How to Calm Your Body, Clear Your Mind and Open Your Heart
The holidays are around the corner, which is for many the busiest and most stressful time of the year. While nature is slowing down and going internal, we are running faster so we can get more done and checked-off our never-ending to-do-lists. Of course, we may argue that we can’t help that our lives are so busy, considering all the obligations and expectations we have to meet. However, isn’t busyness also a way to avoid ourselves, a distraction from the potential emptiness, hurt and discomfort in our mind, heart and body?
Twenty years ago, during a time of intense personal and professional challenges, I came to the realization that neither staying busy nor distracting myself would resolve the needs and pains that were festering inside of me. So I decided to give meditating another go. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that meditation is very beneficial for your health and well-being. But if you’re like me, you’ve probably also struggled with learning how to meditate.
When I first tried meditating at age eighteen, I thought there was nothing to it. All I needed to do was lie down, close my eyes, and after a few moments, I would float into that blissful nirvana I’d heard others talk about. Unfortunately, one of two things seemed to get in the way either I fell asleep after a few minutes or my mind started to insist on presenting me with a long list of things I hadn’t done yet, the miserable failures of the past, or the unsolvable problems ahead of me. How can you reach that state of inner peace that meditation is supposed to give you when the moment you close your eyes, the very thoughts you want to let go of start popping up like firecrackers on Fourth of July? Since my meditations only led to frustration, I decided that I was just one of those people who wasn’t meant to meditate.
Then, more than a decade later, I heard my yoga teacher saying that it is a misconception to believe that we can completely turn off our minds. The illusion that we can only sets us up for failure. That sure took a load off my mind. He made me feel even better when he said that if we could still our minds for only one second, we would have mastered the art of meditating. With the pressure off, I explored different kinds of mediation – silent, guided, laughing, walking, writing and mindfulness mediation. I benefitted from all of them. However, it was the following breathing meditation, which helped me the most during one of the most difficult times in my life.
One-minute breathing. This practice helps you to turn your awareness inwards, to clear my mind and to quickly regain a sense of calmness and centeredness. The goal is to be able to inhale, hold your breath, and exhale for twenty seconds each, creating a one-minute breathing cycle. Sounds daunting? Honestly, it took me several months to get to a full minute. So don’t push yourself too hard.
Begin by making each part of the cycle five seconds long, ten seconds long, or any amount of time that feels comfortable. Just make sure to inhale, hold, and exhale for the same amount of time. You can either mentally count the seconds—“one, two, three . . .”—or repeat an affirmation, such as “I am calm, centered, and at peace,” for the amount of time you’ve chosen for each piece of the cycle.
This breathing pattern symbolizes life’s fundamental cycle of receiving, maintaining, and letting go. Routinely, I ask my clients which part of the process they find the most challenging―drawing the air in, keeping it in, or letting it out. It continues to fascinate me that their struggles with this technique often appear to reflect their challenges with receiving, maintaining, and letting go in life. See for yourself which part feels the most natural to you and which brings up resistance and takes more effort to accomplish.
After you’ve practiced this one-minute breathing exercise for a couple of weeks, you may want to challenge yourself a little bit. Just for five or ten breaths, extend the time of inhaling, holding in, and exhaling, each time allowing yourself to approach the point where you feel the urge to quickly progress to the next part. When you notice an almost panicky feeling rising from deep inside, wait another second or two before you move on, rather than giving into this sensation. There is something extremely empowering about being able to witness the emotion without instantaneously responding to it. Instead, if you draw the breathing cycle out a few seconds longer, you show yourself that there was no reason to panic, that you’ve been in safe and in control the entire time.
After ten minutes of the one minute breathing meditation, allow your breath to regulate itself and when you are ready open your eyes again.
I am sure you will soon agree with the saying, “Our breath controls our minds, and our minds controls our lives. So by learning how to master our breathing, we learn how to master our lives.
The timing couldn’t be better to have author and yoga therapist Jillian Pransky as my special guest on Empowerment Radio, this Wednesday, November 15 at 11:00 AM PST. Jillian just published her excellent book, Deep Listening, A Healing Practice to Calm Your Body, Clear Your Mind and Open Your Heart. As a former executive of a fast-paced NYC publishing firm, Jillian found yoga as a way to heal her own acute stress and anxiety. After a devastating personal loss, she ended her high-pressure career and devote herself to studying and teaching mindfulness practices, deep relaxation and compassionate listening.