By Shannon Sexton, Yoga+
The following exercises will help you fall asleep — and stay asleep — by facilitating physical, mental, and emotional cleansing and activating the body’s relaxation response. Try them and see for yourself.
Have you ever noticed that when your nervous system is jacked up, your inhalations are longer than your exhalations? Short exhalations make us vulnerable to anxiety and depression, cause toxins to accumulate, and create an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system, all of which make sleeping difficult. The antidote? Make your exhalation twice as long as your inhalation.
To begin, lie in shavasana. Place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. Tune into your breath. (If your chest is moving, relax your rib cage and focus on breathing solely into your abdomen.) Let the inhalation and exhalation be approximately equal in length.
Gradually deepen the breath and slow it down: On your next exhalation, gently engage your abdominal muscles and push a little extra air out of the lungs. Allow your abdomen to rise slightly higher as you inhale. Then begin to count your in- and out-breaths in even ratios — starting, perhaps, with 3:3, then moving up to 6:6 — whatever is within your comfortable capacity.
Let your breath flow quietly and smoothly through the nostrils, and when you are ready, let the next inhalation be a little shorter than the last. Gradually adjust your breathing to achieve a 2:1 ratio, exhaling for four counts and inhaling for two, for example. Focus on creating a smooth transition between your in- and out-breath, and back off a bit if you feel any urge to gasp for air.
If you sustain this breathing pattern for a few minutes, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops, and your muscles begin to relax. When practiced correctly, 2:1 breathing eliminates wastes from the lungs while calming and nurturing the nervous system. You can do this practice for as long as it is comfortable.