From holotropic hyperventilation to Wim Hof’s ‘power breathing’, manipulating your respiration has lately been sold as a way to enhance your exercise performance, quicken your mind, or even enter altered states of consciousness. But while ‘breathwork’ may seem like yet another passing trend, many of its principles are ancient and supported by the latest science.
To take one example, alternate nostril breathing – inhale through one side, exhale through the other – is both a staple of traditional Ayurvedic medicine and a technique proven to lower anxiety by Indian researchers at Guru Nanak Dev University. It’s deployed by Navy SEALs – and apparently worked for Hillary Clinton when she learned she’d lost the presidential race to Donald Trump in 2016. Potent stuff.
Steadying your nerves in the face of an encroaching threat is one thing – but can breathwork calm you deeply enough to banish sleepless nights? A new study suggests it can. Breathing regulation is a central component of kundalini yoga, a Hindu practice developed as a means of spiritual liberation. In an eight-week trial, sufferers of insomnia were split into two groups: the first applied an array of contemporary sleep hygiene techniques, from restricting caffeine and alcohol and installing blinds to optimising
the room temperature; the second received daily kundalini classes.
At the end of the trial, yogic breathwork was found to have outperformed modern sleep hygiene in reducing the time it takes to nod off, while improving overall sleep quality. If you’re tossing and turning till dawn, learn to still your racing mind, one lungful at a time – it is actually something to sniff at. Here's how to nail it, if you don't have time for a kundalini class:
Place your right thumb over your right nostril. With your eyes closed, inhale slowly and fully through your left nostril.
Release your right nostril and block your left nostril with your ring finger. Exhale through your right nostril, then inhale slowly. Block and exhale left.
Repeat the full process for five minutes, working up to a full 10 minutes, if you can.
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