People who practice mindfulness meditation experience a sense of well-being, peace and calmness that they can call upon when they need it most. With each breath, mindfulness underscores the truth that everything in our lives changes. Awareness of the fleetingness of life allows us to fully enjoy the good times and helps us cope with challenges. By being present in the here and now, we’re able to recognize the blessings in little things that we normally take for granted – sunshine, a fresh breeze, the change of seasons, the smile of a stranger and so on – even when times are tough.
Practicing mindfulness meditation allows you to process negative thoughts as merely thoughts, instead of being absorbed by them. Rather than fixating on a challenging situation and getting stuck, you’ll have acquired the tools to become calmer and more focused. By beginning your practice session with a reading and short period of contemplation, your mind is settled and fresh. In fact, there’s no better way to relieve anxiety and stress than reading a passage from a book that inspires you, then reflecting on it and meditating. Whether you subscribe to a particular faith or not, there’s always something you can do to boost your spiritual connections. Integrating a reflective reading and period of contemplation into your daily meditation practice is one of the best ways to do this.
Research has shown that a daily practice of just a few minutes leads to improved concentration and helps you learn to work with negative thoughts in a positive way. It has also suggested that meditation offers an assortment of health benefits, including regulating heart rate, boosting metabolism, reducing cholesterol, regulating blood pressure, and improving quality of sleep. There are psychological benefits as well. On average, meditators claim to be happier, less reactive, and more focused.
Benefits of Meditation:
- Better management of stress, anxiety and depression
- Increased immunity
- Lowered blood pressure
- Better sleep
- Relieving symptoms of IBS
- Improving happiness and general wellbeing
Meditation is both a way of enjoying our lives more fully and a way of gaining self-knowledge that is direct, immediate, and without distortion. Meditation offers a way to process life, allowing you peace of mind through the disturbances life can throw at us.
As we meditate, we learn to maintain a watchful inner stance, and from that perspective the stressors of life can be experienced while your mind remains centered and relaxed. This process gradually leads to a deeper core of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and greatest of all, self-love.
At the heart of meditation practice are two inseparable skills. The first is concentration, or the ability to rest our attention on a focus. The other is mindfulness, the ability to observe our personality with a compassionate detachment. The goal is to no longer be a victim of your emotions but to connect with them as an act of power. Whether it is love, anger, depression, or grief, (etc.) our emotions are manipulated by our conditioning and the connections we have with our past and people.
Another essential component is to establish meditation as a regular habit in our lives, using the same place and time each day if possible. This will train our minds to respond without delay once we sit down to meditate. After a few months of regular practice, our minds will begin to demand this quiet time of its own accord. Regular practice of mindful meditation allows you to let go long enough to gain a new perspective and this practice helps you heal.
A common technique utilized across all meditating cultures is using the breath as the object of our focus. When one sits down to meditate with thoughts racing, the breath can serve as an anchor that brings us back into the moment, back to what is happening right here and now rather than getting caught up in regrets of the past or thoughts of the future. Your mind will inevitably wander during your meditation practice, and this is an important part of the “coming back” process. Each time you notice the mind start to wander away from the inhales and exhales, you simply note the distracting thoughts, and gently let them go to bring yourself back to your breath. If the mind wanders 100 times in 5 minutes, then that’s great- that’s 100 chances to bring your attention back to your breath. Each time this happens, the neural pathways are strengthened and it is like another repetition in the practice of meditation. After establishing a consistent meditation practice, we eventually find ourselves using the breath during the course of our day when we notice our emotions or thoughts have dominated our consciousness. This helps us avoid acting out of impulsive reactivity during unpleasant situations, as we remember that nothing is permanent.
Breathing strongly influences physiology and thought processes, including moods. Breathing exercises are a wonderful way to reduce anxiety, agitation and stress, while promoting relaxation, calm and inner peace. The long-term benefits are well worth the effort – a calm and relaxed body and mind are less prone to health issues.
Too much attention on upsetting thoughts may cause anxiety, guilt and unhappiness. Creating a habit of shifting your awareness to your breath whenever you find yourself dwelling on stressful situations, drastically changes your reaction to the challenges life can bring. By simply focusing your attention on your breathing, and without doing anything to change it, you can move in the direction of relaxation.
Deep Breathing: 3-Part Breath (Dirgha Pranayama)
Long deep breathing is a technique that we, as a culture, do not practice enough. We tend to breathe in and out of our chest, which leaves us with shallow, irregular breaths as we only utilize a tiny portion of our lung capacity. These habits contribute to emotional breakdowns in the physical and metal bodies, chronic tension, weak nerves, and compromised immune system.
Also known as a 3-Part Breath, a full yogic breath (Dirgha Pranayama) utilizes the abdomen, diaphragm, and chest. Abdominal, mid-chest, and upper-chest breathing ensures that you are engaging the full capacity of your lungs. This is a great foundational breathing practice for beginners. It is also highly effective for relaxation and meditation.
Practicing the 3-Part Breath teaches you to breathe fully and completely. Ineffective breathing is a common problem in today’s modern world, compounded by poor posture and long periods of sitting or driving. When you breathe shallowly (called “chest breathing”), the air only enters your upper chest and very little enters your lower chest. This causes a lack of oxygen to your blood vessels, which can create strain on your heart and lungs.
Learning to breathe deeply will increase your oxygen supply, which, in turn, will help to decrease stress and anxiety levels. Additionally, focusing on your body during 3-Part Breath brings awareness to the present moment and calms your mind. According to studies, you can inhale and exhale up to seven times as much air (and oxygen) during a 3-part breath than in a shallow, chest-based breath.
You can practice the 3-Part Breath in any comfortable position in which your spine is straight and your abdomen is not compressed. Some options include:
- An upright seated position, such as Easy Pose, sitting cross-legged on the floor or on a cushion.
- A seated position on a chair with your feet flat on the floor.
- Close your eyes. Relax your face and body, and breathe naturally through your nose.
- Place your left hand on your low abdomen, a few inches below your belly button, and place your right hand on the outer right edge of your rib cage.
- Begin to focus your awareness on your breath as it moves in and out of your body through your nose.
- On your inhalations, first feel the belly fill with air like a balloon, followed by the expansion of your ribs, and lastly feel the chest and collarbones lift.
- On your exhalations, feel the chest gently fall, then the slight compression of your ribs, followed by the drop of your belly as the belly button hugs back in toward the spine. Exhale completely, pressing very gently on your abdomen to help expel air as if you are squeezing it out.
- As you continue to breathe, keep your awareness on this three-part movement. As you inhale, your belly lifts, your ribs expand, and your chest rises. As you exhale, your chest drops, your ribs contract, and your belly softens and lowers.
- Continue at your own pace, gradually letting the three parts of the breath flow smoothly without pausing.
- Release your arms and focus your mind on your breath, continuing the three-part breath with full and complete inhalations and exhalations.
- Continue for up to five minutes, or for as long as you feel comfortable.