This post has long been in the making, and let me warn you — if you are an avid meditator and accomplished breather you may want to simply skip ahead and ignore this post — this may not be right for you. We are doing this at a 101 level today.
Phewww, now that these Breath PhDs are gone we can continue on…
If you are still with me, I am fairly certain that you are somewhat interested in a simple action you do over 20000 times a day (it varies from 13 to 30 thousand breaths a day in individuals – I just googled it up).
And today is your lucky day, as I dedicate this post to the seemingly simple and natural skill of breathing, and the simple yet oh-so-not-easy art of meditation.
So take a deep breath (or two, or three — just don’t hyperventilate and pass out on me, ok?), say a few “omms”, grab your favorite cruelty-free, gluten-free crunchy granola bar, make that organic fair-trade cup of coffee or matcha tea and let’s go!
The Simple Art of Breathing
If you haven’t started your regular breathing and/or meditation practice, or you are not regular at it (assuming you are interested in the first place), I have a simple explanation for you. It’s most likely because you either don’t know where to start, or you have started it, but it required too much of effort, time, commitment or all three!
Additionally, with so much “woo woo” crap out there, the myths and misleading information — no wonder you have been either too skeptical to try it, too confused to know where to start or simply too rushed to even attempt creating a regular breathing and meditation practice that makes sense (and works) for you.
Before you sigh to yourself ‘great, one more guy/gal is about to bug me with yet another breathing/meditation crap technique I want to assure you that this one is the simplest one of them all and barely requires you to learn anything new, yet will probably be the most beneficial, at least in the beginning.
So what I am about to teach you is aiming at eliminating most of the problems I mentioned above, and will get you breathing and meditating in just a few minutes. Pretty exciting, right? If you read this in the morning, I am guaranteeing you can brag to yourself, your spouse and friends that you are an accomplished breather and meditator by lunch time!
Let’s Get Started
Without going too much into the theory of breathing and meditation, as well as getting all preachy on you as to why it is a great idea you start today, here are some bullet points on breathing and meditation (I love love love me some bullet points, helps me with my lazy style of writing.) In order to save me and you some time, I will omit any supporting evidence or proof for now — trust me, I am not lying:
– most of us don’t breathe correctly/fully/deeply enough. We are all under constant stress, don’t move enough, spend prolonged time seating in chairs; all of which results in very shallow, inefficient breathing. Even those of us who exercise regularly, and breath deeper because of that, don’t do it fully consciously, often breathe incorrectly.
– it’s probably not a surprise to you that breathing is paramount to your body and brain. Getting oxygen is a no brainer.
– Constricted, incorrect, restrained breathing not only affects how your body works, but also how you are feeling. Not enough oxygen is bad enough, but improper breathing will cause additional stress, anxiety, and sometimes even panic attack.
– Proper breathing lets your whole mind-body relax. Your heart rate slows down, your body and mind get a basic message “life is good, we are getting oxygen, we are breathing fully, everything is safe and jolly, YAY”. As a result your stress level drops (and stress hormones), your muscles relax, your anxiety drops down (or goes away) and the sky is more blue all the sudden.
– For those few minutes that you are going to be doing breathing exercise, you get to say f*ck you to the rest of the world and just concentrate on one thing only – you!
Good ol’ you.
The other crap can wait, while you are taking care of the one thing that really matters right now – breathing!
I promise it (the world) will be there when you are done breathing – properly, that is.
This sends a very powerful message somewhere deep down your brain – some might call it soul, but I hate all the woo-woo crap, so we are going to call this subconscious – that you matter. This in turn creates just enough room for more relaxation and healthy breathing, and thinking.
The Actual Breathing Practice
So now that you are all excited (or bored) with the prep and pep talk, let’s get down to the actual business of breathing. It’s embarrassingly simple! Just follow the steps below:
1. If you are sitting, continue on sitting, just make sure you are comfy. Place your feet flat and solidly on the floor, or not. I really don’t care much. We are through with restrictions. If you are lying down, even better, continue on lying down. I do my breathing meditations lying down on my back first thing in the morning. I even cross my feet and prop my head on a pillow. It’s the best – you should try it. The way I look at it, there aren’t many ways to do it wrong. So no worries. Keep your eyes open or closed, up to you. I recommend you do it in a quiet room, without too much noise or light, but its really up to you. See I told you we are going to take this thing really easy! No Breath Nazis here!
2. Take a deep deep breath of air in, ideally through your nose, but if you can’t for now, mouth will do. All the way, but don’t worry too much whether you are doing it right. Just do it! Take approximately 2 seconds (or so) to breathe in, and 4-6 seconds to exhale fully. Try to pay attention to how the air is coming in and out of your nose/mouth. I personally like to concentrate on the air tickling the tip of my nose, but if you can’t it’s ok for now. Some people like to feel air filling their belly. Oh yeah, almost forgot – try to breathe into your belly and not your lungs. If you are confused, just put your dominant hand on your chest and try to make sure that it’s not moving too much. Actually, this is a great technique as well and it’s best practiced lying down — just put your right hand on your belly and left on your heart, and feel the air filling your belly. Observe the air flowing in, and flowing out. This is quite pleasurable actually!
3. Feel free to think about anything you want, but try to keep your mind on the breathing process and keep those timed breaths going. If you catch yourself completely forgetting about the breath, holding it, breathing shallow or day dreaming, don’t despair, just start breathing deeply again. I do it all the time. It’s not your fault! You are just starting out and it takes practice to get better at it. Another neat little trick to help you with focus is to say to yourself “breathing in” as you inhale, and “breathing out” as you exhale. I like to either shorten it to “in and out” or substitute to “calm” for the inhale and “release” for the exhale. These simple words act as not only rhythm-setters, but help your brain focus even more on the now, as it is nearly impossible for our simple brain to concentrate on more than one thing at once, in this case, this simple “chanting” of the words “in and out”.
If you somehow fell asleep during these 6 minutes of breathing — congrats! You’ve kinda screwed it up, but hey, I ain’t judging and you did get a few minutes of much-needed calm in your day, so all is good! Much success.
4. Do this breathing thing for 5–6 minutes for now. It’s more than enough to get you going and send some much-needed oxygen to your body and brain, as well as to start calming and focusing your brainy on things that exist in the now – your body and your breath. Congrats, you are an accomplished breath-master and a meditator!!! All in six minutes, just as I promised!
Note: Some meditation/breath purists/nazis will bemoan this simple practice, screaming words like transcendental, zen, vipassana, mindfulness, and pranayama at you.
I say screw them! The best meditation is the one that works for you and the one you can find time and energy to do! So if this works for you at this moment, don’t worry about dozens of other ways to breathe and meditate. You have to learn to walk before you run. I guarantee you can get 80% of health and mind benefits from this baby steps breathing technique anyway! Oh and by the way, without you realizing it, you were doing a variation of mindful breathing meditation, so congrats again to you!
What to Expect When You are Doing it Right
At first you might feel a bit lightheaded, and you might think that you are hyperventilating. Do not worry – you are not. It’s just due to your deep, purposeful breathing you are bringing extra, much-needed oxygen into your bloodstream, and since your body is not used to that much extra oxygen, you are feeling slightly lightheaded and dizzy. That feeling goes away after the first 10-20 breaths, and is replaced by energy, calmness and clear-headedness.
By the time you finish the 6 minutes or so, a renewed sense of energy, elevated mood, sense of calm, and gentle joy out will most likely come out seemingly out of nowhere, surprising you. You might wonder as to why you are not feeling stressed, anxious and worried anymore, even though all of your “real-world” problems are still there.
What you did is deeply affected your mind-body chemistry, enriching it with oxygen and purging it of excess CO2, relaxing the autonomous nervous system, reducing stress and creating new powerful signals to the brain that you are ok, safe, relaxed and breathing.
Next Steps and How to Keep Going
I recommend you do it twice a day and at any time during the day when you need a break for energy or calmness.
It’s an extremely powerful technique first thing in the morning when you wake up to set the mood right and wake your mind and body for the day ahead.
It is also incredibly calming as a before bed exercise, as it releases the stress accumulated during the day, relaxes your muscles and lets the brain stop running circles rehashing the happenings of the busy day and over analyzing and preparing for tomorrow. This way you not only release the day’s stress behind you, but prepare for a good, rejuvenating night of sleep ahead.
Additionally, a 6-minute breathing break is shorter than a run for coffee, doesn’t jolt your nervous system, nor does it overtax your adrenal system while providing much-needed energy boost and relaxation at the same time. Combined with a simple “tai-chi style” self-massage (I will try to cover that later in some other post), this can easily become your favorite energy boost going forward. My only advice is to setup an alarm just in case you fall asleep during the breathing break.
It is all a matter of habit at this point, and the easiest way to develop a new habit is to realize how pleasant, effortless and beneficial this little 6-minute mindful breathing meditation is. Once you do it for few days, you will be hooked to the after effects, I promise you.
To your (and your brain’s) health!
P.S. Let me know what you are working on or struggling with. I would love to learn about and maybe I can help!
P.P.S. If you are on Facebook, I’d started a new group called Life Book — The Missing Manual to You, where I share some of the most valuable resources, articles, tools and tactics I come across on my own journey of self-discovery and development. Join up!