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'Moon breathing' is said to help beat insomnia, so what exactly is it?

Searches for “moon breathing” have exploded by a whopping 100% over the past year according to research done by MattressNextDay. The ancient technique is said to help us drift off to sleep faster and, with a sharp rise in the number of anxiety-related sleeping disorders, it looks like more of us than ever are struggling to get adequate rest at night.

For the more mystical-minded, the moon is also said to interrupt our shut-eye – especially in the lead-up to a full moon. In fact, one study even confirmed the brightness of a full moon can cut down quality sleep by up to 20 minutes. And, um, we're due our next one on Saturday.

So, what can you do if you've counted sheep by the thousands and doused yourself in litres of lavender sleep spray but still can't fall asleep? That's where “Moon breathing” may come in handy.

What is “Moon breathing”?

“Moon breathing” (also known as Moon Piercing Breath or Chandra Bhedana) is an ancient yogic technique that involves regulating your breathing pattern to help you nod off. In a nutshell: “you close off the right nostril and inhale through the left,” explains yoga teacher Gemma Nice. The thinking behind it is that "the left nostril is thought to help calm the parasympathetic nervous system (your rest and digest responses) rather than fight or flight which is the sympathetic nervous system," says Gemma.

How can “Moon breathing” help?

The technique “helps you to regulate your breath, heart rate and nervous system, allowing you to feel calm, relaxed, and sleepy without your head being full of unread emails or emails which need to be responded to right now, or pressure of an upcoming board meeting. It allows you to feel calm and relaxed and release the emotions from stress and anxiety,” says Gemma.

The technique stems from the Japanese concept of Kaizen, meaning “change for the better”, which focuses on improving all areas of your life, mainly breaking lifelong bad habits. Publishing consultant, Sarah Harvey, explores the philosophy further in her book, Kaizen: The Japanese Method for Transforming Habits, One Small Step at a Time. "For the times when you can’t sleep, I am going to share with you a short breathing exercise that I find helps me when it is 3am and my mind is racing with nonsense thoughts," she explains.

How to do “Moon breathing”?

Best employed when you're stressed or you're about to go to sleep, “Moon breathing” is a simple exercise you can do anywhere. Here's how…

  1. Sit upright or lie down, whichever is more comfortable.
  2. Close your eyes and relax your eye sockets. Imagine your eyeballs are swimming in cooling pools of water.
  3. Close your right nostril with your right thumb.
  4. Rest the second and third fingers of your right hand in your palm and extend your fourth and fifth fingers.
  5. Breathe in through your left nostril and then close it with your fourth finger of your right hand, while releasing your thumb from your left nostril and breathing out through your right nostril.
  6. Regulate your breath and keep repeating this action for a couple of minutes until your breathing is really slow and you feel more relaxed.
  7. Hopefully your brain will feel less wired and you will be able to fall asleep.

A variation on this is to alternate the nostrils as you perform the exercise. "This is called Nadi Shodhana or alternate nostril breathing and is a really simple way to quickly quieten the mind and settle your emotions, so is a useful exercise to have up your sleeve during moments of anxiety or stress. It really helps to focus the mind and press the reset button on your nervous system," adds Sarah.

This article was originally published on Glamour UK.

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