Our breathing changes throughout the day, if we move quickly or if we are stressed and anxious we breathe faster, if we relax our breathing and heart rate slows down. Many people, particularly women, only use part of their lung capacity leading to feelings of panic. Try breathing fast, as if you are panting and you might be aware of that ‘panicky’ feeling that happens when you’re feeling anxious.
It helps to feel relaxed and calm if we want a peaceful night sleep. Feeling tense and stressed will make it hard to fall asleep. By learning how to control the breath and relax the body you will not only help yourself sleep better, but will be able to relax and refresh your mind and body at other times.
Watching the Breath
Learning how to relax and be aware of your breath is easy and can be done anywhere…To start it helps if you set a few moments aside when you won’t be disturbed. Find a place that is warm and comfortable and free from distractions. Firstly, just allow yourself to settle, either lying down with the knees bent and the back relaxed, or sit comfortably in a chair. Try to feel the movements in the body as you breathe in and out.
Keep concentrating on the movement of the breath. When the mind wanders off into other thoughts and distractions (which it will) keep drawing it back to being aware of your breathing again.
After a little while, you will notice that your breathing has become slower. When this happens you can try and exhale slower and allow the breath to become slower and lighter. You may notice a feeling of calm as the mind is allowed to relax.
Sectional breathing will make you aware of how you breathe. It will help you to notice what happens to the breath when you are stressed and tense. Use this technique to help you relax when you go to bed or if you wake in the night.
By using the breath correctly we use the full capacity of the lungs and can affect the way we feel. Firstly it is important to have some knowledge of how we breathe:
Diaphragmatic Breathing is when the diaphragm lowers and the abdomen swells as the air is drawn in. This draws air into the lower part of the lungs. Lowering the diaphragm also creates a constant, gentle massage of the abdominal region and the internal organs.
Intercostal Breathing is when the ribs move and open dilating the thoracic cage, or chest, like a pair of bellows. Air enters and fills the middle section of the lungs.
Clavicular Breathing relies on raising the chest and the shoulders and filling the upper part of the lungs with fresh air.
Before you Sleep
Lie on your back and make yourself comfortable. Bend your knees and put a pillow under your lower back if you feel any discomfort.
Close your eyes and concentrate on your natural breath for a few moments, concentrate on feeling the differences between the different ways in which you breathe:
Place one hand on your stomach near your navel with your elbow relaxed by your side. When you inhale try and press the hand away, and then as you exhale feel the hand releasing towards the spine. Keep breathing into the hand for a few breaths.
Exhale or sigh then pull in the abdominal muscles to help expel all the remaining air from the lungs. Place one hand on the side of the ribs and feel the hand move with the inhalation.
Keep the stomach pulled in and concentrate on the movement of the ribs.
This involves the upper chest. Place your fingers on the upper part of your chest. Keep your abdominal muscles contracted. Try to inhale without raising the shoulders. The breath will become faster and you may feel less relaxed as this is the way we breath when we are stressed.
Breath Yourself to Sleep
Now relax your arms by your side and try to combine these three breaths.
Start by taking slow, deep breaths from the stomach. Now, when you feel that you have raised your stomach as far as possible, inflate your ribs and allow more air to move into this section. When your ribs cannot expand any further, raise the collarbones to allow a little more air to enter. Try not to become tense and keep the breathing light and relaxed.
Try and complete three breaths before relaxing and concentrating on your breathing for a few more moments.
Less Stress, More Sleep
Learning how to use breathing techniques will help you relax. It will allow you to identify what is happening to your body when you are feeling tense and anxious. By learning how to control our breathing we are able to calm the mind and release tension from the body.