Ancient yogis understood the science of the human body – long before western medicine made the connection between breath and wellbeing. Today, yoga teaches us that our breathing practice can have an amazing impact on our sleep quality and patterns.
If you’ve been to yoga classes before, you may have already learned some
Pranayama techniques. Prana (breath) yama (control) techniques are designed to relax the body, calm the mind, and reduce the fight-or-flight response, through developing a gentle control over the breath and the body’s vital energy.
Practised regularly, Pranayama techniques can also help you get into the right state to fall asleep, and are especially useful if you can’t drift off because of anxiety.
Here are three calming breathing techniques to try before going to bed, or anytime you just need to chill out.
Ujjayi Pranayama (Victory Breath)
Both energising and calming, Ujjayi (pronounced oo-ja-ee) breath is a breathing exercise that help you to focus before meditation, or to calm the nerves when feeling agitated, restless, nervous, or stressed. Search Ujjayi technique on YouTube or ask your yoga teacher if you’re unsure about the technique. As you start out, it may feel challenging, but in time it will feel effortless.
How to practise Ujjayi Pranayama
To create the Ujjayi sound, constrict the back of your throat (as if you’re going to whisper).
With your mouth closed, breathe deeply in and out through your nose – it’s the gentle constriction that creates the Ujjayi sound – like waves on a beach, or even Darth Vader!
Continue to breathe long and smoothly in and out of the nose. As you inhale, imagine your lungs expanding out to your sides, back, and up to your collar bones.
Bhramari Pranayama (Humming-Bee Breath)
Bhramari Pranayama is a lovely breathing technique to use whenever you’re feeling anxious or stressed out. It’s easy to do and will help you calm your mind while it relaxes your body. The perfect before-bed break.
How to practise Bhramari Pranayama
- Sit in a quiet place in a good posture, and breathe naturally.
- Then close your mouth and gently but firmly seal your lips shut.
- Breathe in through your nose.
- As you breathe out, make a humming sound. You should feel the vibrations as well as hearing the sound.
- The process should be slow and steady. Do it for five minutes.
The 4-7-8 breathing method
The 4-7-8 method is based on Pranayama breathing, although the particular inhale-hold-exhale pattern itself was introduced by Dr. Andrew Weil. With the 4-7-8 method, you focus on counting to distract yourself from feelings of anxiety, which helps to quiet the mind and may help you fall asleep faster. Don’t try this breathing technique if you’re in a setting where you can’t let yourself fully relax, or if you have to drive somewhere afterwards.
How to practise the 4-7-8 method
- Sit or lie down somewhere comfy. We recommend the Go Pillow to keep your neck and head aligned and airway open while you do this. Let your tongue relax and rest it on the roof of your mouth. If sitting, try to maintain your posture. If you’re using the method to fall asleep, it’s a good idea to lie down.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth, completely emptying your lungs.
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds.
- Calmly hold your breath for seven seconds. This part is critical.
- Exhale as evenly as possible for eight seconds.
- Repeat the steps above four times, if you’re starting out. You can gradually build up to eight cycles.