Mending the Mind, One Breath at a Time
Let Yourself Breathe
Take a deep breath. Relax your shoulders. Now your mind. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Any good yogi with his or her chakras in working order will tell you that if you can follow those simple instructions, you can meditate. In fact, staying conscious of one’s breathing is a technique many meditation coaches refer to as “breath awareness meditation.”
On the long journey to mastering this ancient practice, it’s the perfect place to start.
“The breath is a very powerful tool for coming in to stillness and mediation,” explained Charlene Cappellini, an instructor at Namaste Yoga in Tallahassee.
“It’s a wonderful tool for relaxing the body, but it can also be a tool for energizing the body,” she continued, “and for shifting mood, and calming people down. It actually has many, many uses. It’s a very powerful tool.”
For novice meditation practitioners, experts agree that this soothing mental exercise is ideal for learning how to tune out the distractions and stressors of the modern world, one relaxing breath at a time. Once you figure out how to do so on the yoga mat, they say, it’s far easier to do the same in everyday life.
Intrinsically linked, for many, yoga provides the perfect gateway into deeper meditation.
Suzanne Harrell and Charlene Cappellini demonstrate the “Tree Pose” together.
“Yoga is really good for my body and my mind,” explained Suzanne Harrell, owner of Tallahassee’s Journeys in Yoga. “And that’s where, for me, the meditative aspect of the physical practice of yoga comes in — especially a practice like Birkram Yoga that’s a set series, so we do the same thing every single time.
“Once you know the series, you can really kind of zone out and just get into the poses and your body and tune everything else out. It becomes very, very meditative in that way.”
It all sounds very relaxing, no doubt. But, technically speaking, what exactly is meditation? Who should try it out? And, besides breathing, how does one know where to begin?
Defining this incredibly personal experience can be tricky and is perhaps best explained by what it is not. For instance, if you’re thinking meditation is about solving the world’s problems, or is solely aimed at somehow gaining religious insight or becoming enlightened, you couldn’t be more wrong.
In reality, it’s just about you.
“I get a calmness and a piece of mind,” shared Harrell of her own meditation practice. “I do mini-meditations throughout the day.”
With A-listers from Oprah Winfrey to Huffington Post editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington taking to the airwaves to give the art of meditation its just deserts, the practice has lost much of its “hippie-dippy” connotation. Even Johns Hopkins University is chiming in, with researchers there having recently released a review of 47 trials that suggested consistent meditation could have a lasting impact on psychological stressors such as anxiety, depression — even pain.
Unlike many healthful living crazes, this trend is easily achievable for any fitness level and is as well suited for the young as it is for the young at heart. Many believe having rambunctious or energetic youngsters decompress through meditation could be a holistic solution to a cognitive issue.
“I think it’s very effective,” said Cappellini, a retired school teacher. “I’ve known a number of people who have worked with children who have found that teaching them breath awareness is a good way to cope with the stress in their lives.”
While everyone’s path toward “successful” meditation is unique, there are a few standard steps you can take to get started.
First, find a quiet, clean, calm space. This can just as easily be your living room as one of the city’s beautiful meditation and yoga studios — it’s all about where you’re most comfortable, emotionally and fiscally.
Position your body so you are both content and alert. Whether that means reclining entirely or sitting up cross-legged is entirely up to you. If focusing on inhaling and exhaling leaves your mind wandering, try instead concentrating on a single word — repeating it, and only it, over and over in your mind. A mantra, if you will.
According to Harrell, concentrating on a mantra helps the meditator cope with chitta vritti, yogi talk for “mind chatter.”
“Anything that helps break up that tendency to go down a path into an abyss, a rabbit hole so to speak — a word, a phrase, an image,” she said. “Sometimes people have a flame as an image that they can bring into their mind.”
“I have a mantra that I use,” continued Harrell, of her mini-meditations. “It’s more about taking myself out of obsessing about a problem or worrying when I feel like I’m really wrapped up in something. And this can happen at any time of the day — I’ll stop, I’ll breathe and I’ll just sit and just say my mantra in my head several times. That disrupts any kind of stressful thought process that I get in to. For me, it’s amazing.”
Harrell’s personal mantra? A Buddhist phrase she says translates to, “May I be peaceful. May I be joyful. May I be well.”
Repetition is key to finding focus and emotional relief through meditation. Incorporating the practice into your daily routine might not be feasible for some, but allotting 10 minutes per day can offer an otherwise hectic schedule a brief respite and have a lasting effect on the way one processes stress, a contributing factor to many serious medical conditions.