|"Savasana Artistic," by Robert Bejil, 2011. CC-BY-2.0|
Pranayama, in the Indian tradition, means "regulated breath." We don't often think to regulate our breath during the day (unless we are exercising).
However, learning to control the pacing and depth of one's breath can be one of the easiest cost-free ways we can help ourselves to better health both during the day and into the evening. And it doesn't require that we become a yogi guru in order to achieve its benefits, either!
Practicing controlled or regulated breath can have a positive impact on many physiological processes, including pulse, blood pressure, stress response, hormone production and overall improvement to the circulatory system, right down to the level of the cell. It shouldn't be surprising that it's also an excellent way to decompress after a long day and encourage easier sleep.
This is also something you can practice in the middle of the night, should you wake up and find yourself unable to fall back asleep. And if you aren't thrilled with taking medications to fall asleep, this could be a new best practice for you.
This is easy stuff, pranayama. There's no chanting involved, no twisty pretzel poses. Simply follow these instructions.
- Lie comfortable in your bed like you would every night at bedtime.
- Inhale comfortably, counting to 4*.
- Hold your breath for a count of 3*. Listen to your breath. Listen to your heartbeat. Notice the sounds.
- Exhale comfortably, counting to 4*.
*If your lung capacity allows you to take longer, deeper breaths (say, to a count of 6 or 8), then go for it. Find the pacing and depth of breathing that you are most comfortable with.
Don't force your breathing, just let it be what it naturally wants to be. Try to unclench your jaw, soften the muscles in your face and let your eyes relax while you're breathing and while you are holding your breath.
The listening and noticing is important, as well. By listening to your breath and your heartbeat, you can more easily let go of the day's events and thoughts and just be. You'll also find you notice your heart rate slows and your breathing becomes easier.
If this doesn't work right away, keep trying. Maybe after night 3 you will notice a difference, or it may take even longer. But that's okay. The goal is to keep trying until, eventually, it becomes a new habit to breathe with control at bedtime, until you can easily slide from your paced breaths to the easy patterns of automatic breathing that sleep brings.