Meditation, Mindfulness, Self-Awareness

Just Breathe!

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unties your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to hold of your mind again.”

Thich Nhut Hanh

Words like mindfulness and meditation are rapidly becoming everyday terms in modern Western society. Are you like me and just getting on the meditation bandwagon? Or maybe you’ve been practicing meditation for a while. According to a Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, within the past 5 years meditation has become one of the fastest growing trends in the US. So, why is mindfulness meditation becoming so popular?

It’s safe to say that in this fast paced, information outcomes driven world that most of us live in, we are probably feeling out of balance, leaning a bit too heavily towards doing. While finding a healthy balance between doing and being will look and feel differently for each of us, be curious about this balance and how it’s effecting your personal levels of happiness and well-being.   A growing body of research in the field of mindfulness meditation is proving to have significant benefits for our mental, emotional, and physical health. Mindfulness exercises can improve our mood and increase optimism, boost our confidence, enhance our emotional intelligence and improve our relationships with other people. Sign me up!

With the hectic pace and demands of modern life, many people feel stressed and over-worked. It often feels like there is just not enough time in the day to get everything done. Our stress and tiredness make us unhappy, impatient and frustrated. When the balance shifts from too much doing and not enough being we encounter problems such as stress, anxiety and overwhelm. Our current culture of fast paced busyness and culture of doing is affecting our health. Yet, we’re often so busy we think there is no time to stop and meditate! But meditating will actually give you more time by relaxing your mind, making your mind calmer and more focused. A simple five to ten minute breathing meditation as explained below can help you to overcome your stress and find some inner peace and balance.

Meditation can also help us understand our own mind. We can learn how to transform our mind from negative to positive, from disturbed to peaceful, from unhappy to happy. Overcoming negative minds and cultivating constructive thoughts is the purpose of the transforming meditations. But, very simply and at the core of all meditation is learning how to focus on the breathe.

“Let your breath untie the knots in your body and mind.”

Marie-Francoise Mariette

A Simple Breathing Meditation

The first stage of meditation is to stop distractions and make our mind clearer and more lucid. This breathing meditation is an invitation into the world of being. By practicing this simple breathing meditation and taking the time to shape your breath, you will trigger your parasympathetic nervous system, or relaxation response.   You can do this any time in the day or night. In this breathing meditation, the exhale is longer than the inhale.  We allow the exhale to leave our body slowly. We also pause a moment at the end of the inhale, and the end of the exhale

If your mind wanders that’s ok. Remember, our eyes are designed to see, our minds are designed to think.  Thinking in meditation is perfectly natural.  If you notice yourself thinking during your meditation, don’t’ worry, simply notice, perhaps even smile, offer your thoughts what they need in a gentle way, then return to the gentle flow of your breath.  No need to push your thoughts away, just notice, be curious, be open.  Notice your breaths natural ebb and flow.

At first, our mind will be very busy, and we might even feel that the meditation is making our mind busier; but in reality we are just becoming more aware of how busy our mind actually is. There will be a great temptation to follow the different thoughts as they arise, but we should resist this and remain focused single-pointedly on the sensation of the breath. If we discover that our mind has wandered and is following our thoughts, we should immediately return it to the breath. We should repeat this as many times as necessary until the mind settles on the breath.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Choose a quiet place to meditate and settle into a comfortable position. You can sit in the traditional cross-legged posture or in any other position that is comfortable. If you wish, you can sit in a chair. The most important thing is to keep your back straight to prevent your mind from becoming sluggish or sleepy (strong back, soft front).
  2. With eyes closed, or partially closed, gently guide your awareness to your breathing. Breathe naturally, preferably through the nostrils, without attempting to control your breath, and try to become aware of the sensation of your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. This sensation is your object of meditation. Be curious of your breath right now. What words would you use to describe your breath? Does it feel deep, shallow, smooth, warm, cool?
  3. Then, begin the 4 part breathing cycle, as follows:
    1. inhale through your nostrils (count to 3), then pause (1 count) at the top of the inhale; exhale through your mouth (count to 5), then pause (1 count) at the bottom.  If you’re able, try and smooth out the edges of your breath.
  4. Repeat this breathing cycle 5 times.
  5. Then continue to breath naturally.  Enjoy this feeling of relaxment, peace, and contentment. Rest in this presence, of being.
  6. Take a moment to notice the quality of your mind, of your thoughts .  Perhaps you are noticing that has a quietness has spread across your mind, or your thoughts seem more far away, smaller, or more gentle.  This is the power and beauty of presence or being
  7. Gently start moving your fingers, toes, and open eyes to the space you are in. 

Now You!

Did you give it a try? How did it make you feel?

Do YOU have a regular meditation practice? Do you use breathing meditations when you are stressed or feel overwhelmed ?

How do you shift from doing to being? Share in the comments.

 Photo source: Susan Wheeler (sunset on Rathtrevor Beach, BC)

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