so pulls your monkey mind out of its jungle and focuses it on one thing (your breathing), which is often enough to put it to rest.

“It brings you back to the present moment,” explains Don Campbell, the other half of the Perfect Breathing team. “There’s no way you can think about yesterday or tomorrow when you’re concentrating on your next breath. Doing so immediately starts ramping down your entire metabolism.”

So what do you say? Time for a nap?

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About The Author

Joe Kita – Joe Kita is a noted writer, editor, motivational speaker and teacher. He authors the blog "One Small Change" for CorePerformance.com.

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Tags: Rest, Sleep, Relaxation, Energy