It is amazing to me how difficult it is for people to get a good night’s sleep. I personally have suffered from chronic insomnia since I was a teenager, and have been impressed with yoga’s ability to help. Although, when people typically think of yoga they envision postures and movements, some of yoga’s most powerful tools don’t involve movement at all. One such tool is called pranayama, and it works specifically on the energy system in the body.
The word pranayama is derived from the words prana and ayama.
Prana means life force energy, which is a concept we don’t really have in the West. It’s the energy that animates us and gives us life. When we have it, we are alive. When it is gone, we die. It is also the energy of healing, and is very similar to the concept of “Chi” in Chinese medicine. Prana already exists within each of us, but it is mobilized by the breath.
Ayama means to lengthen. So the practice of pranayama is literally the practice of lengthening life force energy by extending the breath.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pranayama practices that can be used to get dramatically different effects. I call one of my favorites “Tracy’s Sleeping Pill,” because it is a practice I regularly use to help me fall asleep. It can easily be done lying down in bed, and unlike many sleeping medications there are no unpleasant side effects the next morning.
I’ve given this practice to many clients over the years, and for most, it really makes a difference. So the next time you have trouble sleeping, give this a try. And, if like many of my clients, you never finish it because you fall asleep in the middle of practicing, so much the better!
- Lie in bed, on your back in any position that is comfortable.
Gradually, over 6 or more breaths, lengthen both your inhale and exhale. Make your exhale at least as long as your inhale. Stay at this lengthened breath at least 6 breaths.
- Break the exhale portion of your breath into two approximately equal parts, with natural pauses both between the parts and at the end of the exhale. Maintain this breath for at least 6 breath cycles.
- After at least 6 breaths, break the exhale portion of your breath into three approximately equal parts, with natural pauses both between the parts and at the end of the exhale.
- Continue this breath for at least 12 breath cycles. Do not strain the breath. If you do start to feel strain, go back to the two part breath in step 3. Then continue with that new breath for the rest of the practice.
- Once you finish 12 or more complete breaths in step 5, release the pauses completely and breathe with a lengthened breath for at least 6 breaths. Then gradually allow the breath to come back to a normal rhythm.
Namaste, and may you have a great night’s sleep!
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