Updated: Jun 12
It's late in the evening, and 2am is approaching. I find myself struggling to sleep again. The insomnia is so bad that I get up for the fourteenth time, desperately seeking some respite from the incessant persistence of it all.
My thoughts are spinning, and I pace the hallways, searching for relief from this perpetual thinking. But nothing seems to work.
"What do I do?!" I scream into the ether with desperation.
On this night, my thoughts had completely taken over, and I believed the insomnia would never end.
In that moment, I honestly thought I would be stuck in a perpetual state of suffering for all eternity, with no escape.
This is how I used to live before I discovered pranayama breathing exercises.
I would often find myself in a panic, feeling trapped by insomnia and even forgetting to breathe.
But now, I trust that I have the tools to help regulate this anxiety. Not only do these breathing exercises ease the anxiety and insomnia, but they also provide me with a sense of security, knowing that I have a toolkit to escape the state of perpetual suffering. It has been my greatest gift.
So why do these breathing tools work?
Pranayama breathing helps calm down the central nervous system by working with the emotional processing center (the amygdala) to reduce anxiety.
It sends signals to the hypothalamus, which functions as a command center, calming down the fight-or-flight response and returning the central nervous system to a para-sympathetic state. In simpler terms, it reassures the body, signaling that there is no real danger and there's no need to panic.
Alarming as it may be, frequent activation of the fight-or-flight response can have detrimental effects on our overall health. Studies have shown that it impacts various aspects such as the brain, gut, neurology, nerves, bones, joints, hormonal health, muscles, blood, and organs, among others.
The most shocking part is that many of us suffer from anxiety without even realizing it, until the symptoms wreak havoc on our lives.
So, how can we identify anxiety?
To raise awareness about anxiety, here are the top 10 symptoms according to licensed medical practitioner Maria Albada LPC:
Difficulties sleeping and restlessness
Feelings of doom or dread
Irritability and tension
Sweating and hot flashes
Shaking and shortness of breath
If you experience any of these symptoms, and they disrupt your life, I recommend seeking the guidance of a licensed medical practitioner. Breathing tools can serve as a complimentary support, but they should not replace professional medical advice. Why choose breathing tools?
Breathing tools have been documented in the East since around 700 BC and have more recently gained popularity in Western culture as evidence-based practices that support modern medicine. Scientific research has shown their capacity to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, lower heart rate, balance blood pressure, improve diabetic symptoms, alleviate depression, help manage chronic pain, regulate the body's response to stress, and fight fatigue.
Among the various breathing techniques available, the most beneficial one I have found for reducing anxiety is pranayama breathing and vagus nerve stimulation. While there are many techniques to choose from, in my experience, alternative nostril breathing has been the most effective.
So, how do we practice alternate nostril breathing?
Find a comfortable position with your spine straight.
Place your left hand on your left knee.
Create mudra with your hand by closing the index and middle fingers.
Exhale completely and then use your right thumb to close your right nostril.
Inhale through your left nostril and then close the left nostril with your fingers.
Open the right nostril and exhale through this side.
Inhale through the right nostril and then close this nostril.
Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side.
This completes one cycle.
Continue the practice for up to 5 minutes.
Always finish the practice with an exhale on the left side.
Remember, every time you breathe in through a nostril, you also close off the nostril after the inbreath.
By incorporating breathing tools like alternate nostril breathing into your routine, you can manage challenging experiences such as anxiety and insomnia. In the midst of those moments, it may be difficult to believe in the possibility of relief, as our inner fear voice takes over and leads us into the unknown.
However, by trusting and surrendering to the process, knowing that you have the tools to navigate through, you can find solace and repeat the affirmation,
"This Too Shall Pass."
Remember, breathing tools are a powerful resource, but if your symptoms persist and disrupt your life, it's important to seek guidance from a licensed medical practitioner.