Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Meditation
One of the easiest ways to achieve relaxation is to engage in deep, mindful breathing exercises. This can help trigger the relaxation response. This type of exercise is easy to learn, quick to perform, and requires no equipment. It is also a good introduction to learning how to meditate. As you continue to explore other methods of relaxation, use the following breathing exercise to ease tensions and restore your sense of balance and calm. It will do the health of your body, mind, and spirit a world of good. As you emerge from your restorative relaxation time, remind yourself that you have the power to create your own health and to enjoy all that life has to offer to you.
A Simple Breathing Exercise
This exercise is an excellent introduction to relaxation and to meditation techniques. It increases self and body awareness. A two- to three-minute “breathing break” during the day is very restorative. To perform this simple exercise, sit or lie comfortably with your hands resting in your lap. Relax your muscles and close your eyes.
Make no effort to control your breath. Simply breathe naturally. As you breathe in and out, focus your attention on the breath and how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation.
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Take a few moments to focus inward. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your inhalation and exhalation. Pay particular attention to how the breath moves your body. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and stomach. Notice subtleties such as whether your chest or stomach rises with inhalation and how your body responds to exhalation. Don't try to control your breath, simply focus your attention on it. This singular focus brings you into the present moment and into the immediate experience of your body. It often results in slower, deeper breaths that further relax your body.
If thoughts come into your mind, simply let them come and go. Allow the thoughts to drift by like clouds floating in the sky. Any time your mind begins to wander, return your attention to your breathing. Continue for two to three minutes and then gently open your eyes. Over time, you can lengthen the period of relaxation, if you prefer.
Benefits of Meditation
Doing deep breathing exercises on a regular basis is great preparation for beginning a meditation practice. Millions of Americans practice meditation to improve their sense of well-being and more and more research is substantiating its health benefits. Simply put, meditation is a discipline of training and focusing the mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training and disciplining the body. For example, a person who lacks knowledge of the tools and methods of fitness may think that his or her lack of strength, endurance, or energy are inevitable, rather than aspects of life that can be changed with consistent training and a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, a person with an untrained mind may think that the constant stream of random thoughts, emotions, and unthinking reactions to circumstances are the result of personality, rather than thinking of them as aspects of life that can be changed.
People who adopt a fitness and health lifestyle often experience feelings of empowerment and self-esteem, because they are able to exert greater control over their own bodies. Similarly, people who practice meditation often experience feelings of well-being and calm, because they discover that they possess much greater depth and inner balance above the mindless chatter. In other words, a mentally trained person knows that random thoughts and emotions are always drifting by. Instead of reacting impulsively, a calm and centered person can live with a more open awareness of present experience and can respond to life's pressures with thoughtful choices. In other words, people who meditate regularly have more control over their own minds.
Establishing a Meditation Practice
If you want to develop a meditation practice, begin by practicing deep breathing on a regular basis at a consistent time each day. Begin with a few minutes of practice and work up to longer periods of time. If you don't want to do a seated meditation, you can practice this mindful focus and attention to breathing during a walking meditation. For effective walking meditation, quiet and focus your mind on all the sensations of walking. Again, if your mind wanders, simply bring it back to your breathing and to your experience of walking in the present moment. You'll find that when you finish your meditative walk, you'll feel as refreshed as if you've taken a long, restorative nap.
The presence of stress in our lives gives us an awareness of the depth of our mind and body connection and how our thoughts and feelings affect our physical well-being. In addition, learning how to release this tension and restore feelings of well-being shows us how our body can also affect our mind and our feelings. Science is now substantiating the theory that we have the power within us to manifest both outer