Have insomnia? Join me in an experiment this month.
Below are instructions for the alternate nostril breath and neck rolls
Alternate Nostril Breath
Type of yoga pose: Can be done seated or lying down
Body parts targeted: Lungs and nervous system
How to do the pose:
- Sit in a comfortable position on your mat or in a chair with your spine erect (or lie down on your back on a mat or other flat surface).
- You may choose to close your eyes. Closing your eyes enhances the relaxation and calming effect of this technique.
- Place your left thumb on but not closing your left nostril and place your index finger and middle finger on your forehead in the space between your eyebrows. Exhale deeply from both nostrils.
- Press down upon your left nostril with your left thumb and breathe in through your right nostril, expanding your abdomen and filling your lungs to the count of 4 or 8 or whatever count is most comfortable for you.
- Press your index and middle fingers down on your right nostril and hold your breath for a count of 4.
- Raise your left thumb off your left nostril and exhale all the air in your lungs through your left nostril to the count of 4 or 8.
- Without changing the position of your hand, follow by breathing in through your left nostril for a count of 4 or 8.
- Now press your left thumb down on your left nostril so both nostrils are closed. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
- Lift your index and middle fingers from your right nostril and exhale through your right nostril for a count of 4 or 8.
This completes one round of alternate nostril breathing. Switch arms for the next found of breathing and go through the same routine starting by exhaling through both nostrils and then inhaling through the right nostril.
Number of repetitions: 3 rounds or do the breathing for five minutes alternating nostrils. With practice, build up the counts so you are inhaling, holding, and exhaling for a count of 8. Do this breathing technique any time of the day when you need to relax, clear your mind, or slow down your pace.
Key benefits from this pose:
- Increases “prana” – i.e., the “life force” or energy in the body.
- Helps clear air passages.
- Relaxes and calms body, mind, and nerves.
- Clears mind.
- Balances opposite currents in your body and helps restore equilibrium.
- Functions as an excellent way to begin your yoga session, as a prelude to meditation, or for winding down after doing poses.
- Quiets the mind and can help in overcoming insomnia.
- Strengthens the nervous system and improves circulation.
- Relieves sinus conditions by dissolving obstructions in the nasal passages and can increase immunity to colds.
- Can alleviate headaches (or anxiety stomach aches).
- Helps develop overall serenity.
Laura’s special hints and experience with this technique:
Inhale and exhale without strain in and out through the nose, not through the mouth. When you begin this technique, you may notice, as I did, that one nostril is clearer than the other. I had trouble breathing through my right nostril. Don’t worry—over time both nostrils will clear and you will breathe through each one with no problem. And, some yogis say that our nostrils sometimes take turns being “in charge” throughout the day.
You can use this breathing technique to increase your energy during afternoon lulls or whenever you need to “pep” yourself up. I have used the alternate nostril breath technique to alleviate occasional anxiety and stomach aches by breathing and focusing on the words, “deep relaxation.” Within 2 to 3 minutes, the stomach pains subsided. This yoga breath technique can also quiet the body and mind before meditation or sleep. At bedtime, lie down in your bed and do 5 to 7 rounds of the alternate breath technique to relax and release all tension.
Yoga Neck Rolls
Yoga neck rolls are an excellent way to relax and warm up for the rest of your yoga practice. They're one of my favorite yoga techniques because they can be so soothing. Below is an excerpt from my book which tells you exactly how to do them. Enjoy!
Type of yoga pose: Can be done standing or sitting. Sitting in a cross-legged, half-lotus or full lotus position enhances the relaxation benefits of this exercise.
Body parts targeted: Neck and upper back
How to do the pose:
1. Stand or sit erect and relaxed with your hands and arms at your sides or on your knees if seated.
2. Breathe in and out slowly and relax for a few seconds.
3. First inhale and gently drop your head so that your chin is resting on your chest on or below your collarbone or as far as you comfortably can reach in the beginning. Hold for one or two seconds and exhale as you slowly raise your head and resume its upright position. Repeat this movement two more times.
4. Inhale and gently drop your head toward your back so the back of your head is touching your back or as far as you can comfortably go. Hold for one second. If you are very stiff and haven’t done many neck movements in years, you may experience discomfort. Take it easy and move gently. Exhale and move your head back slowly to its upright position.
5. Inhale and turn your head as far as is comfortable to the left side (no, you are not going to do a full head turnaround as in the Exorcist!), hold for a second, exhale and return your head to the center starting position. Be careful not to move your shoulders as you turn your head to the side. You want to maximize the neck stretch. Repeat twice more. Do the same movements to the right side and back three times.
6. Inhale and move your head straight downward to the left side, hold for a second, exhale, and return head to upright position. Repeat twice more on left side. Do the same movement on the right side three times.
7. Inhale and drop your head very slowly until your neck is completely limp and your chin is resting on your chest on or below your collarbone, or as far as you can comfortably go.
8. Ever so slowly, roll your head to your right side. Keep your neck loose and allow the weight of your head to pull your neck muscles. Imagine you are a marionette and someone is gently maneuvering the strings that move your neck.
9. Continue moving your head slowly until your head is touching your back. (You are making a half, not a full circle).
10.Exhale and gently roll head back to the front. Lift your head and resume its upright position. Repeat twice more on the left. Do the same movements on the right side three times.
Practice time: 3 repetitions of this pose takes about 5 minutes.
Number of repetitions: 3 on each side.
Key benefits from this pose:
1. Helps warm you up for your yoga session.
2. Relieves stiffness, tension, and pain in the neck and upper back.
3. Enhances flexibility and mobility of the neck.
4. Helps tighten the area right under the chin.
5. Smooths lines from the neck and helps elongate the neck.
6. Relaxes body.
Special hints and Laura’s experience with this pose:
The neck is an area of the body that tends to collect neuro-muscular tension that can cause pain and stiffness. Once, when I was 24 years old I spent an entire day typing at an office. I barely moved as I focused on completing a project. Big mistake! I put undue stress on my neck. My neck became so stiff that I could hardly turn my head for the next 3 days! I had to take several warm baths before the stiffness eased and before I could resume turning my head and moving my neck normally.
Neck rolls are feasible for most beginners. If you have had any neck injuries or whiplash, check with your physician or medical advisor first. If done very gently, however, neck rolls can help to strengthen the neck area and heal it from injury. As yogi Erich Schiffman recommends in his book, Yoga – The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness, keep your eyes closed as you do the neck rolls to “magnify the sensations.”
At first, you may hear cracking or graveling noises in your neck as you move your head. I heard mild crunching at the top of my neck when I began doing neck rolls. However, with consistent gentle practice, your head should be able to revolve smoothly as if it had been well lubricated and any crunching or cracking noises should be minimal. Remember, never jerk your head in any way. Think s – m – o – o – t – h movement.
You can fit in neck rolls throughout the day as an afternoon tension reliever at your desk or at night before sleep to totally relax you. If I have trouble sleeping, I do the neck rolls. However, I usually do neck rolls in the morning as a warm-up for my daily yoga session.