Hands up if you have signed up to a meditation challenge only to give up within a matter of days or weeks? I know I have. Often it is the mental obstacle of committing a chunk of time to sitting still -after all, we sit for an hour in front of the TV without a second thought.
With such difficulty in getting into the habit of meditating “properly” I’ve recently been focusing on taking mini meditations where I just stop what I’m doing and take a minute out. For me, the most beneficial method is to focus on my breath for that period. Returning the breath to a steady state helps to return the body to a “rest and digest” state. It is why we encourage ujaii breath in yoga and to exhale into a stretch. With shallow (or even held!) breath, nerves signal to your muscles to contracts to protect them from perceived damage. In the case of breathing for a mini meditation, the heart rate can reduce if elevated from stress.
Start with the breath
So in this first instalment of my mini meditation series I challenge you to sit and breathe. It doesn’t matter if you’re in bed, at your desk or on the train. Give yourself that minute to tune out, switch off and just be. In a yoga class I attended last week, the teacher said “don’t think about your loved ones, your work; the people in the room. It is just you and the practice.” See if you can scale this down to a moment of mindfulness. It doesn’t matter when you day you do this; this first week is more about getting used to meditation than being too picky about what it looks like.
Wherever you are, get comfortable. Either close your eyes or gaze softly into the distance and get breathing. I personally like to breath slowly and deeply until my lungs have fully expanded, but you could also try counting in and out for five. Aim to do this short exercise once per day to help you get into the habit of it.
For me, there’s something about the feeling of my chest expanding with air that literally releases any tightness in my chest, instantly relaxing me. After a minute the effect is even more profound. Even eliminating the other benefits of meditation, it is this simple act that makes this practice worthwhile for me.
For some people, this method doesn’t work as this emphasis can actually make it feel harder to breath. If that’s you, please don’t force yourself to meditate or be mindful in this way! There are so many different ways to meditate so please try a few and don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. I only really have training in basic breath work so will be focusing on that in this series, but if you have a favourite alternative method, comment below!
To read more about the link between mindfulness and stress reduction, this meta analysis is a good place to start. For information on the mechanics of yoga and the stretch relax, I recommend Anatomy and Asana by Susi Hately.