Sleep is essential for our general health and wellbeing - that said, it's often easier said than done getting the right amount, especially if you're stressed or busy. Case in point: new data from Headspace found that nearly half of UK adults struggle to get a good night’s sleep. Feeling too stressed was up there as the top cause for a bad night's sleep, which is where moon breathing comes in.
The trending technique joins the likes of the 4-7-8 method in promising to help you get the best night's sleep. Wondering what it actually entails? The term, recently described in Sarah Harvey's book Kaizen: The Japanese Method for Transforming Habits, One Small Step at a Time, is a Japanese breathing technique often found in yoga practices.
Spoiler alert: it's an incredibly simple and free relaxation technique which you can do yourself at home or from bed, or so shares Vanessa Michielon, yoga and dance lecturer at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and Buckinghamshire New University.
Keen to read more about the technique? Below, she's shared simple-to-follow step-by-step instructions on how to try moon breathing and the main benefits you'll experience. Similarly, one woman shares her own experience with moon breathing and details how much it's improved her sleep quality. Keep scrolling.
Moon breathing is trending - how it will boost your shut eye
What is moon breathing?
Moon breathing (also known as chandra bhedana - with chandra meaning "moon" in sanskrit) involves breathing exclusively through the left nostril, says Michielon. In yoga, it's believed to be linked to the receptive, feminine Yin part, she adds.
With moon breathing, the idea is to hold your right nostril closed and breathe in and out only from the left. Wondering why? Well, the thinking is that this side can calm the parasympathetic nervous system (otherwise known as your "rest and digest" response) and reduce stress levels.
Another breathing technique worth trying is alternate nostril breathing. The technique involves holding a nostril shut while breathing in and out through the other and then switching sides, explains yoga teacher Libby Stevenson. "There is inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils and we do so one nostril at a time," she says.
"When doing this breathing technique, there's a lot to think about in terms of closing nostrils and exhaling to inhale which helps to focus a busy mind," explains Stevenson. Although there's a slight difference between this and the way moon breathing is performed, the benefits will be very similar, explains Stevenson. In other words, they both are suitable before bedtime and help to calm and relax.
Who is moon breathing suitable for?
While both breathing techniques are suitable for all, it's not recommended for anyone suffering from a congested nose, Stevenson warns.
"[Moon breathing] can have calming and soothing effects on the nervous system ... so it is often used before bedtime to relax the mind and body," explains Michielon. It can be a great tool to stop rumination, making it the ideal preparation for a restful sleep.
Similarly, the alternate nostril breathing technique is a great option to try. Stevenson even calls it "a natural tranquilliser". Sounds pretty ideal for just before bed, right?
How do I try moon breathing?
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit.
- Lengthen your spine allowing your shoulders to drop and your lungs to expand freely as you breathe.
- Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your left nostril. Focus on the air entering and filling your lungs and try to maintain a smooth and even breathing pattern.
- Now exhale slowly and completely through the left nostril.
- Repeat the cycle, always breathing in and out from the left side.
- Starting with one minute and eventually build up to five minutes if you wish.
Try this: Michielon advises making sure the flow of air is smooth, light and steady. Avoid breathing in our out forcefully, otherwise this will actually stimulate your system, instead of providing a relaxation effect.
How do I try alternate nostril breathing?
If you also want to give alternate nostril breathing a go, here's a handy guide from Stevenson:
- Sit with your spine upright and your shoulders back and down.
- Bring your index and middle fingers of your right hand to touch the base of your thumb, with your ring and pinky fingers working together. Keep your thumb, ring and pinky elevated and close to each other but not touching. You'll be using your thumb to close your right nostril and your ring/pinky fingers to close your left nostril.
- Bring your right hand close to your nose, keeping your elbow down. Then, take a deep breath in through both nostrils.
- Using your thumb, close your right nostril.
- Then, exhale through your left nostril and inhale through your left nostril.
- Then, using your ring/pinky fingers, close your left nostril.
- Exhale through the right nostril and inhale through your right nostril.
- Using your thumb, close your right nostril. Exhale through your left nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.
- Continue alternating your nostrils for up to three minutes
- Make your final exhalation through the right nostril to balance out that we started exhaling through the left nostril.
Try this: Stevenson advises keeping your head still throughout and your eyes closed while breathing to enhance your practice.
"I struggle with feeling revved up before sleep and 'moon breathing' helped calm my mind"
Tori Porter, 28, is a fitness and wellness PR from London who sometimes struggles to wind down before bed. She gave moon breathing a go and found it an effective way to calm a busy mind.
"I struggle with feeling quite revved up before sleep sometimes. I sometimes feel like when I'm still on a hamster wheel from the day and need to slow down."
"I've tried moon breathing before bed and found it to be quite relaxing. For me, the most relaxing part was having to concentrate on the task at hand. You have to focus on counting and then breathing out of one nostril while blocking the other."
"This makes you concentrate only on what you're doing. I think having this focus helped to calm an otherwise distracted mind. It's similar in that respect to doing other breathing techniques, such as box breathing."
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Amy Sedghi is a freelance journalist, specialising in health and fitness, travel, beauty, sustainability and cycling.
Having started her career in The Guardian newsroom working with an award-winning team, Amy's proud to have reported on a variety of topics, speaking to a range of voices and travelling far and wide to do so. From interviews on ski lifts to writing up breaking stories outside courtrooms, Amy is used to reporting from a range of locations (she’s even been known to type up a story in a tent).
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