Falling asleep with pranayama

Have you ever wished you could fall asleep as soon as your head touches your pillow? I have… I often find myself lying in bed unable to drift off to slumber even though I feel sleepy. Perhaps I have kept my mind too active, too close to bedtime.

Wanting to get longer hours of quality rest, I decided to try incorporating pranayama in my bedtime routine. I have heard of pranayama prior to yoga teacher training but I was not aware that there were SO MANY pranayama techniques! Besides being able to warm your body up and get you energised, there are also “cooling” pranayama that can help you cool down, clear your mind, and maybe even fall asleep more easily. So far, anuloma viloma and murcha have helped to calm my active mind and made me feel more relaxed before I sleep. Researching more on how pranayama affects sleep, I came across many articles recommending bhramari pranayama, which is what I will be trying next!

Sharing here three pranayama techniques that may help you to sleep better 😊

Anuloma Viloma (starting from the left nostril)

  1. Come to a comfortable seated position.
  2. On the right hand, fold the index finger and middle finger to the base on the thumb, forming Vishnu mudra. Left hand can be in Chin mudra resting on left knee.
  3. Using the thumb of the right hand, gently close the right nostril and inhale using the left nostril.
  4. Close the left nostril using the ring finger and slowly open the right nostril to exhale.
  5. Inhale from the right nostril, close it with the thumb, and slowly open the left nostril to exhale. This is 1 round and you can practise this technique for about 10 rounds.
  6. The inhale to exhale ratio should be 1:2 as longer exhalations can calm your body down.

Note: It is important to start the first inhale from the left nostril as it will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (and reduce sympathetic activity), which will induce a calming effect on your body. Starting from the right will activate the sympathetic nervous system, which will do the opposite – keeping your mind and body alert and active. You may consider doing that at the start of your day instead.

 

Murcha (Swooning Breath)

This is an advanced pranayama. However, there are variations such that even beginners can practise it and reap the benefits. Sharing here a basic variation:

  1. In a comfortable seated position, place palms gently on knees. Take a few deep breaths to prepare.
  2. When ready, take a slow inhale and tilt your head back and press palms on the knees to straighten the elbows. Keep your shoulders away from the ears. You can incorporate Ujjayi Pranayama here too.
  3. When you reach the top of your breath, tilt your chin down (Jalandhar Bhanda, chin lock) and hold your breath here (antar khumbaka) for as long as you can do so comfortably.
  4. When you can no longer hold your breath, gently bring your head back to neutral position and slowly exhale through your nostrils.
  5. Resume normal breathing and observe the effects of holding the breath before repeating.
  6. You can do this for 3-5 rounds.
  7. For more advanced options, you can incorporate Kechari Mudra (rolling tongue back) and Shambhavi Mudra (roll eyeballs towards the centre of the eyebrows, or the third eye chakra).

Note: The literal meaning of ‘murcha’ is fainting, hence you may feel some dizziness and swaying in this pranayama due to the prolonged holding of breath. The swooning effect also comes from engaging the Jalandhar Bhanda which compresses the carotid sinuses. Breath retention may induce a state of void in your mind, removing distractions.

Caution! Those with high/low blood pressure, mental disorders, brain and heart conditions should not practise this pranayama.

 

Bhramari (Humming Bee Breath)

  1. In a comfortable seating position, use your thumbs to gently press down on the cartilage between your cheeks and ears.
  2. Index and middle fingers gently cover your eyes, while ring fingers are at the side of the nostrils and little fingers at the corners of your mouth.
  3. Inhale softly and deeply, and as you exhale, make a humming sound from the back of your throat. Feel the vibrations through your head and face.
  4. You can do this for up to 5 minutes.

Note: The humming sound and vibrations produces a meditative effect. You can think of it as drowning out the constant “chatter” of your overactive mind. This pranayama also has effects of reducing anxiety and relaxing the face so you can practise this any time you feel stressed or anxious too.