Breathing Yourself to Sleep
Fifteen years of insomnia drove Anandi to despair. Her life and health were in pieces. She discovered using the breath as a healing tool and found the key to a good night’s sleep.
Epoch Times: Why is deep breathing important to sleep?
Anandi: The breath, heart and mind are linked. You can’t control your heart or your hormones with your mind, but you can with your breath. So when you change your breathing patterns, you change your heart rate and you calm your mind. A stressed out insomniac will have a short, shallow breathing pattern. This is the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response) being dominant. Deepen your breathing and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and restore) takes charge. So you go to bed in a calm state and can sleep. No amount of herbs will do the same thing as connecting to the breath.
ET: In your book “Breathe Better, Sleep Better” you write about discovering “the surrendered breath”. Why is it important to get the mind out of the way to breathe deeply?
Anandi: When I first paid attention to my breathing, my whole round of breath – my in-and-out-breath – was 16–17 seconds. When I was able to completely surrender – to wait for the breaths to come and get my mind out of the way – it was nearly a minute. So the difference is actually surrendering. I call it being breathed by the breath.
If you try to take a long breath in and out, that is actually a very short breath. What I am talking about is actually lying on your back and being in a completely relaxed state. Your mind is relaxed and then you can make space for the breath.
While “trying” there is a certain amount of tension in the body, so your rib cage is tense and you can’t expand. When you take a deep breath, the breath I am talking about, your body really expands. You have this three-dimensional movement of the thoracic cavity, not just lifting up. Often when people take a long deep breath in, they bring the shoulders round the ears. Because their body is tight, there is no space in the rib cage. When your body is completely relaxed, you get an incredible expansion.
ET: How do you get into a relaxed state before you start doing the surrendered breath?
Anandi: You have to go through a process. You can’t just lie down and get the surrendered breath technique. There is a process in my book “Breathe Better, Sleep Better” called “legs up the wall” you can do to prepare yourself. You actually have to do some unwinding – so it is about giving space to yourself. Turn off technology, have a bath, put on your pyjamas or your tracksuit, so you’re feeling really relaxed. Light some candles, and make a nice space where you feel you’re walking into a sanctuary.
Doing “legs up the wall” for 10 minutes completely relaxes your system. It takes practice – it’s a process of relaxing, releasing and unwinding. We build a lot of tension in the body over time, and we don’t really ever unwind from that unless we practise.
ET: What is fundamentally important to have a good night’s sleep?
Anandi: I believe insomnia is caused by an imbalanced lifestyle and cured by a balanced lifestyle. You can self-heal if you pay attention to your lifestyle, what you are eating, how you are breathing, and you make space in your day for that.
ET: Can you suggest a daily breathing practice?
Anandi: This practice will help you release the stresses and strains of the day. You should do this practice at least 15 minutes before you go to bed. Make sure it’s the very last thing you do and there are no other activities to do afterwards.
- Organise your space, lie on your back, ensure you’re really comfortable.
- Put cushions under your knees to relax your back. Put a cushion under your neck and have your palms facing up. Adjust yourself so you are totally comfortable. None of your clothes are pulling anywhere and no area of your body is pinching.
- Now take a long deep breath in, a long deep breath out. Let go of the day.
- Rest your awareness on your belly and imagine you’re breathing in and out of the belly. As you do that your breath will naturally lengthen. Don’t try to do anything other than keep your awareness in your belly.
- As you breathe in your belly will naturally rise, and as you breathe out your belly will fall backwards down towards the spine. Just for a moment follow the rise and fall of the belly
- As the stomach rises say to yourself, “stomach rising”, as your stomach is falling say to yourself, “stomach falling”.
- Keep that going in silence for a few moments. Inhale, “stomach rising”, exhale, “stomach falling”… Inhale, “stomach rising … exhale, “stomach falling”…
- Gently release the words, keep your awareness in your belly and follow the movement of the belly with the mind for a few moments.
- Release your attention from the breath and invite sleep to come into your space.
The meditation audio can be downloaded at www.thesleepguru.co.uk/freebies/