Did you know that right now, you already have everything you need to help reduce your stress? That’s right – at this very moment you already have the tools needed to reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, increase your energy, and decrease feelings of being overwhelmed simply with the power of your breath and the focus of your mind! Read on to learn simple steps to begin practicing meditation and conscious breathing.
Concentrate and Relax
There are only two important requirements needed to experience the vast and numerous benefits of meditation: the ability to concentrate and the ability to relax.
There is a common misconception that meditation is the process of stopping the mind from thinking when really nothing could be further from the truth. The mind’s job is to think, just like the heart’s job is to beat and pump blood.
We don’t want the mind to stop creating thoughts just as we do not want the heart to stop beating. Instead, meditation is the practice of bringing the mind’s focus to concentrate on something it normally would not be interested in, such as the breath, and to cultivate the ability to witness or observe the thinking mind instead of letting it run the show.
There are many different types of meditation to experiment with, but I recommend beginning with a basic point of focus meditation.
All you need to do is sit, stay for a set length of time (start with 5 minutes), and let your awareness rest on the rise and fall of your breath.
This sounds simple, but it won’t always be easy. The mind will wander and try to take you out of the present moment by bringing up things from the past or imagining things that haven’t happened yet. When this occurs, recognize what’s going on – it can be helpful to name what’s happening by saying “thinking” or “wandering” to yourself – and then lovingly guide your awareness back to your breath and relax.
Ideally you should try to breathe in and out through the nose, although this can take time to learn, and try to make the length of each inhalation and exhalation equal.
When we experience stressful thoughts, we activate the body’s fight or flight response and the breath becomes short, shallow, and stays up in the chest. Focus on deep breathing into the lower lungs to reverse the stress response and switch on the rest and digest part of the nervous system to calm the body and mind. This is a lifelong practice, so be kind and patient with yourself!
Benefits of Meditation and Conscious Breathing
The benefits of meditation and conscious breathing are too long to list, but know that these practices will improve your emotional well-being. You can lessen worry anxiety and fear while you enhance self-esteem and self-acceptance, increase optimism, relaxation, and awareness, and improve mood and emotional intelligence improve.
The mind also benefits: mental focus, memory retention and recall increase. We improve decision making and problem solving, creative thinking and information processing. Meditation is also good for the body: energy levels and immunity increase, blood pressure lowers; and breathing and heart rate improve.
Overall, by practicing breath awareness and focusing the mind we can learn to decrease and manage our stress, respond instead of react, and give ourselves the opportunity to be with ourselves – to feel what we feel, listen to the body, and accept who we are just as we are.