Slow breathing exercises can help you rest and relax by lowering your sympathetic activation (the body’s fight or flight response) and instead help activate the parasympathetic nervous system (our rest state), (1-2) thus making it easier for the sleep process to unfold.

Developed by Dr. Andrew Weil, this variation on yogic pranayama breathing involves inhaling for a count of 4, holding your breath for a count of 7, and exhaling for a count of 8. It’s up to you to determine the pace.

This is similar to the 4-7-8 Deep Breathing Exercise, but instead you will be breathing in for a count of four, holding your breath for a count of four, then slowly exhaling for another count of four.

Tense a group of muscles as you breath in for 4-10 seconds. Relax them as you breathe out (gradually, not suddenly). Relax for 15-20 seconds, then move onto the next muscle group. This helps reduce stress and anxiety which, in turn, will help you release tension in your muscles and relax.

This is a great technique to help slow your breathing and your heart rate. To start, either lie flat on your back with your knees bent over a pillow or sit upright in a comfortable position in a chair. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach as you begin taking slow, deep breaths through your nose. Take the time to feel your stomach rise and fall while your rib cage expands and contracts with your inhale and whoosh sound of your exhale. Next, try slowly breathing through your pursed lips. Repeat and try your best to breathe without the hand on your chest moving.

Those of you who practice yoga may be familiar with this relaxation technique, which is known as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama in Sanskrit. Sit upright on the floor with your legs crossed and your back straight. Lift your right or left hand (depending on which is dominant) to your nose, exhale, then use your thumb to press down on your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril, then use your fingers to close that one. Inhale through your right nostril and repeat.

Mindfulness isn’t a relaxation exercise per se; what it does is help you be present and more aware in any state that you’re in which, in turn, helps you be more present in your everyday life. By calming racing thoughts and observing the active mind, guided exercises like this one may indirectly help you sleep better. We recommend having a loved one read the guide below (alternatively, you can record yourself).

  • Get comfortable, sitting with your feet flat on the floor if possible. If you feel comfortable, you can close your eyes. Otherwise, soften your gaze to something in the distance. Feel your body sitting in the chair and just notice how that feels for you. (pause)
  • If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the moment. (pause)
  • Now gently bring your attention and awareness to your breath, not changing it but simply noticing it. (pause) Notice what it feels like as you breathe in and notice what it feels like when you breathe out. Again, not changing the pace of your breathing, but just noticing. If your mind wanders, just bring it back. (pause)
  • Now gently bring your attention to any sounds in your environment. Notice the sound of my voice, the hum of any A/C running, or outside noises. (pause) If your mind wanders, just gently bring it back.
  • Slowly bring your attention down to your feet to begin observing any sensations or discomfort. Feel free to wiggle your toes and take in the feeling of your heels, bridge of your foot, and toes against your socks and/or shoes. (pause)
  • From there, direct your attention up to your ankles, calves, knees, and finally thighs. Breathe in and out as you observe any sensations, discomfort or stiffness. (pause)
  • From there, move your attention to your lower back, pelvis, and stomach. What do you feel as you breathe in and out, allowing for your body to soften and release as you move to your upper back, chest, and shoulders? This is your heart region. (pause)
  • Notice how your upper chest rises and falls as you breathe in and out. In and out. In and out. (pause)
  • Next, bring your attention to your arms. Without judgment, notice any sensations, discomfort, or stiffness. Does the left arm feel different than the right arm? (pause)
  • Finally, bring your attention to your face. Your scalp and top of your head. How does it feel to breathe in and out of your nostrils? What tension are you still holding? Release it now. (pause)
  • Now gently bring your awareness and attention back to the present moment.

The three parts of this breathing technique are the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. To start, lie flat on your back with your eyes closed. Either keep your legs outstretched or bent with the soles of your feet on the floor or bed.

  • Part 1: Inhale through your nose, fill the belly up as far as it can go, and expel all the air through your nose as you exhale. This is your foundational breathing pattern.
  • Part 2: Inhale through your nose like you did in part one, but don't just fill the belly. Allow the rib cage to expand as well. Expel all the air out of your belly and rib cage through your nose as you exhale.
  • Part 3: Inhale through your nose like you did in parts one and two, but don't just fill the belly and expand the rib cage. Allow the air to move into your upper chest, pectoral muscles, and clavicle. Then exhale.

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