Do you find it difficult to meditate (or does the thought of meditating scare you)? Meditation, like any skill, takes practice. The key to being able to meditate successfully is to find a meditation that suits you. You don’t have to do a sitting meditation if it is uncomfortable for you to sit for extended periods. Try lying down or a moving meditation instead.
I often finish my yoga classes with this easy breath meditation when we are in savasana, but you could easily do this sitting or standing. You could be standing at the bus stop, sitting at the train station or waiting for the kettle to boil. In fact, whenever you find you have a few spare moments, bring your attention to your breath and notice how your mind starts to change. I like to do this meditation when I get into bed at night as it helps to calm my busy mind allowing me to relax and fall asleep easily.
By firstly paying attention to breathing into the belly (diaphragmatic breathing), we calm the sympathetic nervous system, switching off our “fight or flight” response and instead switching on our parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It is important for both of these nervous systems to function properly, but due to our busy, modern lifestyle most people have over-stimulated their sympathetic (“fight or flight”) nervous system and this has knock-on physiological effects. Our sympathetic nervous system is our body’s response to danger, so it increases heart rate, increases blood flow to our muscles (so that we can escape our perceived threat), but switches off our digestive system, immune system and reproductive system. When our body is constantly stressed we increase our likelihood of chronic illness, infertility, have poor digestion and our cells age faster. Stress can take 10 years off your life.
But don’t despair! The easiest way to calm our sympathetic nervous system is to consciously breathe into the belly. So let’s give it a go…..
Step 1: Lie comfortably on your back (or sit or stand if you prefer) and place your hands on your belly either side of your navel. Consciously breathe slowly into your belly and as you do, feel your belly inflate like a balloon and your hands gently spread apart. As you exhale feel your belly soften down and your hands melt down into your abdomen as it deflates. If you are lying down, you might like to place a book on your abdomen instead and watch the book rise and fall with your breath.
Step 2: Continue breathing into your belly and count the length of your inhalation and exhalation. As you start to relax, lengthen the count so you can breathe more slowly. Try not to judge yourself as you breathe. Just observe, with a sense of curiosity.
Step 3: Replace the counting with a mantra on the exhalation, such as “I soften, I let go”. Mentally repeat the mantra to yourself with each exhalation and consciously let go of any tension in the body, feeling yourself soften more and more. Also let go of any thoughts in the mind that you might be holding onto.
Step 4: Release the counting, the mantra and any control of the breath. Allow your breath to do as it wants. Bring your awareness to the sensation of the breath in the nostrils. Observe the sensation of the breath in your nostrils without controlling the breath. Use this sensation as a focal point for your mind. Whenever it wanders, bring it back to the sensation of the breath in the nostrils. No judgement, just awareness and observation. Don’t be frustrated if your mind wanders (because it invariably will); just acknowledge that it has wandered and gently bring your mind back to the sensation of the breath in your nostrils.
Take as much time in each step as you need to feel yourself relax. Don’t be impatient with the process. Enjoy taking the time to slow your breath and feel the sensations of your breath. At the end of the practice notice how you feel physically and mentally.
I recommend doing this practice every night when you get into bed. Spend 5 -10 minutes to slow your breath down and breathe into your belly. You might only get as far as step 2 or 3 before you fall asleep, but that’s ok. The more you practise breathing into your belly, the easier it becomes and the more relaxed you become. You’ll be a chilled out, happy panda in no time. 🙂