This time of year tends to bring out some extra stress. With the spreading of a new variant, the holidays (and how do we even navigate them this year?), plus pandemic fatigue, this is the perfect time to begin (or revamp) a meditation and breathing practice.
Having a meditation practice doesn’t have to be complicated, overwhelming, or even time-consuming. Taking even just five minutes out of your day will work wonders. Besides lowering your stress levels, it will also reduce your blood pressure and take you out of the regular fight-and-flight mode that we tend to be in. You’ll also sleep better, be less cranky, and will boost your immune system.
Try this simple technique to getcha started:
Find a quiet place and a way to sit comfortably there. Whether you’re sitting on a cushion in a spare room, on your lawn chair in your backyard, or propped on your bed – as long as you can have a few minutes of uninterrupted time to yourself, the where and how don’t really matter.
Being comfy is really key here. For example, if you’re someone with big-time knee issues, and getting up and down off of the floor is a challenge – and so is sitting cross-legged – then you’re likely to really struggle with stilling your mind while you’re in pain.
Take a few moments to find that comfortable seated position, in whatever way is best for your body’s needs, and then close your eyes.
Think of your spine as being one long column. Again, using whatever tools are needed to be comfortable, lengthen your spinal column. We’re trying to take out as much rounding as possible. To help with this, you might want to sit on a pillow or maybe even sit against a wall.
Once you’ve created a long spine, begin to slow your breathing down. Allow the air to pass gently in and out through your nostrils. Your lips are softly together, as are your teeth. Soften the muscles of your face and your shoulders, and then check back in with your breathing.
Notice where your breath is landing. With each breath in, allow your belly button to slowly nudge forward. With each exhalation, gently draw your belly button back towards your spine. Resist the urge to breathe all the way up into your chest. Keep it nice and low.
Now try slowing your breath down a bit more.
Notice I didn’t say to deepen your breath. That creates strain and force – exactly the opposite of what we’re going for.
Every time your mind wanders – and, trust me, it will, and probably five hundred times in five minutes! – just bring it back to focusing on your breath.
That’s it! Easy peasy. There’s no need to complicate things with this, so get out of your head and back into your breath.
*Let your fam know you’re unavailable for a few minutes.
*Turn off all notifications on your phone
*If you’re pressed for time, set the timer on your phone so you don’t feel the need to keep checking what time it is.
Do this every. single. day.
It’s better to do daily short meditations rather than, say, a 20-minute session twice a week.
Eventually you might discover that you do, in fact, feel better after pressing life’s pause button. At that point, try upping your session time by a few minutes.
Moving on to breathing. My favorite pranayama (breathing technique) is called Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril breathing. This is a super calming technique that helps to balance our minds and reduce stress levels.
To begin, once again find that comfortable seated position and tell everyone to leave you alone for a bit.
With this technique, we’ll use the right hand. The fingers used are the ring finger and pinky finger as well as the thumb. The index and middle fingers are softly bent so they can stay out of the way.
When you’re ready to start, using your right hand, place your right thumb on your right nostril to gently close it off. Breath softly in through your left nostril. After inhaling, close off your left nostril with your ring finger and pinky finger, remove your thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through the right nostril.
Keeping your right hand as is, after you’ve completed your exhale – with the right nostril open and left closed by the ring/pinky fingers – inhale through the right nostril. After inhaling, close off the right nostril with your thumb, move your ring/pinky fingers from the left nostril, and exhale through the left nostril.
That completes one round.
Repeat this cycle as many times as you’d like, beginning the inhale through the left nostril and ending it through the left nostril as well.
During this technique, your breath is pretty quiet. Keep it slow, soft, and not forced. Check in every now and again with your jaw (remind it to soften) and your spine (remind it to lengthen).
You can combine these two techniques into one nice session if you’d like. That’s what I do, and I love how relaxed I feel afterward.
Doing the Nadi Shodhana breathing technique first helps to balance your mind prior to meditating. But if you want to do it the other way, with the meditation first and then the breathwork, that’s fine too. The order isn’t as important as you just taking the time and pausing.
I think one crucial element to having a self-care practice is to remember that you’re not being selfish to take this time for yourself. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Think of a meditation/breathing practice as you being in an airplane and being told to put the oxygen mask on yourself prior to helping someone else put theirs on. If you don’t take care of yourself first, how the hell can you be the best version of yourself and help others? You already know the answer: you can’t.
Don’t wait for the new year to begin taking care of yourself. The perfect time to start is right now.