Can’t sleep? Just breathe

I woke up at 2:30 last night. Most of the time I fall back asleep pretty quickly – exhaustion can do that to you. But last night my brain decided it was a good time to worry. My thoughts were all over the place. From the little things (is the front door locked?) to the big things (is our country really safe?).

Night time worry takes on a life of its own. It’s grandiose, fear inducing, and stressful.

Eckhart Tolle, author of the Power of Now, wrote, “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.” In daylight I believe this, but at night I am harder to convince.

Night time worry is like a bad fever dream. You spin your wheels with the belief that you are actually accomplishing something.

It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry puts pen and paper next to his bed to jot down joke ideas in the middle of the night. When he wakes up in the morning none of it makes sense and it drives him crazy – my point exactly.

Thankfully my wise voice made an appearance and reminded me that I was wasting valuable sleep time. So I focused my attention on the one thing that simultaneously calms the body and mind – breathing. Breath work (pranayama) is one of the many wonderful things that yoga has taught me.

We naturally and spontaneously breathe all the time, but the breath is usually quick and shallow – not very calming to the body. Our breath is connected to our thoughts. When stressed or in pain we often hold our breath or simply forget to breathe, but when we are calm we tend to breathe deeper and slower.

So I work in the reverse – I breathe deep and slow to bring on the calm. It gives my “monkey brain” something to focus on and it allows for a deep state of relaxation.

Breath is also my favorite parenting tool. When my kids are frustrated or fearful I remind them to close their eyes and take a deep breath. When we sit down for dinner we take a deep breath before we eat. When the girls are whining or fighting for my attention I close my eyes and breathe so I don’t speak or act impulsively.

Sounds simple, but sometimes simple is all you need. Breathing naturally relaxes the body and brings you back to your right mind.

And last night breathing helped me go back to sleep. Well, first I checked the front door, but then breathing helped me go back to sleep…..

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