Deep Breathe to Fall Asleep

Many people visit the doctor because they have trouble falling asleep. According to American Sleep Apnea Association, more than fifty million Americans suffer from eighty different sleep disorders, and even more from intermittent sleep problems. Falling asleep should be easy. But the mind takes on a life of its own, racing from one thought to the next, causing anxiety and fear, to run wild like a child.

Most likely, the doctor prescribes sleeping pills and tells the patient to try deep breathing before bed. But what is deep breathing? To understand this, it’s important to learn about the autonomic nervous system — that is, the body’s response to stress. Naturally, after a day stuffed with difficult people and unpredictable conflict, the brain activates the fight or flight response, and produces, among other things, the stress hormone cortisol. The stress agitates the mind, and the breath follows creating a forest of thoughts, until the path to sleep is lost. When under stress, the mind can hold the breath captive.

One way to reduce stress is to try and calm the breath.

Breath is natural. Breath is constant. Breath moves. In ancient Hindu text, it is known as prana or life force. Ultimately, breath determines state of mind. Mary Wise, MD, Integrative Family Medicine Physician, states that, “Breath is what and who we are as without breath we would not exist.”

Here are some steps to try to fall asleep. One rule of thumb is to turn off all electromagnetic screens. Creating a peaceful environment conducive to rest is essential. Scents like lavender help.

Experience a True Sense of Relaxation

First, try to experience the feeling of relaxation. According to Mary Wise, M.D. “There are many ways to relax. A common one is to do deep breathing focusing on the breath and letting all other thoughts go. Progressive muscle relaxation, guided visualization meditation, and repeating a word or a mantra all work well.”

One way to learn the feeling of relaxation is to lie down with the head on a pillow. Tense up the body as much as possible and then release it – – all at once. Here, experience the sense of relaxation in the physical body after the release of the tension; that feeling is the goal. Once you’re aware of how relaxation feels, the recognition of it as a state of mind becomes familiar and retrievable.

Become Aware of Energetic Chakras

Breath is alive. It travels through the body. Close the eyes and become aware of the seven chakras in the body. Breath is energy that moves from the first chakra upward.

  • Energy begins in the root chakra at the feet, legs, bones, base of spine.
  • Energy travels up to the next chakra, genitals and lower abdomen.
  • Energy moves to the third chakra the naval to solar plexus.
  • Energy rises to the upper fourth chakra heart, lungs, arms, hands.
  • Energy moves into the fifth chakra shoulders, neck, throat, ears.
  • Energy travels into the sixth chakra the eyes.
  • Energy moves into the seventh chakra crown of the head.

Establish a Root

Lie comfortably on the bed. Start with an inhale that begins in the pelvis with a light, subtle contraction. The breath should begin in the second chakra and travel upward. However, this may be too challenging for many, so start the breath where it’s easiest. It might be the stomach or the lungs. The secret is to find the root, where it’s most comfortable. Then, inhale from the root, letting the breath enter there. Allow the breath to move up to the higher chakras, and exit out through the nose.

Let the Breath Travel Up, Up, Up

Take a deep breath with the mouth closed. Ideally, the mouth should always remain closed. If that’s not possible, it’s fine. The action of trying is what matters most. Inhale the breath as deeply as possible, beginning in the pelvis and let it travel up through the stomach, slowly filling and expanding the lungs, into the throat, and after holding it for a few seconds, release it fully and slowly, through the nostrils.  

Once the breath is released through the nostrils, count silently to five. Then, begin a new inhale starting as low as possible in the pelvis, or the stomach, ultimately letting it fill the lungs, as it travels up past the throat and releases through the nose. Again, after a full exhale, count silently to five, and repeat.

Sound

The sound of the breath should not be labored. If it’s stressed, it defeats the purpose. It should sound soft and gentle like a wave on a shore. Ideally, visualize a circular motion of the inhale as it travels up the front of the body, and the exhale as it’s released down the backside.

Trouble Shooting

If allergies or other problems prevent breathing through the nose, then release the breath through the mouth, but continue to try and observe the movement of the breath as it makes it way up from the lower chakras (the pelvis) to the higher ones (stomach, lungs).

Patience

Try ten deep breaths at a time, or more, if possible. It takes time. Don’t let frustration limit the action of trying. Master the root of one deep breath. Do this exercise regularly before trying to fall asleep, because practice makes perfect and muscles have memory.

Even one breath can begin to help reduce the stress hormones and allow for the drop into dreamland. The more one practices deep breathing, the easier it becomes to recognize the true state of relaxation and to summon it, when it’s time to fall sleep.

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