You’ve heard it before and you are going to hear it again: breathing is a powerful tool. There’s a reason you are hearing this you know – because it is true! Meditation can seem intimidating to people who have never tried it before, but it shouldn’t be. The key is to realize it is a practice and you will feel different day to day. This is why it’s important not to judge yourself and remember that if you can breath, you can meditate.
Meditation can help you relax, help you positively respond to stressful situations and get you to sleep. Check out 4 simple breathing techniques below that are sure to help you in this breathing practice. They can be done almost anywhere and without anything. I like to do these in bed before sleep, but do them where and when you wish. Most importantly, take the time to read and understand the technique you’re curious about because it could just change your night (or life).
1) Basic breathing/ breath awareness- People tend to think that simple basic breathing and being aware of your breath is too easy to be effective. You would actually be surprised to know that simple can be most effective when it comes to many things- especially sleep and relaxation exercises!
First find a quiet place and lie or sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and arms relaxed beside your legs. If you like you can also place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Shut your eyes and simply just begin breathing. You can breath in through your nose and exhale out your mouth – or however you find comfortable. When I practice breath awareness, I tend to enjoy inhaling and exhaling through my nostrils when practicing breath awareness. You can also switch it up throughout the practice, you are not tied to one kind of breathing. When practicing breath awareness, simply just focus on the fact that you are breathing. If your mind begins to wander, always go back to your main focus, the breath.
When you breath consciously, your body and mind begin to relax. If you find basic breathing too easy, try visualizing a place that makes you relaxed or calm…or anything really! There have been several times throughout my basic breathing where I have visualized myself as an outer body or orb looking down on my real body. It may sound alarming, but crazy shit can relax you…Welcome it! Never underestimate the power that breath awareness can harness. Do this before bed and you may find yourself falling asleep without even realizing.
2)Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)– This easy technique allows you to contrast feelings of tenseness with relaxation. Before you begin, take a flat-backed position in your bed and close your eyes. The first step of the technique is to tense up a particular muscle group of your choice. This could be your shoulders, abs, face, arms, glutes, legs, calves or whatever muscle (or group) of your choosing. Squeeze your muscles for as hard as you can for 5 seconds. Next, completely relax your body and the area you have tensed for a total of 15 seconds. During this time, make sure your jaw is not clenched and that you breath deeply. Tell yourself to let go, stay calm and relax. Your mantra will become associated with a relaxed state. Repeat this as many times as you wish and, if you like, focus on a different muscle group each cycle.
With PMR, you will decipher the difference between a tense body and a relaxed body. This is more important to your sleep and relaxation the you’d think. Eventually you can train your body to recognize a relaxed state and cue it when needed, even when you are not trying to sleep. If you do this consistently, you also create the association of physical and mental relaxation in bed at nighttime or before sleep. Though it is a technique designed as a tool for relaxation, you do not have to be anxious or tense to try it. PMR is habitual breathing and muscle exercise that will teach you to learn from your body and see how it is connected to your state of mind. In time you may learn to use this in day to day situations or as an easy before bed routine.
3) The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique – Okay, so you want to get to sleep and basic breathing isn’t working for you. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. This technique is a simple 3 step process that, when practiced over time, can ease you into sleep within minutes. Lie in a comfortable position with your eyes closed and arms resting beside you. You can sit to do this, just keep your hands on your thighs. Start by exhaling the air out of your lungs. Then the technique begins. When you feel little air in your lungs, inhale for a count of 4. Then hold that breath in your lungs for a count of 7. Next exhale for a count of 8. This exhalation should be accompanied by an audible “whoosh” sound. Once you have completed this- inhaling for 4 seconds, holding for 7 seconds and exhaling for a count of 8- you have completed one cycle of breath. Repeat this cycle of breath no more than 4 times. Keep your breaths counting consistent, don’t slow down too much and remember it gets easier with practice! Check out the video above where the creator of the 4-7-8 technique guides you through how to do it.
4) Deep Throat Breathing – This is a technique for people who like structure and/or those who want to learn to breath differently. It’s not as complicated as you may be thinking as you read this. This is why I have completed a step by step guide of how to complete deep throat breathing. But first, FORM: lie down in a comfortable position. Keep your legs about hip distance apart and your arms relaxed beside you. Your eyes should remain closed throughout the exercise.
1) Start by taking a breath so that your lungs are completely full of air and then emptied right after.
2) After you have done this 3 times, you will take another deep inhale through your nostrils for a count of 4 seconds. When inhaling, try to slightly constrict the back of your throat, as if the air feels resistant as it travels to your lungs. At first it feels kind of awkward and tight. A small sound will accompany this restriction, which many of my yoga teachers have described as waves of the ocean flowing back and forth. Again you will know you’re doing this kind of breath right because it feels very different and slightly forced compared to normal breathing.
3) After inhaling for 4 seconds, hold that breath in for 4 seconds and take that time to notice how your body is feeling. Is it relaxed? Is your mind wandering?
4) Next get back to the breath and exhale through your nose for a count of 4, using the same kind of constriction I described before but opposite direction. Don’t worry when I do these types of rigid inhalation and exhalation, I tend to sound like I am quietly snoring.
5) Continue by inhaling for 6 counts, holding for 6 counts then exhaling for 6 counts.
6) Continue to add 2 counts to each component of the inhalation, holding and exhalation until you reach your maximum capacity of “holding and breathing”.
7) Once this maximum is reached you can continue by taking away 2 counts in each part of the inhalation, hold and exhalation sequence. For example, if your maximum is inhaling, holding and exhaling for 10 counts the next sequence will only require 8 counts and so on.
8) Keep taking away 2 counts until you get back to a 4 count breath.
9) Then release and RELAX. Your body and mind will feel different.
Make sure to always keep your breath rigid and present. Also do not push yourself or be too hard on yourself! Do this every day to a count you are comfortable with. Remember you can add on or subtract counts to sequences depending on how you’re feeling. Also keep in mind breathing is never as easy as it seems. This seemingly more advanced breathing technique will get easier in time. Remember it is totally okay to fall asleep while doing this.