Meditation is a mysterious practice that has been in existence for centuries but has gained popularity in our Western culture over the last few years. Should you be picking up the practice? What’s all the buzz about?
As an experienced meditation facilitator and a person with a faithful practice, I can tell you it has profound effects on the mind, body, behavior connection.
Meditation found me through yoga but I’ve always been more on the contemplative side. With Wim Hoff, Power Breath Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, and the plethora of options, you literally have your pick!
It can be confusing to sort through the varieties out there. As a facilitator, what I hear most is, “It didn’t work for me. I’ve got a racing mind. I can’t be completely quiet.” While it may seem challenging at first, we have to remember that the job of the mind is to think.
Meditation isn’t asking the mind to do something out of its nature. In my meditation class, I’m going to ask you to make your mind like a screen door.
Allow thoughts and emotions to come and go with no judgement. The trouble comes when we hold onto a thought that leads down the rabbit hole to another thought, and off we go.
Before you know it, you’ll be thinking about what’s for dinner. I ask my students to acknowledge the thoughts and emotions that are present then allow them to pass.
Focus on the breath.
The breath is your life source. It is what gives you energy, strength, and makes you uniquely you. It nourishes every single cell in your body with life-giving oxygen. The more we acknowledge and recognize the breath for all it gives, the easier it becomes to focus on it and continually bring our attention back to it.
Your beginner practice may start with three deep breaths. Three deep breaths actually changes your biology. It will bring your blood pressure down and lower your heart rate. It will also bring your emotional temperature down and engage the rest and digest the parasympathetic nervous system. This is a place where we can remain present and calm.
Step one: Get into a comfortable sitting position. Take a deep breath by engaging your diaphragm. Put your hands on your belly and take deep, expansive breaths through the nose. Feel your belly extend. Then hold for a beat, and exhale everything out of your lungs through your mouth. Do this cycle 3 times, making the exhalation longer than the inhalation. The goal is to engage the parasympathetic nervous system.
Step two: Repeat step one, but this time, inhale and exhale with the mouth closed. These are slow and steady breaths, making sure the exhalation is longer than the inhalation. Notice what you feel and where you feel it. This short breathing exercise could be all you do for your daily practice.
Step three: Add an intention. Give your mind a word or phrase to focus your energy toward. Now with every breath in your mind’s eye, see that phrase. Your meditation practice has just grown from breathing into the intention.
Everything is connected.
Mind-body-behavior is a system that is intertwined. Our thoughts inform our body systems which inform our behavior. For example, if I get cut off while driving on the freeway. I may slam on my breaks. I may think to myself, “what a jerk!” My heart rate will increase, and my palms will get sweaty. I may say some choice words (depending on who is in the car). The process takes seconds to occur, but it’s a complete mind-body-behavior experience.
Now insert your breathing practice in the same scenario. That car may still cut you off, you may even have the same thoughts, but if you automatically start the meditative breathing, your body won’t react in the same way. Your thoughts may soften, and the emotional response won’t last as long. This is how a meditation practice connects with your everyday life to bring more calm, more presence, and better health.
In times of stress, we need more oxygen to the brain to make better decisions, we need more focus, we need less engagement of the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight). A consistent meditation practice can help you get there.
While it doesn’t happen overnight, over time, it will make a positive impact on your life.
Keep breathing, stay present, and focus on the positive.