Holding Your Breath

Pranayama Benefits for Physical and Emotional Health

Stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to just notice your breath. Don’t worry about changing it, just observe how you breath when you aren’t paying attention. What is your breath like? For me, at pretty much any given moment unless I’m doing yoga, my breath is painfully shallow. Often I’ll notice that I’ve actually been holding my breath! I particularly notice this tendency when I’m feeling anxious.

For most of my life, I never thought about breathing at all. Breathing is unconscious, it’s a reflex, our bodies are taking care of that for us. These are the things I remember learning when I was growing up. Without yoga, I never would have learned the power that is held inside of my breath. I had no idea that we had the ability to retrain ourselves to have more beneficial breathing patterns or that the breath had any significance besides keeping us alive.

Society tells us that we need all of these magic fixes for our depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. We medicate and distract ourselves, doing anything to avoid the signals our bodies are sending us. We are never taught how to value and honor our breath for the miracle that it is. In my opinion, pranayama (breathwork) is one of the most advanced aspects of yoga and also the most important.

Living in a world of excess, it seems impossible that there could be so many life changing benefits from something as simple as breathing. Yet there is a breathwork practice for anything that you may want to achieve. Through the power of our breath we can energize ourselves, we can calm our nervous systems, we can elevate our mood, we can cool ourselves down, warm ourselves up, we can even experience altered states of consciousness! And we can do all of this for free, regardless of where we are, regardless of who we are. If you’re living, you can practice pranayama.

Unfortunately, I am still far away from unlocking the full potential of my own breath. Even after years of yoga and meditation, I am still working on just being able to notice my breath as I move through my day. I’ve particularly been trying to focus on checking in with my breath when I feel anxious. When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks on, the body naturally makes our breath quick and shallow. It is under the assumption that it needs to prepare to either flee or attack whatever threat may be nearby. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived experience. When we find ourselves perpetually in this heightened state, we start to experience various mental and physical health issues.

Interestingly enough, this feedback loop works in both directions. Our mind is usually the one running the show, telling the body it’s time to act. The body has just as much control over the mind though. If we can learn to recognize our stress response, we can override it with our breath. Now, this is no easy feat, and it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and eventually we can all cultivate a beautiful symbiotic relationship with our own breath.

There is so much pleasure to be found in the simple act of breathing. One of the most valuable parts of my last acid experience was finding a stronger connection to my breath. As I laid in the grass with my boyfriend, enjoying the sun streaming down through the leaves above us and listening to the hum of locus in the background, I became intoxicated with the feeling of my own inhales and exhales. Each sip of air felt incredible, fresh oxygen, the gentle expansion of my lungs. Each out breath was a gorgeous release, a cleansing. I could have spent the whole evening just savoring my own breathing.

That experience has stayed with me since then. I am still able to tap into that sense of gratitude and wonder as I breathe. My breath alone can be better than any drug or addiction out there. And it’s mine to enjoy whenever I wish without consequence. I’ve even come up with a little visualization that helps me get back in touch with my LSD experience. I think it would work well for anyone who has been or still is a smoker.

As you breath in, just imagine you are taking a nice long, delicious drag off of a cigarette, vape, or joint. I genuinely think one of the reasons humans seem to enjoy smoking things so much is because it allows us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. You may even find it helpful to visualize the air as smoke moving in and out of your body. This would be an excellent visualization to try the next time you find yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow.

Wherever you may be in regard to a pranayama practice, for the rest of the day, just try to come back to your breath whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious. Are you holding your breath? Is washing the dishes really that unpleasant or is it because you are unconsciously trying to not breath until you’re finished? No matter what is sparking that anxiety in me, checking in with my breath is always a huge help.

Let me know what your experience has been like regarding breathwork. When did you first realize the significance of the breath? What are some of your favorite pranayama practices? If you decide to try my little visualization, let me know how it went for you.

Pranayama for Anxiety: 4 Breathing Exercises to Try | YogiApproved.com

Overwhelm

Feeling overwhelmed? | Condé Nast Traveller India

This week has been a busy, hectic, nightmare for me. Thankfully, I’ll have a few moments to collect myself this afternoon since our evening appointment at work canceled. At a certain point, it feels like my brain just completely checks out. There is no helping myself when I get to this point. Despite everything in your body telling you to keep going, that there is so much to do, the best thing to do is actually take a moment to rest.

It’s difficult to negotiate with a tired brain. It reminds me of a toddler throwing a tantrum, impossible to reason with. The overwhelming sense of urgency and dread that consumed me in these moments is nearly impossible to ignore. All of my bodily systems are screaming out for my attention. Telling me that the world is falling apart around me and that I need to fix it somehow. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with these types of brain states.

Given that our minds are the window through which we see and interpret the world around us, it’s not an easy task to override the messages our brains send us, even when logically we know they are false or exaggerated. I’ve only recently started to learn how to overcome my evening anxiety, for example.

For some reason, every evening, I have a huge spike in my anxiety levels. I start to ruminate and worry about what happened that day or what may happen the next. Problems that seemed minor in the morning, take on an eerie urgency in the evening hours. Even though this pattern has been apparent for a while now, it doesn’t make it any easier to dismiss. For some reason, when we find ourselves in these anxious states of overwhelm, it feels like life has always felt this way and it will always feel this way. Yet at the same time, there is a sense of unrest, like in some way we are supposed to address and “fix” whatever is causing this unpleasant state.

At times like these, the only thing I’ve found helpful is just reminding myself that even though I am feeling rushed and ruffled, the things I’m experiencing inside of my head are not an accurate representation of reality. We forget that our mental states aren’t solely effected by the world around us. Our moods and ability to cope with stressors are also effected by what we’ve eaten, how we slept, the time of day, hormone fluctuations, etc. Just because a situation seems overwhelming today, doesn’t mean that the same scenario won’t strike you in a completely different way tomorrow. I’m not telling you to completely disregard your feelings, but sometimes it’s enough to just notice and acknowledge them, without reacting. Perhaps try saying to yourself, “I am feeling overwhelmed right now, and that’s okay. This feeling will pass. I’m doing my best.”

Sometimes I also find it helps to make a list. There are days when it feels like I have so much to do and more tasks just keep accumulating. The fear that I may forget something important really adds to the stress. There is an immediate sense of relief once I’ve written down everything that is on my mind. Often it even seems silly how short the list looks compared to how long I imagined it would be. Getting this to-do list onto paper and out of your crowded mind makes a huge difference. It allows me to find some much needed space inside my own head.

It seems counterintuitive, but taking a moment to set aside the thoughts that are overwhelming us, is actually the kindest thing we can do for ourselves in these situations. Part of the reason the stressors seem so urgent is the false sense that things will only continue to get worse if we don’t address the issue immediately. Most of the time, this is simply an illusion. While slowing down seems like the worst possible option when you feel rushed and overwhelmed, it’s actually the most beneficial option. Taking a moment to just be, to just breathe, will allow you to step back and gain some perspective.

Dealing with chronic anxiety, I always notice myself searching for a “cause.” “I’m feeling anxious. There must be something wrong.” This is what I’m unconsciously telling myself. And in a normally functioning brain, that makes perfect sense. Our fight or flight response is there to keep us safe. Ideally it is only activated when we are in immediate danger that we need to either overcome or get away from as fast as possible. When this natural defense system is distorted however, it becomes a never-ending feedback loop. I feel anxious. I find a “cause” or something to blame my anxiety on. My anxiety is justified, reinforcing my brain’s idea that it was correct to feel anxious.

One of my favorite mantras recently is: It’s okay to feel anxious. Instinctually we try to escape from anxious states, but when you have an anxiety disorder, trying to escape only increases your anxiety. You become anxious about being anxious. The next time you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious, try simply allowing yourself to experience these feelings rather than running from them. Say to yourself: I am feeling anxious/overwhelmed right now. *deep breath* It is okay to feel anxious/overwhelmed sometimes. *deep breath* I am okay. *deep breath* I am safe. *deep breath*

Everything is going to be okay. I promise. You’re doing the best you can, even if that might look different from the way “doing your best” has looked in the past, or how you expect it to look. The state you’re in right now is temporary. It will pass all on it’s own. Just breathe.

Free Self-Care Apps

For the last few days I’ve been exploring the App Store in an attempt to find some free mindfulness, meditation, and journaling apps. I expected that a lot would be limited and offer a more robust, premium option. At first I was thrilled at all the options there were. Then I realized that most of them were disgustingly dishonest. They appeared to be free, at least partially, only to reveal upon download that you had to sign up for a monthly membership to access literally any of the features. After downloading over a dozen different apps only to be disappointed, I decided to share the two I did manage to find.

One – Breathwork: Breathing Exercises

Breathwrk | Breathing Exercises

After seeing the other options out there, I am even more impressed than I initially was by this incredible, completely free, app. This app has a smooth, pleasant, minimalist design. It’s very easy to navigate. There are so many options available for anyone interested in pranayama, whether they be an experienced yogi or a total beginner. I think this app would be great for kids as well! There are short breathing exercises available to help you get into whatever kind of headspace you’d like. There are targeted practices for energy, relaxation, sleep, focus, etc. Each exercise also comes with calming background music and a guided visualization to help you focus on your inhale and exhale and make sure you are extending or holding for the suggested amount of time. It also contains breathwork courses, progress trackers, and reminders. There is a premium version, but it is not pushed on you, nor is it really necessary to experience all the wonderful benefits.

Two – Instar Affirmation Writer

Instar Affirmation Writer App Ranking and Store Data | App Annie

This app is another super helpful tool to have if you are trying to work on becoming more mindful, intentional person. Not only does this app give you a handful of free affirmations and the ability to save them to a catalogue that you can break up into categories, it also teaches you how to craft your own personalized affirmations. As you type out the words, the app will give you general prompts such as, “first person”, and highlight the positive areas of what you’ve written in green and the less beneficial words in red. These might be words we often use without thinking such as: have to, should, must, etc. You are given the option to add a photo and record an audio file of you speaking the affirmation as well. Not only does this assist you in making affirmations that resonate with you and your personal goals, it also helps us recognize our self sabotaging language and be more mindful of the way we speak to ourselves and others. This app allows you to take an active role in reframing your mind.


Given how much time and effort I had to put in just to find these two free apps, I appreciate them all the more. There is nothing more irritating than trying to find support and tools for self-improvement and finding sickening marketing tactics and thinly veiled manipulation instead. I highly recommend you download these two, honest, helpful apps if you are interested in using technology to help you incorporate more mindfulness into your day. Support developers like these that are actually offering a worthwhile service to people that need it, instead of using their vulnerability as an opportunity to take advantage of someone and make a quick buck.

Becoming the Observer

I am large. I contain multitudes.

Walt Whitman

I have always loved that particular quote from Walt Whitman. As I grow and change, I always come back to those words of his with a new insight or depth of understanding and resonance with them. I found myself contemplating that quote again a few days ago as I was meditating. Normally we tend to identify with one version of ourselves. We play the role that we have given ourselves in our own story. We become overwhelmed by our emotions, only imagining ourselves as the one feeling the emotions, not realizing that we can choose to be another part of ourselves entirely.

To better explain what I mean by this, take the example from my meditation the other day. I began to feel tension seeping into my body, winding up my muscles, shortening my breath. My initial instinct is to succumb to these stress reactions. “I’m anxious. I’m so anxious. I don’t want to feel anxious. I’m wasting my meditation. Why am I so anxious? I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I can’t even relax while I meditate. What is wrong with me? There must be something wrong with me.” This is the death spiral of thoughts that come over me when I start to notice my own anxiety.

The pathways craved out in my brain supporting the habit patterns I exhibit internally in response to anxiety are quite strong. It isn’t always easy to switch to a different aspect of myself when confronted with these difficult feelings. Occasionally, I am able to flip a switch inside my own head, though. After taking a moment to come back to my breath and surrender to the thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing, I felt a significant shift. Suddenly I wasn’t the anxious girl, full of frustration and despair at my own inadequacies. I became the neutral, yet compassionate observer.

Suddenly I was the witness, the me outside of me, the higher self within me, watching lovingly, offering that other self understanding and tenderness. A healthy amount of space existed between me and the emotions I was experiencing. I could see that we weren’t one and the same, I and the anxiety. I began to tell myself that it was okay to experience those uncomfortable feelings. It was okay to be scared and stressed out. I didn’t need to run from those experiences. I could choose to hold space for them instead. I could choose to accept them and surrender to the moment, even if that moment wasn’t what I wanted or expected.

This internal shift is something that we can all learn to utilize with practice. It’s not the same as denial or disassociation. It wasn’t that I was using this other version of myself to run from or ignore the anxiety I was experiencing. In fact, it was just the opposite. I used that other version of myself to create a safe space for me to acknowledge those feelings while at the same time being emotionally available and separate enough to also offer myself comfort in that moment.

This concept is quite hard to explain, but it can be easy to practice. The next time you feel overwhelmed by a situation or an emotion, try this: When you catch yourself falling into unhelpful thought spirals, pause. Return to your breath. Take a moment to just explore the feeling. What does it feel like in my body right now? Then instead of thinking: I’m so anxious, I’m so sad, I’m so angry, etc. Change your internal dialogue to: I am noticing that I am anxious, sad, angry, etc. This shifts you from the perspective of the one suffering to the one observing from a distance. It helps you disentangle yourself from the more visceral reactions and gives you a bit of space so you don’t feel as overwhelmed and consumed by the way you are feeling. It’s much easier to be the observer and be able to offer your other selves comfort.

This technique may not always work to find relieve from difficult situations and emotions, but it is always worth a try. Shifting which “self” you identify with is also a practice. Don’t get upset with yourself if it seems hard or even impossible at first. I hope this explanation hasn’t been too confusing. Let me know if you would like any further clarification or what your experience with this type of mental exercise has been.

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Staring Down Anxiety

Anxiety is a bully. It feeds off of the fear that it creates. The longer you avoid something because of anxiety the harder it becomes to face. Fear is a powerful motivator. It doesn’t really matter if the fear is rational or not. Sometimes anxiety and fear become inseparable. They swell and become monstrous in size, looming over us. We do our best to hide from them. But they are inside of us, so no matter how hard we try, how much we practice, there is nowhere safe to seal ourselves away.

The good news is just like a schoolyard bully, anxiety is easy to defeat. Bullies rule by fear more than might. Standing up to them is all that we really need to do. When we experience anxiety, the body is on high alert. It is telling us to get the fuck out of there. It feels like we will certainly die if we do not somehow escape the situation and the emotions we are feeling. Thankfully, there is still some part of us that knows this is untrue, that these feelings are unfounded.

When we listen to our anxious feelings we are reinforcing the brain’s believe that this fear response was correct. The good news is we don’t have to listen to our anxiety. It feels counterintuitive. Centuries of evolution have programed us to heed these warning signals from inside. Luckily we are intelligent enough to outwit our instincts. Don’t allow your anxiety to bully you anymore. Here’s a little meditation I am working on to help me stand up to my anxiety.

Face Your Fears Meditation

  • Take a deep breath and notice what anxiety feels like in your body. Do you feel tense? Numb? Energized? Do a full body scan and take note of any places you can feel nervous energy in your physical body.
  • Now start to take more deep, conscious breaths. Inhaling for a count of four. Hold for four. Exhale for four. Hold for four. Repeat this cycle a few times.
  • As the nervous system begins to relax, try to release any tense areas you identified earlier.
  • Let the breath return to its natural rhythm as you turn your thoughts to whatever is making you anxious.
  • Visualize yourself accomplishing or overcoming whatever it is you’re anxious about, experience the positive emotions of your success in your body.
  • Imagine what it feels like to be powerful, confident, brave.
  • Imagine how good it will feel to face your fears and overcome your anxious feelings.
  • Repeat to yourself softly, “I am brave. I am brave. I am brave.”
  • Now imagine it has already been done. Your anxiety vanquished, it evaporates.

Feel free to use, edit, or tweak this meditation any way you see fit. If the suggested mantra feels a bit empty or corny to you, pick one that resonates with you more. If that particular form of pranayama doesn’t suit you, incorporate another such as nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath.) The words and breath you use in a meditation aren’t necessarily important. The most important thing is the emotions you draw forth. If the words courage or bravery don’t make you feel anything, instead you could try to imagine a time when you felt brave or imagine what it would feel like in the future.

At the end of the day, anxiety can only win if we let it. I know you are strong enough to face your anxiety and overcome it. It may never go away, but we can learn how to work with it instead of against it. We get to decide how we perceive this life. For so long now I’ve chosen to view my anxiety as a burden, something that constricts me and holds me back from living the life I want. But I don’t have to look at it that way. Instead, I am going to use my anxiety to my advantage. I don’t have to feel ashamed that things that are easy for others may be quite difficult for me. Each challenge I face, however small, is a gift. It is a chance to step into my own power. It is a chance to believe in myself. It’s an opportunity for triumph, an opportunity to be brave.

Inhale Courage Exhale Fear. Inspiration Support Saying, Motivational Quote.  Modern Calligraphy In Floral Wreath Frame. Stock Vector - Illustration of  concern, panic: 119681270

Breathe Into It

One of the first things you tend to learn when getting into yoga philosophy is that resistance to unpleasant feelings, situations, or emotions only leads to more intense, prolonged suffering. In fact, it could be said that all of the suffering we experience stems from our aversion to certain things. Life is about perspective primarily. So if we can teach ourselves to see everything through the eyes of loving kindness, there is no where for suffering to take root.

This principle of non-resistance can be seen in the mind, but also in the physical body. I have always been someone who detests the cold and avoids it at all costs. Unfortunately for me, I also happen to live in the northern part of the country where winters can be pretty intense. I read the other day that when you brace yourself against the cold and try to resist it, you are actually only making yourself feel colder! When we tense up our bodies, our blood vessels are constricted. Therefore less blood is able to flow to our extremities, making us colder. If we can breathe deeply and relax our bodies, we won’t be as uncomfortable with low temperatures.

This also works with other types of pain or discomfort. The breath is such a powerful thing, if we can only learn to utilize it. I often notice when I am in some type of physical pain whether it be a stomach ache, a sore throat, or just muscle cramps, I desperately try to avoid and disassociate from that area of my body. Sometimes as a kid I would even visualize boxing that body part off from the rest of me. Needless to say that type of response has never worked for me. Despite my best efforts I am unable to ignore my body’s painful cries.

The other night as I was struggling to fall asleep due to such a pain, I decided to try embracing that pain instead of attempting to push it away. I turned to focusing on my breath. I imagined sending the swirling, healing oxygen to that painful part of my body with every inhale. As I exhaled, I relaxed and accepted the unpleasant sensations. This didn’t make the pain go away, but after a few moments I felt much better. Today I am struggling with a very upset stomach from overeating yesterday. Stomach pain has always been one of the hardest problems for me to deal with ever since I was little. I’ve felt tense and uncomfortable all morning. Nothing I’ve tried seems to have helped. However, as I sit here writing this, I’ve been trying to also take slow, deep breaths down into my belly. I can definitely still feel some discomfort, but it’s much less pronounced than earlier.

Just like with most meditative practices, the hardest part is staying focused. Even after years of practicing yoga and meditation it can be hard for me to take deep breaths as I move through a normal day. In fact, a lot of the time I find that my breath is exceptionally shallow or that I’m holding it! It can definitely be frustrating when it feels like despite your best efforts you aren’t making much progress. The good thing is each breath is another opportunity to practice. Breathwork is something we are able to work on anywhere no matter who we’re with or what we’re doing. Not to mention it’s free! It can even be quite fun once you start to notice the connection your breath has on your body and mind.

I find it really helps me to attach an image or an emotion to my breath to help me concentrate. Recently I’ve started to imagine each sip of air as a delicious food, drink, or even a drug that I get to consume. I look forward to every inhale and exhale. I savor the way it feels as it moves through my body. Sometimes I’ll also picture all of the wonderful things my body will be able to do with so much fresh oxygen. I imagine it providing me with energy and happy feelings. I imagine my body using it to perform all of it’s vital functions: building new cells, cleansing toxins, healing me, etc. Just thinking about it makes me so grateful for this body I have been blessed with. It inspires me to breathe deeply as a gift to this body. Inhale – I love you, body. Exhale – thank you, body.

The next time you are feeling upset or you’re in pain, whatever it may be that you find yourself resisting, try to honor that feeling rather than running from it. Perhaps it will even turn out to be a gift. It is easy to go through life without growing or changing when things are going well. However, pain and discomfort are necessary signals that we can learn so much from. For instance, my stomach hurting this morning is a reminder to take better care of my body. It is my body asking me for love, kindness, and respect. Instead of being frustrated and upset with my body for not behaving the way I want it to, I am going to listen to it’s urgent request. I am going to use this unpleasant morning to push me to do better for myself today and from now on. It all begins with the breath.

So just breathe

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I Am Going to Have a Good Day Today

Each morning when I sit down at my desk, laptop in front on me, WordPress open and waiting, I struggle to think of something to write about. I have a list I keep of a few ideas I could expound upon, but a lot of them seem too depressing to dwell on first thing in the morning. I keep losing sight of the reason I started writing again everyday in the first place. This is for me, this is to amp myself up, to get excited, to have fun. I don’t have to find a new fascinating topic to delve into every day. It really doesn’t matter what I write at all. Rather it’s the simple act of creation, of pouring myself into words on a page, with no other goal than to enjoy doing so.

I mentioned before how visualization before bed has helped me to wake up feeling better, more animated in the morning. Today I wanted to try that same visualization but in order to prepare me for the rest of my day. I have taken the next few days off from work because I had some PTO hours I needed to use up before July. Even though I am always excited for a day off, I never seem to let myself enjoy it. I get all in my head about every little moment, feeding my anxiety all throughout the day. I’m hoping that by sitting down, taking some mindful time first thing in the morning to mentally walk through my day, I’ll be able to feel more present and happy as I move through it.

Today is going to be a great day! I got to sleep in so I am feeling nice and rested. What a beautiful gift to be able to dream all through the night and wake up gently of my own volition. It’s a rather chilly day outside so I am going to spend my time warm and cozy indoors. I am going to have a very productive day. It will be a delight to clean up my house and organize things later. It will be an act of self-love. Tending to my nest so that I can feel more at home, more at peace. It will also be a great joy to show off all my hard work to my vegan boy tomorrow when he comes over again. Once my work is all done and the day is winding down, I’ll reward myself with a relaxing evening playing my new favorite video game.

Before I start my cleaning for the day, I have a lot of wonderful self-care to complete. I do most of these things every single day, yet the intention behind them has faded over time. Theses small acts aren’t supposed to be more chores for me to begrudgingly trudge through. These are small gifts to myself, chances to be present, chances to appreciate myself, my life. Today I am going to be mindful of this sweet, loving intention as I move through my to-do list.

I’ve noticed that a lot of the time while I am going about my business, I’m holding my breath! Or I’m breathing very shallow and quick. Today I am going to keep coming back to my breath. How might it feel to breathe mindfully, lovingly for an entire day? Won’t it be fun to try it out and see? Yes, fun. Above all I want to have fun today. I’m going to keep a light heart, a soft eye, a kind energy. I’m going to be curious and playful, grateful for this new day to spend with myself. My yoga practice today is going to be a celebration of this life I’ve been given, a beautiful flowing dance in tribute to my lovely body, my mother Earth. My meditation will be a much deserved rest, a surrender to that sweet mother. As I kindle that inner fire, that prana, with my workout today I will rejoice at all my body is capable of doing for me. The theme for today is passion, fire, playfulness, admiration, devotion. Each a simple word, yet able to bring such powerful emotions bubbling up to the surface.

One last intention to set before I finish up and move into the rest of my day. Today is just one day. I will focus on the time I have, not the foggy future to come. Perhaps I will have time for everything I’ve got swirling around in my busy mind eventually. Perhaps not. Either way, all I am able to do is focus on the day in front of me. There is not enough time for me to do everything. Instead I will concentrate on doing what I can. Doing it well, with deep breaths, and with many sips from the well of my own self-love.

Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

You Have Everything You Need

I have been feeling really drained and stressed out lately. I feel like the weeks have been flying by without leaving me any time to do the things I need to do. It seems like I have an ever increasing list of chores, but less and less time to take care of them. Whenever things start feeling frantic like this, I tend to lean on self-medication hard. I start to use marijuana, kratom, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. as a crutch to get me through the day. Inevitably these things become less and less effective as time goes on. And when that starts to happen, the panic sets in.

There is so often this lingering sense of fear that looms around me. It is an ever-present unease, a whisper in my ear, telling me I need to go, run, flee, get away somehow. From what? I couldn’t say. To where? I don’t know. Yet this feeling is powerful, it waits for those moments of weakness and overwhelms me. It is momentarily placated when I am able to “escape” my own mind for awhile with some substance or another. But as I’ve said, that is only a highly unhealthy, temporary fix at best.

While I was meditating today, I came back to a realization that I’ve had a few times before. Even though I was pressed for time and could only sit for 5 minutes today, it was enough for a few moments of profound healing. Just like always, I felt a lot of resistance to the stillness at first. It never ceases to amaze me just how hard it actually is to just breathe. Once I allowed myself to surrender and drop into the soothing rhythm of my own breath, I found so much peace within that was waiting for me. Everything always seems so simple in those moments, so clear.

I remembered that I already have everything that I need inside of me. I don’t need any chemicals or substances to calm me down. All I need is this breath. I have the power to go within whenever the outside world becomes to much. I can go to that silent, still, safe place. A place that is even deeper than the constant noise inside my head. My own private sanctuary where I can heal and stay as long as I like. All I’ve got to do is give myself permission to go there. To let go of all of the things that are weighing me down. It may not be as easy as it sounds, but it is possible.

Short meditations like today’s remind me that even a few minutes can make a huge difference. It isn’t always necessary to set aside a half an hour or more for meditation. There is always time to center and ground yourself in the breath. Even if it’s just a minute, even if it’s just three deep breaths. Anything is better than nothing at all. And I don’t need to limit myself to practicing once a day. This isn’t just something to check off of a list. Meditation is a tool that I can utilize in my most difficult moments. It is also something I can do when I want to savor a particularly good one. There is really no limit to the potential of this mindfulness practice. I would like to learn to integrate it more into my day to day existence. It isn’t simply a healthy activity like daily exercise. It is a way of life, it is taping into that deep peace and wisdom that we all have inside of us. It is an opportunity to drink from that bottomless well of energy within.

Everything is going to be alright. You have everything that you need. You are more powerful than you know. You are the love, you are the peace, that you seek. Just breathe.

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Breath

Before yoga, I never really paid much attention to my breathing. It was just something my body did, like blinking or swallowing, nothing very interesting or worth my attention. I think most people live their entire lives without really thinking about their breath. Even a lot of people that do yoga still don’t have a strong connection with their breathing. I certainly still have a LONG way to go myself with that aspect of my practice.

When I first began doing yoga, I was only concerned with “doing it right.” Certain poses were paired with inhales, others were paired with exhales. That much I knew. However, it was still difficult to keep this in mind when bending my body into, at that time, strange and unfamiliar positions. I didn’t know the significance of breathing in a certain way as I practiced. I was just trying to follow along. As my practice grew though, so did my connection with my breath and my understanding of its importance.

The breath is possibly the most important aspect of yoga. Not only that, but it is one of the easiest parts of practice to take with you into your daily life. You don’t need to do a 90 minute class to destress. Just a few deep, conscious breaths can work wonders. I used to think it was magical how, for some reason, doing yoga always managed to calm me down. Now I finally realize that it isn’t necessarily because of the movements and postures, it is because when I practice yoga, I am breathing differently.

It seems hard to believe at first, but the way we breathe can completely change how we experience life. There is a feedback loop between our mental state and our breath. When we are feeling anxious or upset, our breath naturally becomes quick and shallow. Our bodies are trying to prepare us to fight or flee. I’m sure this was once far more useful to us than it is in modern times. The good thing is, while our mental state effects our breath, the reverse is also true. We can use our breath to change our state of mind.

The next time you are feeling less than ideal, take a step back and notice your breathing. Is it quick and mainly staying up in your chest? If it is, try taking at least 5 mindful, full breaths. Consciously directing each inhale down into the belly, using the diaphragm. Try making the exhale twice as long as the inhale, pushing out every bit of air. Breathing in this way naturally calms down our nervous system. We are using our breath to show the mind that we are okay.

The most incredible thing is, this always works. Always. Even when I have moments where it feels like it’s not working, I realize it isn’t that it isn’t working, it’s that I am just having a hard time controlling my breath. I let my mind carry me away too quickly. I am not able to stay with my breath long enough to utilize it. But with practice it becomes easier to do no matter what state our minds are in. We are able to use our breath to help us wherever we are, whatever we are doing.

I used to roll my eyes at the constant obsession with the breath in yoga. I didn’t see what the big deal was. Now I understand the emphasis. It can be frustrating not being able to express to someone what immense power we all have that we are not tapping into. However much you preach about breath work though, it is up to each individual to find out its importance for themselves.

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