Sleep Strategies: Beginning with the Breath

Relaxing before bed prepares you for untroubled sleep. The following exercises ‘open up your breathing,’ helping you to transition out of a more stressed ‘sympathetic state’ (fight or flight) to a more calm ‘parasympathetic state’ (rest and digest). You will only need the floor and your pillow.

Lying on the ground, preferably on a rug or a blanket if the room is not carpeted, pay attention to the rising and falling of your chest. Let yourself sink into the ground. Feel your legs, your arms, your torso, your head. Relax, letting it work.

After a some time on the ground, grab your pillow. You’ll use the pillow to apply some pressure to your torso. Breathing into this area gives a curious feeling: that the air reaches further into the body on each and every breath.

Fold the pillow, and pin the fold with the left side of your ribs. Your left arm should be relaxed, extended, and in line with your head. Your right forearm will support you. Your right leg, the top leg in this position, should be forward and off your left leg. In this position, the gentle pressure of the pillow is directed toward the left side of your torso. Breathe into this pressure. At the end of the inhale, hold your breath with the intent to relax as much as possible into the pillow. Exhale with the same intent. Release tension from your head, neck, arms, legs…

  1. Sidelying

Pictured Right:  The pillow presses on ‘slat 1’ (think of your torso as a barrel) of the below picture. You can also rotate such that your weight lies on ‘area 2’ and ‘area 3’, which are the side and side-back of your ribs.







  1. Supine



Fold the pillow and place it under your upper back. Direct your breathing to your upper back, meeting the pressure.




  1. Prone



For relaxing the upper part of your chest, which is essential to breathing in a relaxed way, fold the pillow twice. Do not strain on this particular exercise: focus on sinking into the pillow.

In this position, placing a book on the upper back encourages the movement of the ribs, bringing greater relaxation.



There is also the possibility to twist on the pillow, which brings a different kind of stretch to the body.

  1. Prone Twist                                                                                                    Supine Twist








A twisting variation held for a long duration may bring about an uncomfortable stretch in the area between the ribs and hips, and even nausea (especially nausea if you’ve just consumed good food and drink). In this event, maneuver your arms and legs so less bodyweight presses on the pillow—or stop. Pushing through the feeling is not necessarily going to led to a more profound relaxation response, and yet a greater tolerance for this feeling is not of no value. At first, perhaps, back off and stop. If you do these exercises consistently, see what happens if you continue for longer with unpleasant sensations.

You may want to read this article and practice a few times during the day to get the hang of it before you do them prior to sleeping. Reading on the computer and learning something new just before bed would not be very relaxing!

Bio: David Mercier is a Bard College student studying nonfiction writing. A lifelong athlete, he now approaches physical training with an experimental bent, blending strength training with body awareness practices.



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