There Are More Benefits to Breathing Than You Know

There Are More Benefits to Breathing Than You Know
Written by Katie Gilstrap

Between tackling your morning commute, chipping away at your ever-growing to-do list and maintaining at least a semblance of work-life balance, it can be hard to take a moment to just breathe.

When you do try to clear your mind for a moment, you’re swamped with thoughts ranging from your weekend errands to your grocery list — all at the same time. Sound familiar?

Relax! There’s something that can help: meditation.

Even if it sounds a little too “yogi” for your taste, meditation really is just about giving us the tools we need to manage our stress and find a calmer and kinder way of being.

It’s a way of training the mind to help us learn to live in the present moment. 

If you have one minute or five minutes, you have time. Remember, there are 1,440 minutes in a day. It is possible to find five minutes out of those 1,440 to just do something for you and for your wellbeing.

There are three methods that can help get you started. Regardless of the option you choose, the most important thing is to actively tune into the present moment, a skill that is easy to master but takes practice.

Mindful Breathing

Breathing exercises can help quiet your brain. The mind typically wanders because it wants something to do, so when you tell the mind to focus on your breath, you have given it the assignment it needs. It is also a great way to find calm when your stress level jumps. For a few moments, you disengage from whatever caused the stress and allow yourself to seek thoughtfulness rather than reacting rashly.

How to do it: Begin by sitting, standing or lying down and set a timer for three to five minutes. Close your eyes and pay attention to the inhale and exhale of your breath. Create a pattern with your breath by inhaling through your nose for four seconds, pausing and then exhaling for five seconds. (The longer exhale encourages your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates stress, to calm you down). If your mind wanders, return to your breathing pattern.

Body Scanning

A body scan can be helpful for beginners who want to more deeply explore the benefits of what meditation does. Because this practice takes longer than mindful breathing, you can more deliberately tune into your body and feel the mind-body connection. The minute you start to bring awareness to different parts of your body, your breath changes.

How to do it: Find a comfortable position and set a timer for 10 to 20 minutes. Close your eyes and become aware of your body by methodically breathing in and out. Take inventory of each area on your body starting from your toes and moving up, noticing any tingling, tightness and differences in temperature. Focus on the back of your body first, starting at the bottom: Your heels, calves, seat, the part of your upper back that’s touching the ground, your upper shoulders, the backs of your arms, your hands and the back of your head. Reverse the scan back down, and then repeat the process, focusing on the front side of your body. Don’t rush or force yourself to feel anything. Quiet your mind, and just be there.

Love and Kindness Meditation

This is the perfect activity for when your mind is too busy for a simple breathing exercise.

How to do it: Assume any comfortable position in a quiet place for 10 to 15 minutes. Close your eyes, relax your shoulders and imagine you are softening the areas around your heart. There are four traditional phrases you can begin saying to yourself: “May I be filled with love; may I be safe from harm; may I be well; may I be happy and free.” Breathe in and out as you repeat these phrases and hold an image of yourself in your mind, as if you are saying these words directly to yourself. You will begin to feel a sense of ease as your body lets go. Keep in mind that it is completely normal for this practice to feel awkward. The important thing is to be patient and kind to yourself, to acknowledge your feelings and to move forward. Once you’re comfortable with the self-love affirmation (which can take several sessions), you can extend the meditation to others, filling in their names in each mantra.

It’s important to keep in mind that even though basic meditation is very simple, as with any practice, it requires a commitment. And remember, it is not an instant fix. Thoughts won’t disappear and difficult emotions may still arise. With time, you will find the peaceful place meditation offers. Know that when you start meditating, especially early on, it may feel impossible to stay focused. It will get easier.

Just start with a deep breath.

About the author

Katie Gilstrap

Katie Gilstrap is clinical faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth
University, teaching at the undergraduate, graduate and executive levels.
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she has founded The Barre
Boutique in Richmond, Virginia, writes for various health and medical
organizations and designs, leads and secures grant funding for study abroad
programs focused on international business in Greece, Spain, Prague and
Scotland. Outside of her time at VCU, she leads workshops in the Middle
East for the Henry Ford Leadership Academy and serves as a faculty mentor
for the European Innovation Academy. No matter where she is around the
world, she is dedicated to living her healthiest life!

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