Breathing Techniques for Relaxation and Sleep

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In ‘Tired but Wired’, Nerena Ramlakan intelligently states that ‘if you want to learn how to sleep brilliantly, you have to learn how to rest and relax brilliantly.’

Here are some excerpts from her book, which is a highly recommended read.

  1. Optimal Breathing Technique (OBT) for deep belly breathing
    Breathing is the key to being relaxed!  An important nerve called the vagus nerve is activated when we breathe deeply.    This prepares the body and mind to relax which in term prepares the mind and body to sleep. (N. O. D. S)
    Notice your breathing
    Open up your posture
    Deepen your breath
    Slow down your breathing

    Let go! Relax your abdominal muscles and allow your belly to get involved! You can try this lying down on the floor with your two legs up against a wall which will automatically relax your abdominal muscles.
    Practice makes perfect!

  2. Count yourself to sleep
    When you are lying comfortably in bed, practice OBT and try to keep your mind on your breath. When you are ready, prolong your exhalation.

    Mentally and silently with the exhalation say the word ‘onnnnnnnee’ -  for the entire duration of your exhalation – say it softly and gently as though you were trying to put a child to sleep.
    Then inhale and as you exhale again say two in the same way.
    Repeat until you get to TEN then start at one again.

    Allow your breath to set the rhythm of the counting.  If you lose track this is great, just start again at ONE.  Keep focus on your breath and counting.

  3. Surfing the breath
    When you are lying comfortably in bed, practice OBT and try to keep your mind on your breath.

    When you are ready, imagine a scene that makes you happy – could be beach on a warm still day. Smell the salt air and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin.
    As you breathe in the waves wash into the beach, mentally softly say INNNNN as they lap on the shore.
    Similarly say OUTTTT as they recede. The waves must synchronise with your breathing not your breathing with the waves!

  4. Pre sleep yoga (good if you have been working late or suffer from restless leg syndrome)
    Take care if you have back problems or tight leg muscles with some of these exercises.

    These exercises calm the mind, rebalance the nervous system by reducing adrenaline levels and help to activate the vagus nerve which deepens breathing. 

    Ideally hold each posture for 3-5 minutes before you get into bed.  You can light a candle, listen to some relaxing music or use aromatherapy oils to create a sanctuary of peace and calm.

    Practice OBT while you are doing this.  Keep focusing on your breathing as thoughts pop into your head – just gently let them float away.

  5. Letting Go: progressive Muscle relaxation (works well for perfectionists and A type personalities)
    • Clench your fists until it hurts then let go. Clench your teeth until it hurts then let go
    • Prepare your external environment to your own taste with soft lighting, music, aromatherapy oils etc
    • Lie with your legs up a wall or over a bed using cushions and blankets to make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes and let your weight settle in to the floor.  Practice OBT saying Innnnn and Outttt softly with each breath.  Become aware of each breath as you deepen it.
    • Wiggle toes, relax & let go
    • Point and flex toes  and relax and let go
    • Contract your thighs and let go
    • Squeeze buttocks and let go then tummy, shoulders, fists, face, relax between eyebrows, soften jaw, cheek, eyes roll back – let tension go
  6. Power napping
    Yes you can learn to!  This is great because you can take it anywhere you go!
    Do it when you feel sleepy.  Get comfortable but not too comfortable
    Set an alarm for 10-20 minutes – NB – do not over nap
    Close your eyes and OBT

    Mentally whisper ‘Innnnn’ and ‘Ouuuuutttt’  with each breath. Focus on feeling of air passing into and out of your nostrils

    When alarm goes off, rouse gently.