Many yoga students report sleeping better after beginning a regular yoga practice (even once a week can help). Many cases of insomnia are easily treated with pranayam (breath meditation) and yoga.
The main yoga technique for insomnia is to breathe out of your left nostril to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. To do this breath, use the thumb or index finger of your right hand to close your right nostril. Breathe long and deep for three minutes through the left nostril or until you fall asleep. You can do this sitting or lying down.
This breath can be done before bed or anytime you want to fall asleep or calm down. In a few seconds to a few minutes, you should feel calm and collected. An alternative to this is to inhale through your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril.
Regulating the Nervous System
The yogis have long been aware of the relationship between the breath and your emotions. Yogis use the breath to obtain various states of consciousness, to energize the body, or to calm down.
According to Yogi Bhajan, the teachings of yoga science say that the left nostril can activate or control the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls resting, sexual arousal, salivation, urination, digestion, and defecation. While the right nostril can activate the sympathetic nervous system.
In times of stress, the sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, causing the “flight, fight or freeze” response, and all the biological components of that including dilation of the pupils, increased temperature and sweating, increased heart rate, and so on. The parasympathetic nervous system counteracts the stress effect, calming you down, slowing your heart rate, cooling your body, increasing digestion, and so on. This is the state you want to be in before you go to bed.
In a healthy balanced condition, you should be able to breathe out of both nostrils, but one is more dominant. Normally, every two and a half hours, the dominance switches back and forth between the left and the right nostrils, and thus between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous systems. This alternation regulates metabolism, temperature and many other physiological functions. It is the body’s way of maintaining balance. You can observe this by monitoring which nostril is dominant throughout the day.
Are You Stuck in the Sympathetic Nervous System?
People who are under a lot of stress or drink lots of caffeine can be stuck in the sympathetic nervous system most of the time, which leads to adrenal exhaustion, insomnia, and ill health. You can check this out for yourself by noticing which nostril is dominant throughout the day. Another way to check this is to observe your pupils. Are they always dilated? This indicates that you are in the sympathetic nervous system.
If your right nostril is always dominant, and your left nostril is chronically blocked, then you are probably really stressed out, and possibly in manic mode or overdrive. Left nostril breathing will bring you back to balance.
If you are unable to breathe through your left nostril, do this pranayam for a few seconds at a time. Continue to work with this breath meditation, without straining or forcing, as it can correct the problem. For some people, it could take several days or weeks to correct a chronically blocked left nostril using this technique.
Some people may have a deviated septum or other structural blockage in the nose, which prevents this breathing technique from working. If that is the case, and other techniques fail, you might want to consult your doctor about unblocking the nostril, as it could be the source of your insomnia. Drinking caffeine, even early in the day, can also cause the left nostril to be blocked.
Waking Up in the Middle of the Night
Many people who have insomnia don’t have trouble going to sleep, instead they wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Again, breathing through the left nostril should do the trick. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, if you wake up around 2-4 am, then your liver may be overloaded with toxins and you may want consider doing a liver cleanse.
Other Options for Better Sleep
Colon cleansing and tissue detox will also greatly enhance sleep. A body overloaded with toxins, mucus, and waste may also cause insomnia. When our bodies are clean and purified we are better able to handle stressful situations. An enema before bed will greatly improve sleep.
Herbs such as Valerian and Skullcap will reduce stress and assist relaxation (although for a small percentage of people, Valerian is energizing). Magnesium before bed will relax muscles (although it can cause loose stools the next morning).
Don’t Give Up
Some people may need to work with the left nostril breath for several days, even weeks, while reducing caffeine, changing their diet and adding yoga and other stress reduction techniques before the pranayam will begin to work. But once you get this working for you, it should only take a few minutes of performing the breath to achieve the desired effect under normal circumstances.