BY AMANDA GRANT, CIVANA CHIEF WELLNESS OFFICER
A good night of sleep is so important for your health, wellbeing and the prevention of diseases. Good sleep helps to reduce stress and inflammation in addition to makes you more alert and improves memory. Here are two night-time breathing and meditation rituals to help gain those precious zzzz’s.
MANTRA: RELEASE & INTEND
1. At least 30 minutes prior to the time you wish to fall asleep, eliminate devices and screens. In addition to our busy minds full of between 20,000-70,000 thoughts per day, we have so much content and noise coming at us all day long. Give yourself the gift of quiet and stillness as part of your nightly routine.
2. Depending on the day I had, I either release what I no longer need from the day or I call in that which I intend for the 6-8 hours ahead;
Release: If it’s been a particularly challenging day, I move through a forgiveness exercise in which I essentially give myself permission to be a human. Recalling the events of the day, there are generally a few moments that I can return to where I would have done things differently in hindsight. Maybe I snapped at a loved one or mindlessly sent that email to a coworker which was anchored in ego-driven reactivity. Whatever it is, I simply notice what happened, offer myself compassion, and set the intention to course correct in the morning. If it was particularly egregious and involved someone else, I will get a pen and paper and write down what I wish to share with them tomorrow. A good night’s rest tends to bring a bit of clarity.
Intend: Setting an intention for your rest (and for your life) is a powerful tool that is always available to you. It just takes a second and really only requires your full attention. Easy, right? One of my favorite teachers was, and still is, Dr. Wayne Dyer. His quote “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” is one I return to often when I find myself stuck in a narrative or spin cycle. For this exercise, I have found it most helpful to be sitting up in bed just prior to lying down. Allow the eyes to close which is merely a technique to turn down the sense of sight and turn your gaze inward. Breathe gently and easily and use an “I statement” out loud or silently to yourself. For example, This evening, I intend to sleep through the night and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face another day. Dwell inside this intention that you have set for yourself for 1-2 minutes before lying down – you might even imagine that each inhale and exhale is breathing life into this plan you have set for yourself. (This can also be an effective technique to use when setting the intention to remember your dreams.)
BREATHING TO RELAX
If after those two practices my cute little monkey mind is keeping me from that sweet deep sleep that all of our bodies need, here are a few breathing techniques I use to relax.
a. Lay down on your back and get your body comfortable. Notice the body making contact along the length of your backside. Close your eyes.
b. Turn your attention to your breathing and stay present with each passing second of the inhale and the full expression of your exhale. Imagine your relationship to your breath being similar to how you savor the first bite of your most favorite food. Really taste the experience of breathing – perhaps even bring in a bit of gratitude for this body that breathes itself all day long and doesn’t really ask for your help.
c. As calm washes over the body, begin with your toes and imagine each part of your body from the inside out. Consider the bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, tissue, nerves, and finally the skin. Work your way from in to out as you slowly travel up the body. Toes, feet, calves, knees, thighs, hips, and so on.
d. If you are still awake as you reach the tailbone, make a concerted effort to turn your attention toward the back of the spine as you travel up the back on vertebrae at a time. Become curious about this spine and all of the ways that it brings life into the body. All of the ways that the spine supports you.
e. And if you are still awake when you’ve asked your eyes to smile and your forehead to soften, allow your attention to travel outside of your own body just above your head. With your mind’s eye, imagine a glowing ball of white light just above your head. Pull that white light down into your body and ask that it clear any energies your physical body that you no longer need or that don’t serve you.
Connected abdominal breathing:
This practice is extremely simple. Set your body up the same as in the Body Scan practice above.
a. Very gently and intentionally bend your arms and place one hand just below your belly button and the other hand in the area of the heart.
b. As you inhale, allow your attention to rest on the sense of contact with the palms and fingers. Notice how the belly and chest rise.
c. As you exhale, notice how the body settles – almost as if it is melting into the mattress or surface below you.
d. Repeat as necessary.
4-7-8 (also referred to as coherent or relaxation) breathing:
While there is a bit more technique to this practice, it can be extremely effective, especially if your day has felt dense or emotionally heavy.
Set your body up the same as in both practices above.
a. Focusing on the mouth, set the tip of the tongue against your upper front teeth.
b. Inhale quietly through the nose for 4 seconds, gently using a silent mind to count.
c. Comfortably hold the breath for 7 seconds.
d. Exhale audibly and with a bit of force through the mouth while pursing the lips for 8 seconds. You should hear a “whooshing” sound.
e. As a beginner, try not to exceed 4 cycles. Over time, you may build up to 8 cycles if you are using this technique at least twice per day.
Keep in mind that you are uniquely you – you are your own little experiment. All of these tools are easily searchable, and as with all things, I always suggest being curious about what is useful to you.
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