Breathe mindfully

Breathe mindfully

The human mind is mostly chaotic, restless and causes stress and anxiety. Stress causes mental, emotional and physical problems — it makes people angry, unhappy and often depressed. Stress also causes heart problems, diabetes and other chronic diseases that become hard to manage. Protecting your health is important, and your breath is the route to a happier and healthier you.

Your breath is the most powerful tool that will help you relax your mind, release stress and anxiety. Most human beings breathe shallow, from their chest to their nostrils, which reduces the oxygen intake in the body, lowers energy levels and adds to a chaotic mind. When you slow down and lengthen the breath, the mind becomes calm, harmful stress hormones get released, and the blood gets richly oxygenated, resulting in overall health and well-being.

The more often you practice focusing on your breath, the more focused and relaxed your mind will become, and your ability to live life being more peaceful and alert will also improve significantly. Do not hold your breath if you suffer from heart disease, low or high blood pressure, vertigo, or are pregnant.

Lets take a step-by-step approach towards breath meditation:

Sit up straight in a comfortable crossed-legged position (or on a chair), with your lower spine drawn towards your navel. Feel the natural lift of your entire spine and let your shoulders roll back and down, keeping your chin parallel to the ground.

Focus on the inhalation and exhalation of your breath, as you slowly begin to disconnect from the outside world. Keep your eyes closed throughout this practice. Use your inhalations to draw your senses inwards and your exhalations to release all your thoughts and emotions — positive or negative.

Take a few moments to settle your mind. Then drop your attention to the navel and slowly inhale for four counts, using your abdominal and spinal muscles. As you begin to inhale, mentally say, ‘inhale — 102, 103, 104,’ gently drawing the breath up your spine, extending the breath to the crown. Do not create any stress in the chest as you breathe. Become aware of your expanding lungs, and extend your stomach outwards like a balloon, until your lungs are full. If you place two fingers on your relaxed abdomen, you will feel your hand being pushed outwards as you inhale deeply. Pause for a moment.

Then exhale for four counts, mentally saying, ‘exhale — 102, 103, 104,’ as you gently release the breath back down the spine and through the navel, emptying your lungs out completely. As you exhale, slowly draw the navel into the spine. To understand this movement better, place two fingers on your relaxed belly, and as you exhale deeply, you will feel the abdomen move away from the fingers and towards the spine.

The length of the inhalation should equal the duration of the exhalation. Each inhalation and exhalation makes one round.

Complete five to 10 rounds then continue to sit quietly with your eyes shut and let your breath come back to normal. Stay with the breath.

Continue to breathe slowly, and make an effort to breathe consciously and feel each breath — you will find that you become more focused and present.

Every time the mind wanders off, you should be alert enough to recognise this and come back to your breath. Don’t worry about the fact that you have thoughts in your mind, but be alert and don’t let yourself get swept away by them. Just keep coming back to the breath, until you manage to steady your mind.

The mind is the root cause of all your experiences of pain, unhappiness and ill health. Taking the time to bring order to your mind and to make it a healthier place to live, is critical if you want to live a happy, meaningful and healthy life.

Staying centred

Each asana provides us with a gateway to the mastery of the physical body. It requires that we approach each posture with reflective attention, finding our balance and centredness, despite the distractions of the mind and the physical body. Similarly, every challenge we face in life has a solution, but it requires that we retain our centredness.

Through the regulation of the breath, we are able to relax, focus the mind and become present. Only then are we able to move within to find that point of stillness that enables our clarity and creativity to awaken and flow. Our life practice requires us to constantly step back from the chaos and confusion of our lives, to detach and allow all the necessary elements to come together before clarity sets in.

It takes a mindful state of being to approach our lives with creative intelligence, and to successfully overcome the issues we are confronted with. Ultimately, whether we practise Iyengar Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, the Bihar School of Yoga or any other, the ultimate challenge is to move beyond the physical practice of asana, to tame our minds and our senses so that we can move towards a cultivation of the inner Self, to a deeper level of
consciousness where greater clarity and wisdom reign — this is the true path of yoga.

(The author is a wellness expert and has written the book ‘Just Breathe’)

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