Our minds are always racing a mile a minute – thinking of the one hundred tasks you need to accomplish in the day. A lot of the time, we chalk this up to just being the world that we live in and how busy life is, but to be honest, it doesn’t have to be this way and shouldn’t be.
Several cultures have used many ancient techniques for thousands of years. In this article, we want to share two of them with you. We have personally found these methods to be extremely helpful in calming the busy mind and recentering focus throughout the day. Meditation and Deep Breathing-we’re here to shed some light on the details of these practices. Here are some tips to help further-along your practice.
Mindfulness – Focusing on the Present
Meditation is believed to have originated in India thousands of years BCE. However, we genuinely don’t know the exact origins of meditation because it has been used in many cultures for centuries. There are many different types of mediation, including mindfulness, spiritual, movement, focused, visualization and chanting.
Our primary focus, mindfulness, is rooted in Buddhism. It is used to help gain an understanding of how the mind works. It requires one to combine concentration, awareness and acknowledgement of your thoughts. This ultimately enables you to gain an appreciation for your thoughts and feelings. It also helps one learn to appreciate the present moment by focusing on your body-all while accepting the thoughts that come to you.
Here’s the best way to practice mindfulness meditation:
- Try to find a place with minimal to no distractions.
- Sit with your back straight and focus on your breathing.
- Throughout meditating, you will find your mind will wander, and thoughts beyond your breathing will come into play. It is at this point where the awareness of these and acknowledgement of these thoughts are essential in mindfulness meditation practice. At this time, it is vital to acknowledge your new thought or area of focus, however quickly returning to your breathing once you have done so.
- Alternatively, you can lie on your back with your arms at your side, legs slightly spread apart, and complete a body scan. Starting at your toes and working your way to your head. Feel all the tingles, sensations and feelings that emerge as you do so. It is also essential to be aware of interrupting thoughts, acknowledge them, however, continue to move on with your body scan once you have done so.
At this time, you might be asking, well, what’s the point and what benefits do I get other than only learning to appreciate the present moment (even though this is an essential benefit on its own, considering the type of busy and hectic times we are living in)? You’ll be surprised to know there are, in fact, several studies and proven benefits by regularly practicing mindfulness meditation.
- It helps to control and reduce stress and anxiety.
- It Promotes good emotional health.
- It helps with cognitive health by improving attention span and memory loss.
- It helps improve sleep.
- It can help decrease blood pressure
With that said, it’s safe to say there’s no harm in giving this technique a shot, especially if you’re someone who suffers from a lot of stress and health issues.
Deep Breathing Exercises & Techniques
Up next for discussion is deep breathing practices. This is something I began to do, prior to my meditation practice because it was easy to do when I found my anxiety creeping in and gave me immediate results, just with a simple natural bodily function – breathing. Deep breathing is very much connected to the meditative process, especially mindfulness meditation, where you are to focus on your breath as part of your practice.
In saying this, I find that practicing deep breathing techniques is almost like a gateway drug into meditation, because once you reap the benefits of mastering deep breathing, you want to take it to the next level. So what does deep breathing actually mean and how is it different from the involuntary action of breathing our body does on the regular?
Unlike your regular breath that is likely more shallow and only fills a portion of your lungs, deep breathing requires you to breathe fully into your lungs where they expand and make your belly protrude from your body more than usual. You should be able to feel this action happening if you put your hand on your belly, which is often recommended during deep breathing practice to ensure you are focusing on your breathing and doing it correctly. While there are varied ways of performing deep breathing, they all usually include focus on your breathwork and counting.
The 7/11 technique is my personal favourite deep breathing exercise to perform. But an easy search online will show you several different options, if this one doesn’t resonate with you.
- Ideally, you want to be in a relaxed position, sitting upright or lying down and minimally distracted (however I have found deep breathing to be helpful in calming me down during moments of anxiety).
- Place one hand on your belly, just below your ribs (this is where you want to feel your belly moving up and down as you breathe).
- Inhale through your nose slowly for a count of 7, making sure your belly is expanding as you breathe in.
- Hold your breath for a count of 5.
- Exhale for a count of 11.
- If you find it too difficult to breathe in/out for this long, you can reduce the numbers. The important thing is to ensure your exhale is longer than the inhale.
So what’s the big deal, why does the type of breathing matter? Well similar to mindfulness meditation, there are many known benefits by adding deep breathing into your regular routine.
- Increases the oxygen in your body, which is responsible for keeping your organs alive.
- Calms the nervous system, therefore reducing stress and anxiety.
- Releases muscle tension.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Helps support better posture.
I’m not sure about you, but even if I saw one of these improvements in my life (which I did!), I would definitely take deep breathing more seriously and practice it on a consistent basis.
Tips for Beginners
If you’re a beginner with meditation or deep breathing or a seasoned expert, I have some tips for you that might help to elevate your daily practice, most of which involve setting the right atmosphere. But first, let’s take a look at something that everyone can benefit from – phone apps. There are literally hundreds of options available for both meditation and deep breathing, many of which are free and easy to use. Most of them offer guided meditations or breathing exercises to help you stay focused during your practice. I personally found this super helpful when first starting out, specifically for meditation, as the concept of focusing on my breath alone was very challenging due to my very busy mind. Some of them even combine meditation and deep breathing exercises in the same app to make it easy for you to start doing both! The best way to decide which one is best for you is to download a couple and figure out which one you jive best with and the one that is most user-friendly for you.
Another way to amp up your practice is to include some relaxing essential oils by diffusing them in the air during your meditation or deep breathing exercises. In previous blogs, we’ve discussed the benefits of essential oils so I won’t go into too much detail here, but essentially (pun intended) each oil contains elements that allow for a particular property (ie: relaxing, invigorating, digestive, antibacterial and so much more) to shine. Each oil often exudes many of these properties, but for today’s purpose, we’re going to focus on the calming and relaxing oils available.
My personal favourite (and I would imagine many others) is Lavender. This oil is so relaxing in nature that it often is used in eye masks and other sleep products because it has such a calming effect on the body by easing tension and promoting soothing feelings. The sweet, floral aroma is beautiful to diffuse throughout the air during your practice and is a relatively inexpensive oil to purchase. Another one of my personal favourites is one that goes by two names, both Holy Basil and Tulsi. This is a combination of many aromas including sweet, bitter and even somewhat of a spicy scent. It is a known adaptogen, which helps the body deal with stress, so it’s perfect to put in your diffuser when you need to chill out and destress from the day. My last oil suggestion is Ylang Ylang, with its subtle fruity and floral scent. It is quite popular in many known perfumes as the main scent, including Chanel No. 5, so diffusing this oil shouldn’t be a struggle. It also promotes feelings of joy, while also reducing heart rate, so this is a must-have in your essential oil line-up for stress reduction and meditative practices. These are just a couple of suggestions of calming oils available to purchase in our Health and Beauty department. If you have any questions or want suggestions on other oils because these just aren’t doing it for you, one of our experts in the department will be able to assist you in finding the perfect oil or blend for your practice!
My last suggestion for enhancing your meditative and deep breathing practice is to set an intention before you start your session. If you’ve ever been a part of a yoga class in a studio, the instructor will often start off by encouraging each person to set an intention for the duration of the class, which then is supposed to translate into your everyday life.
In fact, yoga in itself is a type of meditative practise and falls into the movement meditation category we mentioned above, so if you find yourself wanting to include movement into your meditation, or stepping it up a notch, considering taking up yoga if you haven’t tried it already. Common intentions that are often set during yoga practice that can be used for meditative purposes include: releasing negativity, letting go, patience, forgiveness or peacefulness, but there are many to choose from and this is ultimately up to you and what you feel you need in that moment and to carry on in your day to day activities. Setting an intention can be described as a bridge between what you experience while you are in the session while on the mat and what you continue to focus on once the yoga session is over and you are back to your everyday routine. This is an important step in enhancing your meditation practice by carrying the focus from your set practice time to your everyday life. The more you focus on these things throughout your day, the more at peace and harmony you will become with your body and your mind, which will only enhance the benefits of meditation and deep breathing.
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