I used to ask myself how I could become part of a world of solutions that create peace, if I as an individual, did not really feel peaceful most of the time. How could I have happy peaceful relationships if I knew that my own happiness and sense of peace was dependent on external factors that were fleeting at best: new jobs, latest diet, purchases, trips.
This was a distressing awareness, especially because I was professionally drawn to the fields of family counseling, social work, rehabilitation, motherhood! How could I represent health and vitality without living it in the way of enduring longevity?
To live at a heart-aware level of consciousness, where taking the deep breath that integrates head and heart can create profound changes, is really a simple process actually.
We begin with ourselves, with self-care strategies, and they become not only magical remedies for daily stress-reduction, but they serve as the foundation of how we extend ourselves forward into our personal and professional relationships, into the community, into the world.
Simply, meditation and deep breathing as regular practices can do it for you. There is no club to have to join, no equipment to have to buy, no complicated process to learn; it involves just sitting quietly and allowing yourself to clear your mind and in effect, to strengthen your heart, immune system, spiritual life.
By sitting in silence and really breathing for just 20-30 minutes out of 24 hours in the day, compelling scientific evidence shows the effects of decreased fight/flight response by way of lowered blood pressure, reduced production of stress hormones (like cortisol), and reduced anxiety.
But most compelling is how we feel in the remaining 23.5 hours of the day. There is no separation between our minds and bodies; when the mind is relaxed, physiology relaxes, rebalances, and can respond rather than react to the environment. Responding to the external world of chaos and change from a heart-head integrated place, can only come from an internal world of restful awareness.
This was an amazing realization for me and brought on some profound changes that I could never dream possible for myself. And the realization didn’t come from the data and information about how reactive, restless, and irritable I tended to be; it came as I began to feel the results of the actual practice of sitting in silence and breathing for at least 20 minutes a day.
Meditation and deep breathing are tools for rediscovering the body’s own inner intelligence. Practiced for thousands of years, it’s not about forcing the mind to be quiet; it’s about finding the silence that’s already there and letting it lead the way through your life.
Here are brief instructions for a personal meditation and deep breathing practice. If you are interested in personal coaching or in having me lead a workshop in your community, get in touch. For today, this can be a first step into this amazing realm of mind-body-soul medicine that reduces stress, strengthens immunity, and begins to open that space in yourself that transcends space and time.
Sit comfortably and close your eyes. (Pick a location where you know you won’t be disturbed for 20 minutes. Set a gentle sounding alarm to let you know when 20 minutes have passed. I use the xylophone or crickets feature on my phone.)
Silently ask yourself each of the following questions twice:
a) Who am I?
b) What do I want? (The answers might be material, physical, emotional, ethereal…anything you would like to see fulfilled.)
c) What is my purpose in this life?
d) How can I help? How can I serve?
(There is no need to “think” of answers. Some may come, some may not. Asking the questions are the essential part of this practice so that the deeper answers can come eventually. Often our solutions don’t come from a deep place of knowing, but from the less reliable ego place, this practice of repeatedly asking and waiting to see what comes, brings the wisdom of your heart and soul into your lifestyle.)
Now let go of the questions and answers and let the universe work out the details.
Take 10 Slooooooooow Deeeeeep Breaths:
a) Inhale: To do this, sloooooowly fill your belly with oxygen extending it forward as if it’s a balloon you are inflating. Fully inflated, you can take in no more air—you are completely full. Hold this for 3 seconds.
b) Exhale: To do this, release your air sloooooowly. It’s harder to exhale slowly than to inhale slowly, but you control your breath, not the other way around. At the end of your exhale, push the remaining air out of your belly by using your belly muscles to push your belly button down toward your seat and behind you to your spine.
Hold this emptiness for 3 seconds; like the space between musical notes, there is silence and stillness here, but it’s alive and about to lead to the next inspired movement.
c) Now your next breath comes spontaneously from this place of pause. Repeat, this new breath feels really good.
Breathe normally now and sit in the stillness and fullness you created with your breath, and merely focus on the relaxed breath entering your nostrils and the breath leaving your body. With each inhale bring your awareness to the vibration of your inhale that sounds like “SO”, and the exhale that sounds like “Hum”. Listen for this vibration rather focusing on this. Let yourself be breathed.
Listen for these vibrations or “sounds” as you inhale and exhale. This will allow you to let go of your mind chatter and to focus on your stillness.
If your mind wanders (and it will for the first 20 tries!) just gently bring your focus back to your breath and to So and Hum.
That’s all there is to it. It’s not what happens in the 20-30 minutes of your meditation that determines the quality of your state of restful awareness in the remaining 23.5 hours of the day. Amazingly, you will notice the results of a lighter-sense-of-being even if you felt restless or distracted during your meditation. The body and mind have to relieve pent-up stress somehow; when you sit silently for a change, you are bound to be restless at first. But the silent sitting and breathing are beginning to work their magic into your life from here even if you felt restless.
I hope this is useful. It’s an ancient technique tried and true and now with science and medicine singing the healing results. It’s worth a try for at least 21 days in a row. If you don’t like it after 21 days, re-evaluate, but I think you’ll be convincing your family and friends to try it by that point.
Come on, all the cool kids are doing it.
For more about integrating mind-heart health:
Free to Love Free to Heal, Dr. David Simon, M.D
Perfect Health, Dr. Deepak Chopra, M.D
Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav
Lisa will be leading a Perfect Health Women’s Retreat in Costa Rica, February 17-23, where the focus will be everything discussed in this column. Get in touch with questions and to receive a registration discount: LisaMMM628@aol.com