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Yoga techniques for insomnia

By Kelley Voegelin, RYT

Research shows that practicing yoga can help insomnia. A small Harvard study showed that just 30-45 minutes of yoga helped people fall asleep 30% faster and reduced their nighttime waking by 35%.

Kundalini is an ancient form of yoga founded on the concept that there is “coiled energy” in the spine which connects to the “subtle body’s” energy centers and channels (chakras and nadis). The scientific community is studying Kundalini techniques, such as alternate nostril breathing, that are currently being practiced to help people manage anxiety, insomnia, and other sleep disorders.


Alternate nostril breathing. People under stress tend to breathe mostly out of their right nostrils, which is connected to the left brain. This activates the sympathetic nervous system, the channel responsible for the classic stress response: dilated pupils, increased core temperature, sweating, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Check throughout the day to see what’s true for you — are you left- or right-nostril dominant, or is your breath alternating and balanced?

When you want to calm yourself to get to sleep, either before you go to bed, or when you wake up in the night, try gently holding the right nostril closed with your finger, and breathe deeply and slowly through your left nostril for at least 3 minutes. Then release your fingers and breathe normally.

This type of breathing is easy to do, but it may take some practice before you are able to do it for several minutes at a time. (If you have nasal congestion, try again later.) This technique can be very effective and calming.

Meditation. While some forms of meditation can increase alertness, many techniques are calming and relaxing. Try this method used to prepare for meditation: Focus on your breathing. Don’t try to change it — at all — but rather just notice the inhalation and the exhalation, returning to your breath whenever you realize you have become distracted by other thoughts. Over the course of a few minutes, this technique can help clear away worries before bedtime. You can also use it if you wake up and need help getting back to sleep. Though this is a simple exercise, like most breathing methods, it takes a little practice before it feels natural. But you can be rewarded with a sense of calm well-being that can carry you gently into sleep.


1 Khalsa, S. 2004. Treatment of chronic insomnia with yoga: A preliminary study with sleep-wake diaries. Appl. Psychophysiol. Biofeedback, 29 (4), 269–278. URL (abstract): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15707256 (accessed 09.03.2009).

2 Wikipedia. 2009. Kundalini. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kundalini (accessed 09.03.2009).

3 Khalsa, S. 2004.

4 Riordan, A. 2008. Kundalini yoga tips for insomnia. URL: https://croneishome.livejournal.com/13089.html (accessed 09.03.2009).

5 Science Daily. 2008. Parasympathetic nervous system. URL: https://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/p/parasympathetic_nervous_system.htm (accessed 09.03.2009).

Last Updated: July 5, 2021
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