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Breathing and meditation techniques

Help for better sleep
Shows girl meditating with head in flowers tips to help you sleep

These breathing techniques are an effective form of meditation that will help you to fall asleep.

Busy professionals are the most likely group of people to have trouble falling asleep. We are conditioned into being quick thinkers, multi-taskers and fast decision-makers during our working hours and it’s difficult to turn that off when you’re trying to get to sleep.

Breathing techniques will help anyone who is struggling with falling asleep by reducing stress or anxiety and bringing you into a state of deep relaxation. If performed with the intent of helping you to fall asleep, these techniques can act like a natural tranquiliser.

However, they all take some practice and none of these techniques will work straight out of the box.

First, tell yourself that you’ll commit to performing these exercises continuously and will concentrate on them.

You’ll need to get comfortable in bed and prepare your body to relax.
Take a full minute to allow your back, shoulders and hips melt into the bed. Let your arms and hands feel heavy and let facial muscles drop completely before you begin. Don’t try to force your eyelids shut, instead allow them to be half-closed if it feels like less effort.

The 4-7-8 technique

This is a breathing pattern introduced by American MP Andrew Weil. It takes a bit of focus, and like any of the techniques we recommend here, you need to commit to it.

Begin by placing the tip of your tongue behind your teeth and hold it there.  You are going to exhale through your mouth around your tongue with your outward breath being an audible ‘whoosh’ sound. If it feels a little unnatural to breath out like this, try pursing your lips slightly as you exhale to form a more rounded shape with your mouth.

Begin by inhaling through your nose slowly and quietly to the count of 4.

Then, hold this breath to the count of 7. Try to keep the timing of your count consistent with your inhale.

Exhale a long, audible breath through your mouth to the count of 8. Feel your breath pass your tongue until you feel like you’ve emptied your lungs.

This is one breath, with the tip of your tongue sitting in position the entire time.

Inhale again and repeat this four times.

If you find it difficult to hold your breath or exhale for such a long time, speed up your count until it feels a little more comfortable. Don’t be overly concerned if you feel a little light-headed when you first try this, it will pass.

Dr. Weil recommends that you stick to a sequence of four breaths at a time, but I find it helpful to continue for around 8 breaths. I then relax for a couple of minutes and breathe quietly until I’m ready to try again.

This works if you stick with it and concentrate on the exercise.

I also find that it helps me with anxiety during the day. I’ll take myself somewhere away from my colleagues and breathe for four cycles before returning to my desk. This never fails to help me to feel calmer regardless of what’s going on in my working day.

Counting your breath

This act of mental training appears to come from Buddhism and is one of the simplest forms of meditation. It can be relaxing enough to help you to fall asleep, like a warm bath for your mind.

However, the act of counting from 1 upwards is too simple for many of us and it may not be enough to hold your focus.

I prefer to count backwards, starting from 99.

By starting with double digits, it’s just enough of an effort for your mind that you can’t trail off in another thought direction and still focus on this exercise at the same time. So, you’ll need to concentrate on the number coming with the next breath.

If your mind starts to wander and you find that you’ve forgotten where you were, start again. This time, pick a random double-digit number between 10 and 100 and start backwards from there.

As you count backwards, try to breathe more slowly and deeply. I sometime use this to give my mind time to think about what number comes next or to bring my mind back to the task.

Rarely do I complete the count all the way down to 10, but when I do, I repeat the exercise until I find that my alarm is going off and it’s time to rise.

Breathing with a mantra

Visualisation is a technique used by athletes as they prepare for a race or an event. It is a well-developed method encouraged by coaches across a range of sports to improve motivation, coordination and concentration.

Here, we combine visualisation with a breathing mantra to help anyone who is trying to fall asleep the night before an important day.

Begin by thinking about your desired outcome of whatever is happening the next day. Think of how you’ll feel after you’ve nailed that presentation or landed that big client or new job.

If you can imagine your feelings in that rush of success after a win, what congratulatory sentence will you tell yourself? This short phrase will become your mantra.

 “I’m unstoppable” or “I knew I could do it” or the one that ”.

Once you have your mantra, begin to breathe in and out slowly and deeply. With each inhale, let this phrase flow into your mind. Focus on how you will feel once you’ve achieved the challenge. Then imagine that each time you repeat your mantra with an inward breath, you’re bringing this positive energy into your body.

This might sound a bit woo-woo, but this a common technique used by Olympic athletes the night before a race. Here is a group of people who are brutally aware of how important a good night’s sleep is to their performance and aren’t able to pop a sleeping pill.

Almost every person that I’ve spoken to about this technique tells me that it works. But you’ll need to practice your self-discipline throughout the exercise.

As you become used to the mantra, you might find that your mind starts to run away a little. You’ll need to discipline your mind to turn away from any other thoughts and bring your focus back to your mantra and your breathing. Challenge yourself to see if you can control your mind and you should fall asleep quickly.

And, if you’re familiar with the law of attraction then you’ll know that the visualisation part can’t hurt either.

Hey, you can thank me tomorrow when your alarm goes off :-)

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