Breathing

Without a doubt, our body and mind are connected. Without our body, our mind cannot be. If we strive for a strong and enlightened mind, we must also strive for a strong and healthy body. Of course, it is still possible to achieve an enlightened mind even in a body stricken by sickness but it is just so much easier to achieve this if our body is strong.

One of the most effective ways to use our body to strengthen our mind is by controlling our breath. Thankfully our depth and speed of breathing is something we can control easily. We can make ourselves breathe slow and deep. This in turn has a positive effect on our body and on our mind. Our heart rate reduces and our mind becomes calmer. In that state, it is easier for us to be strong and pursue positive thoughts.

The health of our body and mind are linked closely. If our mind becomes healthier, so does our body and vice averse. It is a great gift given to us that we can start a process of positive reinforcement by such a simple and easy to do thing such as just taking a few deep breaths!

If you are looking for further directions on how to breath in a stress reducing way, the article Breath, Exhale, Repeat from Lesley Alderman provides a few good exercises:

Coherent Breathing

Coherent breathing simply requires to go into a comfortable position where your belly can easily expand (such as lying on your back or sitting upright). Place your hands on your belly. Then breathe in while counting slowly to four or six, then exhale to the same slow count to four or six. You should aim to complete around five breath per minute which might require some practice. The article recommends to do this for 10 to 20 minutes a day but I think much less time spent on this, even a minute or two, can already yield noticeable results.

Breathing for Stress Reduction

This exercise is designed to combat acute stress. Sit upright and place our hand on your belly. As you inhale straighten to sit upright. As you exhale, lower your head towards the floor and curl around your belly. Upon inhaling, straighten up again.

Energising Breathing

This exercise is designed to achieve the opposite effect of the previous two exercises; rather than calming us down, it is supposed to make us more awake and energised. You can achieve this by standing with a straight back and keeping your arms bend at a 90 degree angle with your upper arms next to your torso and your palms facing up. As you breath in, you pull your elbows backwards. Breath out quickly while saying ‘Ha!’ and as you breath out, thrust your arms forward and turn your palms downward.

Further Reading

The Healing Power of Breath by Dr. Richard Brown

Breathe by Belisa Vranich

Image credit: 4144132

Practice: Love

One of the most precious gift we have been given is our ability to love. Our love may encompass the big and small, our love may encompass the beautiful and ugly, our love may encompass ourselves and everything around us. Think about the many layers of your love; the romantic love for someone special, the love for something you like to do, the love for your family, the universal love which drives your desire to help those in need and protect everything in creation from harm.

Love is a central tenant of many world religions. In Christianity both the love of worshippers for God and Jesus as well as the love of God and Jesus for worshippers are often repeated themes. Likewise worshippers are encouraged to love one another and others:

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.

1 Thessalonians 3:12

In Buddhism love or loving-kindness is known as one of the four immeasurable minds. It is in essence the strong wish that all sentient beings be well and happy:

Radiate boundless love towards the entire world — above, below, and across — unhindered, without ill will, without enmity.

Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Discourse on Loving-kindness

While we should practice our ability to feel this kind of love in every action and thought, the following practice may help us to become more mindful of our ability to love and strengthen it:

  1. Take five deep breaths
  2. Think of the love you feel for someone close to you, such as your partner, parents, pets, children or friends.
  3. Think of someone who was wronged you – do you have the capacity to feel love for them?
  4. Think of yourself, with all your faults and shortcomings. Can you find love for yourself?
  5. Think of all of humankind, every single living soul. Can you find love for each and every one?
  6. Think of all sentient beings. Cows grooming their calves; lion brothers fighting for their territory; elephants wondering together. Can you find love for each and every one?
  7. Think of existence as a whole; every particle in the universe, every field and power, seemingly endless time itself. Can you find love for this vessel in which we exist?

Love just like gratitude and forgiveness is a powerful, deep emotion. We have a natural ability to love and using this ability may make us stronger and wiser. Unfortunately in times when we are weak, it is often difficult to find love, and much easier to find hatred and self-pity. If we find ourselves unable to love easily, we may follow some of the other practices to help us be stronger and unlock our ability to love unconditionally again.

Image credit: Dan Sudermann

Practice: Thought Mindfulness

Although our thoughts are arguably very important for who we are, we are often unaware of what is occupying our mind at any given moment. In this post, I describe a simple practice which helps in increasing awareness of our mind and thoughts.

These are the two simple steps to follow:

  1. Become aware of your breathing. Notice how the air passes through your nose or mouth. Notice how your belly and chest contract and expand.
  2. Observe your thoughts; whatever naturally comes to your mind if your thoughts are given free reign. Do not judge your thoughts. Do not try to direct them. Simply observe and accept them as they are.

This practice is based on mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to provide significant benefits to physiological and psychological health. Most mindfulness meditation practices are a bit more directed than the practice described here. This practice attempts to isolate a core tenant of mindfulness – which is to be aware of ones own thoughts – and provide a simple guide for achieving that. Trained mediators may later want to work on directing their thoughts during the meditation. However, just becoming aware of ones thoughts – without judging oneself of constantly drifting ‘off topic’ already provides great benefits toward a better understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

The above practice is simplified to a degree that it may almost seem superfluous to write it down here. However I still think there is value in keeping this practice as a reference. If it doesn’t consist of a sequence of dozens of steps; all the better, so it should be easy for us to remember and we have little excuse not to practice it from time to time.

Image: Activedia

Practice: Body Mindfulness

With all the distractions in our life, we often forget what is most fundamental to our existence: our own bodies. We should take time to be mindful of how our body feels. Do we have pain somewhere? Do we feel relaxed or tense?

This is the first post of a series in which I will discuss various practices which may help in reaching a happier, more satisfied and more enlightened state of mind. The practice I describe here may help us to become more mindful of our bodies, the temple from which we must utter all our prayers.

These are the steps to follow:

  1. Breathe in until your lungs are completely filled with air, then slowly exhale until all air is gone. Repeat for three times, then breathe naturally, simply observing your breath.
  2. Become mindful of every part of your body starting with your left arm and moving counter-clockwise first to your left leg, then right leg, right arm, then head and finally core by going through the following steps for each body part:
    1. Become aware of how that part of your body feels. Are you relaxed or tense? Is there any pain?
    2. Focus on the body part and make it feel heavier. Don’t press the part downward. Leave it as relaxed as possible, just let your thoughts flow towards it and feel how it slowly becomes heavier. Repeat the words ‘My right arm is heavy’, replacing right arm with the body part you are currently focusing on.
    3. Next direct your thoughts to make the body part feel warmer and even more relaxed. Repeat the words ‘My right arm is warm’. You may speak this softly or just verbalise it in your mind.
    4. Once you feel the body part being relaxed, warm and heavy, move on to the next part.

If your mind wanders during this practice to other issues, gently redirect your thoughts to your body and the steps of this practice.

This simple practice is grounded in a number of foundations. Firstly, controlling breathing is a known way to use our body to calm our mind. Just being mindful of our breath, even without trying to breathe slowly and regularly, will help us to become more relaxed, happy and aware.

Focusing on various body parts and channelling concentration on making them feel warm and heavy is based on the ideas of Autogenic training which has been proven to treat various disorders. This kind of approach is also know as body scan meditation and is popular as part of the Vipassana tradition. Generally mindfulness meditation has been shown to provide a number of health and mind benefits.

Resources

A Guide to Psychology and Its Practice – Autogenics Training

Featured Image: Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci