Two months ago, in this blog, I told you there was an exercise so powerful that within a couple of minutes of practice it could lower your heart rate, boost your digestion, and improve your sleep and this month I am going to share that practice with you so that you too can experience a more restful sleep, relax more easily and improve your digestion.
This relaxation practice is very simple and yet has a powerful downregulating effect on the nervous system, stimulating the parasympathetic response that is soothing and calming.
Down-regulating breathing techniques, relieve stress, boost our digestion – hence the term rest and digest – and can help put you to sleep. It’s important to note that these practices can leave you feeling groggy and soporific so do use them with care.
For this downregulating, calming effect we need to reduce the rate of our breath to below 4 breathes per minute, triggering the rest and digest nervous system response, reducing our heart rate, reducing activity in our skeletal muscles, and improving our ability to digest our food. This type of breathing is great after meals, in the evening, and most commonly, right before bed.
This practice should be done seated or lying down, and never while driving or doing anything standing or active. It’s extremely common to fall asleep while using this breathing practice, so it should be used with care, only when appropriate. To summarize:
- Use primarily before bed
- Can be used (with care) to reduce intense stress or anxiety
- After eating, this breathing pattern can aid in digestion
- Lie down on your back, on the ground or in bed, with your head supported by something like a pillow or cushion.
- You’ll be making the exhalation double the length of the inhalation. This will increase the relaxation response. Your job is to control the exhalation, so you can slowly let the breath out, without running out of air.
- Place your right hand on your heart and your left hand on your belly.
You’re aiming for the right hand to remain still and the left hand to rise and fall with the breath as you practice. Sometimes it’s helpful to visualize the belly like a balloon, on the inhale you can feel the belly expand and inflate, and on the exhale you can feel the belly releasing and deflating.
- Close your eyes.
- Inhale slowly to the count of 4, pause.
- Exhale slowly to the count of 8, pause.
- Repeat 10 times
Relax your hands down beside you.
Eyes remain closed. Let the breath find its own natural rhythm.
Notice how you feel.
Let me know how you get on.
Take care of yourself, Clair.