As I mentioned in the first “Silent Sundays” post, I will be offering weekly pranayama and/or mudra practices. Today, I focus solely on a simple pranayama (breath exercise). This technique is a wonderful sleep aid, whether you have trouble falling asleep; can not get back to sleep; or are struggling with jet lag. As it is a calming, cooling breath, it is also helpful during bouts of restlessness or anxiety.
I am partial to this breath at the time of a Full Moon: For at least one or two nights, as the waxing moon’s gravitational pull reaches its apex, I will wake up, full of energy, after only three or four hours of sleep. Usually, I get up, putter around, and then do some yin yoga, closing with this pranayama. Fittingly, it is called Chandra Bedhana, or Moon Breath. (The left nostril is “moon,” the right is “sun,” or surya.)
To begin, how you sit is a big part of the equation. If you need to sit on a chair, perch your sit-bones at the very edge of the seat; if you prefer the floor, place your bottom on the edge of a blanket or cushion. This “propping” places your pelvis in an aligned position. From there, sense your spine: Imagine that your shoulder blades are dripping down your back, and that your heart is floating upward. With the pelvis and spine in a natural upright position, the diaphragm moves freely—downward as you breathe in, upward as you exhale.
When you are seated comfortably, close your eyes and focus inwardly on your Third Eye. Your hands can rest on your thighs, palms down; or in your lap, one resting in the other, palms up. Begin breathing naturally, gradually increasing the length and depth of each inhale and exhale: If you need to yawn, let it happen, and then return to focused breathing.
Once you have established a steady breath, lift your right hand and place the right thumb tip on the right nostril, gently pressing and narrowing the opening. Inhale through the left nostril only; you will notice that the inhale must lengthen in order to complete one breath in through the single nostril.
Then, when the inhale is complete, close the left nostril with the ring finger of the right hand. Breathe smoothly and steadily out the right nostril.
Repeat, breathing in through the left, out through the right, for 1-3 minutes.
This technique is best performed after physical activity, as it is a “cool down” breath. As such, it is a lovely precursor to meditation, or even straight to svasana (corpse, or rest, pose).
A special note: If you are tired and ready for bed, but for some reason have trouble yielding to sleep, lie on your right side. Your left nostril will dominate the flow of breath, thus encouraging the release of calming energy. There is no need to close and open the nostril with your fingertips: Simply allow the natural quieting quality of left-nostril breathing to lead you into sleep.