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Breathing to Sleep

With more and more people experiencing insomnia I thought I'd share a couple of techniques that might help you get back to sleep.

According to Stephanie Gailing in an article in "many of us rapidly inhale and exhale, with more than 12 breaths per minute—and that’s not necessarily helping our ability to drift off peacefully come bedtime. “It’s been found that slower, more mindful breathing can have impacts on the nervous system, helping to tamp down the activity of sympathetic nervous system, which is often associated with being in [a state of] hyperarousal and fight-or-flight [mode] and activating parasympathetic nervous-system activity,”"

For many years people have been using the 4-7-8 Breath (also known as the Relaxing Breath) technique. Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil the technique involves:

Placing the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise.

You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.

  1. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whooshing sound.

  2. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.

  4. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath.

  5. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.

Another technique suggested in the article referenced above is the 3-6-5 Breath. "To practice it, commit to doing the practice three times per day, taking six full breaths per minute, and for a total of five minutes. If this sounds similar in spirit to the tranquilizing 4-7-8 technique [above], that’s fair; the endgame of achieving better sleep by way of reducing stress is the same. But 3-6-5 can be a better option for those who’d rather treat breathwork for sleep as ongoing interval training rather than a right-before-bed sprint. That is, instead of one long session, this method takes three rounds at different levels.

“For many people, doing practices like paced breathing is easier to do in short stints than in longer-duration practices,” Gailing says. “So doing it three times a day, for five minutes may be easier for some people than doing it for a longer period of time. The 3-6-5 reflects the ideal of doing it every day [of the year], and the benefits that having it be part of your self-care routine may yield.”

The article goes on to suggest how to perform this technique to get the best results.

"1. Find a comfortable position

“You want to be as relaxed as you can be, since not only is that the aim of this practice, but also, in the beginning, taking longer breathes may take some getting used to,” Gailing says. “Find a comfy chair, or sit on your bed or meditation cushion. Some people do like to lie down, as they feel more relaxed that way.”

2. Have a method for tracking your breaths

“You can use a breathing app for pacing, or just count the seconds on your own,” Gailing says. “Some people find it less stressful to set a timer for five minutes rather than counting their breaths. Yet if you find that counting enhances your mindfulness, you can take that approach.”

3. Breathe slowly and deeply into your diaphragm for five seconds, and then exhale slowly for five seconds

So again, if math’s not your strong suit, this step ultimately leads you to doing six full breaths a minute. Do this for five full minutes, and you’re golden!

4. Repeat two more times at different in your day

And there you have it! The rule of threes helps you essentially punctuate your day with the practice. You can start it after waking up, fit in a round of breaths after lunch, and end your day with one, right before your head hits the pillow. The benefits don’t end at the technique being a sedative: Breathwork meditations offer a host of physical and mental-health benefits, too. “Any practice, such as paced breathing,that helps us to rebalance the nervous system…will help us become more resilient to stress,” says Gailing." suggests several other techniques:

Bhramari pranayama breathing exercise

These steps will help you perform the original Bhramari pranayama breathing exercise:

  1. Close your eyes and breathe deeply in and out.

  2. Cover your ears with your hands.

  3. Place your index fingers one each above your eyebrows and the rest of your fingers over your eyes.

  4. Next, put gentle pressure to the sides of your nose and focus on your brow area.

  5. Keep your mouth closed and breathe out slowly through your nose, making the humming “Om” sound.

  6. Repeat the process 5 times.

In clinical studiesTrusted Source, Bhramari pranayama has been shown to quickly reduce breathing and heart rate. This tends to be very calming and can prepare your body for sleep.

Three-part breathing exercise

To practice the three-part breathing exercise, follow these three steps:

  1. Take a long, deep inhale.

  2. Exhale fully while focusing intently on your body and how it feels.

  3. After doing this a few times, slow down your exhale so that it’s twice as long as your inhale.

Some people prefer this technique over others because of its sheer simplicity.

Diaphragmatic breathing exercise

To do diaphragmatic breathing exercises:

  1. Lie on your back and either bend your knees over a pillow or sit in a chair.

  2. Place one hand flat against your chest and the other on your stomach.

  3. Take slow, deep breaths through your nose, keeping the hand on your chest still as the hand on your stomach rises and falls with your breaths.

  4. Next, breath slowly through pursed lips.

  5. Eventually, you want to be able to breath in and out without your chest moving.

This technique slows your breathing and decreases your oxygen needs as it strengthens your diaphragm.

Alternate nasal breathing exercise

Here are the steps for the alternate nasal or alternate nostril breathing exercise, also called nadi shodhana pranayama:

  1. Sit with your legs crossed.

  2. Place your left hand on your knee and your right thumb against your nose.

  3. Exhale fully and then close the right nostril.

  4. Inhale through your left nostril.

  5. Open your right nostril and exhale through it, while closing the left.

  6. Continue this rotation for 5 minutes, finishing by exhaling through your left nostril.

A 2013 study reported that people who tried nasal breathing exercises felt less stressed afterward.

Buteyko breathing [Discussed in another of my blogs]

To practice buteyko breathing for sleep:

  1. Sit in bed with your mouth gently closed (not pursed) and breathe through your nose at a natural pace for about 30 seconds.

  2. Breathe a bit more intentionally in and out through your nose once.

  3. Gently pinch your nose closed with your thumb and forefinger, keeping your mouth closed as well, until you feel that you need to take a breath again.

  4. With your mouth still closed, take a deep breath in and out through your nose again.

Many people don’t realize that they are hyperventilating. This exercise helps you to reset to a normal breathing rhythm.

Box breathing [see the video section]

During box breathing, you want to focus intently on the oxygen you’re bringing in and pushing out:

  1. Sit with your back straight, breathe in, and then try to push all the air out of your lungs as you exhale.

  2. Inhale slowly through your nose and count to 4 in your head, filling your lungs with more air with each number.

  3. Hold your breath and count to 4 in your head.

  4. Slowly exhale through your mouth, focusing on getting all the oxygen out of your lungs.

Box breathing is a common technique during meditation, a very popular method of finding mental focus and relaxing. Meditation has a variety of known benefits for your overall health.

In energy medicine the theory is that insomnia is often caused by too much energy in the head or Upper Dantian and any postures, like Bringing Down the Heavens or Connecting Heaven & Earth, that moves the energy downwards, is helpful. Even massaging the Kidney 1 point [see the handouts section to locate the K-1] in the bottom of your feet can be extremely helpful for this reason.

Donna Eden, the premier teacher of Energy Medicine suggests the following:

"After You Are in Bed:

  1. Rub & then hold the backs of your knees. This stimulates the pineal gland to produce melatonin, a hormone that is vital for sleep

  2. Shine a flashlight on the backs of your knees. This also gets the pineal gland to produce melatonin.

  3. Place a black eye mask over your eyes, putting you in total darkness. This is a third way of getting the pineal gland to produce melatonin.

  4. Place one hand on your frontal Neurovascular Reflex Points (pp. 102 - 103) and lay your other hand flat across your second chakra (p. 149). This dissipates stress, allowing your body to relax.

  5. Again, place one hand over your frontal Neurovascular Reflex Points and the other around the back of your head (just above your neck). The side of your palm and your fingers will be touching the bones behind your ears. These points relax Triple Warmer. After a few deep breaths, rest both hands on your heart chakra. This harmonizes all the body’s energies.

  6. Make a 3-finger cluster with your thumb, 2nd, and third fingers, and place it in the indent at the bottom of the front of your neck (this is a Triple Warmer Neurovascular Reflex Point). Place your other hand beneath your belly. This relaxes Triple Warmer, the Penetrating Flow, the Central meridian, and the chakra system.

  7. The Hook-Up (pp. 98-99) completes the circuitry between the Central and Governing meridians, which then connect all energy systems, putting you in the zone for sleep.

  8. If incessant inner chatter is keeping you up, a physical component may be a deficiency in one of the B vitamins, inositol. A quick fix can be as simple as shifting your eyes so you are looking toward your right ear.

  9. Imagine you are looking at a clock in front of your face. Focus first on the 12. Next look at the 1. Continue all the way around the circle, looking at each number for a second or two, until you are at 12 again. Now go around again, imagining that you are winding the clock tighter and tighter each time you go around, as if the hands were on a spring. Continue until you cannot wind it any tighter. Then go from number to number in the opposite direction, letting the spring unwind and letting all your tension unwind with it.

  10. To release facial tension, push your fingers up under your cheekbones, making small circular movements. Move outward along the cheekbones, continuing with these circular motions. Take a deep breath and bring your fingers to the sides of your nose, and push your fingers up toward and beyond the bridge of your nose. Spread your fingers across your forehead to your temples using pressure or small circular motions.

  11. Teffening is a technique that was first used in Brazil to help babies fall asleep. Using the backside of your fingernails, gently and very lightly slide down the inside of your arms with your fingernails.

  12. Use the Acupressure Points shown in Chapter 4 of Energy Medicine as described below:

    1. For insomnia in general: Hold the Strengthening Points on the Small Intestine and Heart meridians.

    2. If your mind is racing, hold the Liver meridian sedating points.

    3. If you regularly wake up between:

      • 11 p.m. & 1 a.m.: Hold the Gallbladder meridian sedating points.

      • 1 a.m. & 3 a.m.: Hold the Liver meridian sedating points.

      • 3 a.m. & 5 a.m.: Hold the Lung meridian sedating points.

      • 5 a.m. & 7 a.m.: Hold the Large Intestine sedating points.

Hold the points before going to sleep and later as necessary."

Toe Tapping is suggested by Ann Marie Chiasson of the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine for insomnia.

"The simple exercise of Toe Tapping causes healing energy to flow from toes to head, like a stream throughout your entire body. Even though the exercise is called Toe Tapping, you aren’t only tapping the tips of your toes. When done properly you move your entire legs, turning them outward and then inward until your toes meet. Thus the whole leg is active and the vibration created by the movement stimulates the six meridians which flow through the legs. Many have reported surprising improvements in health as well as joint flexibility and better overall balance."

As written in an article by David Osborne Counseling:

"Ann Marie Chiasson, MD, of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, [uses Toe Tapping] for her own patients with high blood pressure, insomnia, and anxiety. Dr. Chiasson has adapted a tapping technique that is part of the ancient Chinese practice called qigong. Qigong involves simple movements, including tapping on the body’s meridians, or “highways” of energy movement. These meridians are the same as those used during acupuncture and acupressure treatments. The effective use of Qigong for health benefits has been reviewed in at least of nine studies published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. It has been demonstrated to reduce blood pressure; and the technique she recommends also could conceivably benefit people who do not have high blood pressure if it reduces stress and thus helps lower the risk of developing high blood pressure.

Toe tapping, an introduction:

Toe Tapping is an exercise that allows the body to open to the energy around us—including the energy of the earth—by clearing and grounding the lower portion of the body. “Grounding the body” means opening the energy flow in the lower regions, and stimulating the energy body that is rooted in the physical body in the feet, legs, and root chakra. Both the audio and video portions of this program feature guided instructions for this exercise.

For this exercise, lie flat on your back and tap your big toes together by rotating your legs from the hips rather than using your thigh muscles or ankles. I recommend that you do this practice for at least five minutes each morning as you awaken, in order to start your day. If you have back problems, do the exercise in bed; otherwise, practice on the floor. Do not do this exercise if you are pregnant. As well, do not do this exercise if you have recently had knee or hip surgery, and have not yet received your doctor’s approval to resume all normal activity. If you cannot toe tap for any reason, use a handheld massager to stimulate the energy flow in your toes, feet, legs, and hips."

If you are experiencing insomnia try out a few of these and see what works for you.

Sweet Dreams.

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