You've had a crazy day at work and feel exhausted - it's time to hit the hay. You get into bed but your mind is still racing through everything that happened today or all the things you need to do tomorrow. Even though your body is tired, for some reason your mind just won’t shut off. Sound familiar?
If it does, you have your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) to blame. The ANS regulates many of our unconscious bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination and hormonal regulation. It's also responsible for the 'fight or flight' response where our body prepares for action, ready to either run away from or fight a perceived threat. This response has been very useful for centuries but, for most of us these days, our lives are rarely under threat.
Unfortnately, our brains are running on archaic software designed to keep us alive and will always find something to perceive as a threat. Instead of sabre-toothed tigers, the new, and perhaps totally unconscious, threats to our survival are day-to-day stresses from work, finances and relationships - even the constant notifications from our phones and computers can contribute to a heightened state in your nervous system.
The big problem is that these threats are ever-present and if left unchecked will mean your body's systems are always ready for action. If you are in action mode all day, every day, it soon becomes a habit that makes it difficult for your physical systems to switch off, no matter how restful your sleeping environment.
You need a way to be able to calm your nervous system down, shifting it from a state of high arousal to a state of rest and relaxation. Luckily, nature has given us a human design feature that can help us do this - our breath! Breathing is the only system in the body that is both automatic and also under our control. This is no accident! Understanding and using the breath purposefully is a major skill if you want to become a healthy, happy, high-performing individual and enhance every aspect of your life.
So next time you are struggling to get some shut eye, try these two steps:
- If your mind is always racing with thoughts and ideas, I recommend keeping a pen and paper by your bed and write them all down, even if its just in scribbly shorthand. This helps your brain to let go of those thoughts for the time being because you know they will still be there in the morning.
- Next we can use a style of breathing which will help to shift your nervous system from action mode to rest mode. It's called 1-2-1 breathing where the “1-2-1” refers to the length of each step of the breath which is 1 part inhale, 2 parts exhale, 1 part pause. To start, put one or both hands over your belly button and when you breathe in, inhale through your nose and feel your hands rise a few centimeters and then fall a few centimeters as you exhale. Try this gentle breathing rhythm - 3 second inhale, 6 second exhale, 3 second pause. If that is comfortable you can even try and extend each part of the breath (so 4-8-4 or 5-10-5 etc). Repeat until you drift off to sleep.
Check out our Instagram to view a video of Richie explaining the 1-2-1 breathing technique
Practicing the 1-2-1 breathing technique in bed to the dimming light of the sunset feature on your Bodyclock is a great way to wind down; give it a go and let us know how you've found it on social media!
Richie (“The Breath Guy”) is the founder of Xhale, a company dedicated to spreading the life changing possibilities of Breathwork.
Richie's own experiences with Breathwork have completely shifted his own life and beliefs on the potential of human beings. Having traveled around the world learning from many of the modern day masters of Breathwork, it is now his mission to share this powerful work with the world. For daily tips and inspiration, follow Richie on Instagram.