Mindfulness and Meditation is such a great tool to calm the mind and to treat stress it should be prescribed by the doctor! Sometimes it is! More than a buzzword or passing trend, mindfulness has become firmly established as a legitimate tool to enhance body, mind, and spirit. So what techniques can you use to work with your breathe as a guide in your own mindfulness practice?
Part of the practice of mindfulness, is meditation. This is the life-skill of sitting or walking in peace and getting to know oneself, connecting to your inner consciousness and just being, listening to your spirit and building the awareness of your body is as essential as breathing. The more aware you are of your body and mind, how they interact, the ego, your personality and deeper within, your soul, the more you can see the world around you and how to navigate the stresses that pop up with awareness, emotional wisdom and loving kindness to your body and to others. The more you can learn to go within for answers, the less you will seek outwardly to fill that space.
Sometimes for this, you need a guide, a yoga or meditation teacher who can take you through the different stages of consciousness and work with you on this practice to connect more fully, especially if you are coming from a place of suffering or addiction, but also, as simple as it may sound, we do all have an inner guide and it’s called our breath. Not to sound too ‘woo woo’ but have you ever stopped to notice how easy it is to change your mood with your breath? Once only practiced by enlightened yogis and spiritual gurus, breathing techniques are now being embraced by SAS, Navy SEALs, elite athletes and entrepreneurs and business executives for their infinite benefits.
WHAT IS BREATH-WORK?
The practice of breathwork meditation and deep breathing, dates back several thousand years. Research shows that meditation can reduce anxiety, sharpen memory, treat symptoms of depression, promote more restful sleep, increase energy levels, eliminate toxins, improve creativity, let go of past traumas, increase athletic performance and heart health - Breathwork has benefits for everyone! It really is such a simple and wonderful practice! The way you breathe affects every system and function in your body. If your breathing changes, whether consciously or unconsciously, then all these systems will change accordingly. When you learn to really breathe and let that oxygen and light radiate through your body, it can be remarkably healing.
Here are five meditative breathing techniques and how they can help you achieve peace of mind…
KUNDALINI (DIAPHRAGM BREATHING)
TRANSLATION: “The life force that resides at the base of the spine”
In the practice of kundalini meditation, breathing centers around moving energy within the body through controlled breathing techniques, like diaphragmatic breathing. The diaphragm is the most efficient muscle of breathing. It is located at the bottom of your lungs. Breathing with your diaphragm teaches you how to use it correctly and helps strengthen it. With this technique you will be able to take in more air and decrease the oxygen demand, it is great for those suffering with CPOD and breathing disorders, I often practice with my mum, who in her 80s now has Bronchiectasis after suffering from Pneumonia and found from this breath practice my own breathing improved especially in regards to my running.
How to do it: While sitting down or lying on your back, place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your stomach below your rib cage. Breathe in slowly through your nose and feel your stomach move out from under your hand. Practice keeping the hand on your chest as still as possible. Concentrate on deep breaths that fill the lungs rather than shallow ones that only fill the chest. You can practice diaphragmatic breathing three or four times a day for 5 to 10 minutes each time. A guide such as Wim Hof technique is a great way to deepen this practice.
An experienced Kundalini Yoga Teacher would be needed if you wanted to take this deeper and work with fire energy and the more spiritual side to breathwork.
ZHUANQI (BREATHING UNTIL THE BREATH IS SOFT)
TRANSLATION: “Unite mind and air”
Taoist meditation is the quieting the body and mind to find harmony with nature. Zhuanqi, similar to Buddhist meditation, is a meditative breathing technique in Taoism that aims to unite breath and mind by focusing on your breath until it is soft. It is the initial practice that links to so many martial arts and Tai Chi. This can be done by observing the breath until it is quiet “focus on your vital breath until it is supremely soft”. It utilizes the abdominal muscles to elevate the diaphragm and push out air. It is in this stillness you connect to the whole body and mind.
How to do it: Sit comfortably with strong posture and your eyes half closed and fixed on the point of your nose. Breathe with your abdominal muscles until the breath is soft or quiet. To effectively use your abdominal muscles, place your right hand on your stomach and your left on your chest. Breathe deeply and watch which hand moves more and in which direction. The goal is to have the hand on your abdomen move more and in an outward and inward motion.
SHAMATHA (BREATHING AS IS)
TRANSLATION: “Peacefully abiding”
Centered around awareness of your breathing as it is. It’s a common practice in mindful meditation and is often referred to as the reset breath or the breath that brings you back to the present. Simply becoming familiar with the breath as a way to get to know who you are, including your innate peaceful nature comes from breath. This is a great starting point for beginners and where most meditation practitioners start their journey. The purpose of shamatha meditation is simply to stabilize the mind by cultivating a steady awareness of the object of meditation. ... It is also commonly referred to as mindfulness or concentration meditation. It is the base for many other types of meditation and can be used on it’s own entirely.
How to do it: Sitting or standing, feel the weight of your body through your seat or feet on the floor. Straighten your upper body. Soften your gaze and try to gently fixate on a point on the ground in front of you. Connect to the natural cycle of your breath, feeling the rise and fall of your belly. When your mind wanders, as it will, return to the physical sensation of the breath. Tune your breathe inwards and start to notice every sensation in the body, eventually you may even become aware our your consciousness residing in your body and other sensations the body brings.
KINHIN (WALKING MEDITATION)
TRANSLATION: "to walk straight back and forth"
Walking meditation is a wonderful complement to your seated meditation practice. For some people, it is actually an introduction for it, since it is easier to start with... There are many different techniques, more than a stroll in the park, there is a specific awareness about it, using connecting your breath to your body as it moves. It grew out of monasteries where Buddhist Monks used to sit for hours and hours to meditate. They were looking for ways to keep on meditating while moving their body, and the walking meditation became an obvious and beautiful option to implement that experience of presence while moving.
We normally walk from point A to point B while thinking about other things, which means, in other words, we're not present. We're not in the moment. We rush around and walk without thought. Walking meditation is slow, it is not at pace. Pace should be steady and even. If your mind is agitated, or your ability to focus is weak, walk very slowly, until you can stay in the present moment with each step. Just like meditation but your moving your feet. Kinhin itself is more of a formal style of walking meditation from Zen Buddhism.
How to do it: As you begin to walk breathe deeply into your feet and keep your attention on the soles of your feet, being aware of the constant patterns of landing and lifting off. Focus on the sensations in the body. Be aware of your foot as the heel first makes contact, your foot then rolls forward onto the front (the ball), and then lifts and travels through the air again. Expand your awareness into your thighs and legs, feel your skin, your clothing, the temperature. If you find your mind drifting onto other matters in your life, simply bring your attention, calmly, back to your feet and legs. When you are comfortable with the pace, see if you could walk faster while maintaining the same meditative state of mind. You can walk inside or outside in nature and follow a guided meditation, like the below.
NADI SHODHANA AND PRANAYAMA (ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING)
TRANSLATION: “Channel purifying” or “Subtle energy clearing breathing technique”
Similar to Kundalini, Pranayama is a type of meditative practice that involves controlled breathing, turning your focus to your body and finding balance internally. Nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril yoga breathing (ANYB), is the technique of breathing through one nostril at a time while closing the other nostril manually, to alternate breathing and airflow. You can use this breathing technique to help manage stresses in your daily life. You may also find that practicing alternate nostril breathing helps you to be more mindful of the present moment. It takes a little getting used to, not one to be practiced with a cold!
How to do it: Sit comfortably and rest your right hand on your knee while using your left thumb to gently close your left nostril. Inhale slowly through the right nostril, then close it with your ring finger. Take a moment and then exhale through the left nostril. Repeat this on each nostril 5 to 10 times. Research shows that 15 to 18 minutes of alternate nostril breathing is ideal.
If you find that you easily go very deep in meditation and perhaps don’t want to delve into that level of consciousness on a daily basis, you can use a tool such as mala beads to keep you more present. The simple act of turning the beads in your hands as you practice breath meditation can keep your awareness enough in the present moment, whilst relaxing the mind and turning your attention inwards.
Let us know how you get on and if breath work has changed your life as it has ours!