In the previous post (which you can find here: breath) I talked about several different approaches to thinking about the breath. For the next few posts, I will explore practical applications of some different breathing techniques and styles.
This post is specifically about ways to use the breath for calming, restorative, relaxing effects. If you tend to be someone who has trouble sleeping or relaxing, these techniques are ideal for you.
In slow, low to the ground practices of yoga, the simplest way to establish a calming and ground breath is to elongate the exhale. So if you count the beats of your breath and establish an even ratio, you would then lengthen out the exhale breath. Make sure to keep it sustainable--you don't want to end up with a 12 count exhale so that you're begging for the next inhale breath. I typically work with a 4 beat inhale to a 6 or 8 beat exhale in my personal practice.
Additionally, you can direct the exhale breaths downward, as though you're going to breath out of your pelvic floor. This type of breath corresponds with apana vayu which is a way to move energy toward elimination and grounding. So, in this type of breath, I inhale in and down from my nostrils to the pit of the belly and exhale from the belly out of the pelvic floor. Ten of these breaths will have you grounded in no time.
This breath work is most effective in slower styles, so it's perfect for these styles:
Yin Yoga (super long holds of five to ten minutes with passive stretching; intended to lengthen the connective tissue and to increase the flow of prana in the body)
Restorative (passive, relaxed long-held poses designed to "restore" the body)
Slow Flows (vinyasa styles with slower movement, longer exhales help to stay present and calm)
Meditation (deepening the breath can be effective in remaining present with your meditation)
Breathing this way is also ideal for the start of your savasana. It's a great way to get you tapped in to some grounding slowing energy before you drop in.
It's also perfect for falling asleep or falling back to sleep in the middle of the night. I find that just counting the pulses of my breath is automatically relaxing. Try this: roll on to your right side--this will encourage the flow of breath through the left nostril which is the yin calming side. Focus the breath on the left nostril, so try and breath solely in and out of the left and then use the technique above to lengthen the breath. I personally don't last long at all when I do this style of breath in the middle of the night.
One more thing to mention is a yoga style which combines slower breath with visualization.
Yoga Nidra is yogic sleep which leaves the body and mind totally refreshed and renewed. It's fantastic. Here's a link to some practices on YouTube: yoga nidra