Two Breaths

Regular meditation practice has shaped my life for the past eleven years, and I honor and value all it has bestowed upon me in terms of balance, harmony, calmness and peace. When I began practicing meditation on a consistent basis, I was at a low point in my life as a result of a long-term relationship which had suddenly terminated. As fate would have it, I met a wonderful person who became my meditation teacher, my spiritual guide, and my dear friend. He invited me to become part of a local meditation group which met one to two times per week, and I gladly accepted. Within a couple of months, I began to learn how to sit in silence, let thoughts and feelings go, and focus on being completely in the moment. I quickly realized what a gift it was to fall into awareness during these sessions.

After my meditation teacher passed away in April of 2014, I went through a rough period in which I was so grief-stricken by his death that I was paralyzed, unable to meditate for several months. When I returned to meditation practice, it was alone, without the comfort of a group, but I was able to quickly fall into awareness during my sessions.

At the beginning of this year, I encountered another difficult life challenge, and instead of shying away from my meditation practice, I decided to sit daily. One tool which kept me accountable with daily meditation practice was a phone app called Insight Timer, which I still use. It is no longer a struggle for me to sit daily in meditation, and I have noticed profound changes in my demeanor and my general outlook on life.

In an effort to fortify my spiritual practice, I added kundalini yoga, and have noticed even more profound changes in my energy and my physiology, especially in my breathing. A few days ago, I had noticed that my respiratory rate had become much slower, so I decided to assess it while I practiced relaxation breathing. I was astonished when I discovered that I am now able to slow down my breathing to two respirations per minute. The breaths which I take during meditative and relaxation sessions are very slow, with a pause at the end of both the inhalation and exhalation phases.

Most people are so accustomed to shallow respirations in their daily lives that they assume that 12 to 14 respirations per minute is considered acceptable. As a physician, I regularly encounter a respiratory rate in that range, and am trained to consider that normal. However, in my spiritual practice, I know that in order to take 12 to 14 breaths per minute, the breaths tend to be quite shallow.

Modern society keeps us on the hamster wheel and fosters anxiety, but it is vital to step off the wheel, slow down, and allow the trappings of daily life to fall away so that we can truly let go. If you find yourself constantly wound up, try slowing down your breathing on a consistent basis. It has beneficial effects on your mood and blood pressure, and decreases muscle tension.

“But I Just CAN’T Meditate…”

The concept of sitting with oneself in a meditative pose seems to frighten many non-meditators. People will make all sorts of excuses why they “can’t” meditate, from stating that their thoughts will distract them too much, their home environments aren’t conducive to sitting quietly, or that they have back or hip problems and can’t sit still long enough to meditate. They will also state that they simply don’t have the time to meditate, an excuse which I find to be the weakest one out of the bunch.

For people who complain of physical restrictions which prevent them from sitting in easy pose (lotus position), there are meditations in which one can lie down, stand, or even move around to explore how the body is feeling at that moment. If thoughts keep flying around, that’s all right. Regular meditators know that the thoughts can come and go like clouds, and that allowing them to move in and out without having the mind engage those thoughts becomes easier with practice. And as for having no time to meditate, one can always find time to meditate. Even setting aside two minutes to pause, breathe, and let go of the myriad of thoughts and activities which keep us occupied is enough to reset the spirit.

When I counsel patients to meditate, I often discover that letting go is something they just don’t want to do. After all, aren’t we defined by our jobs, our family roles, our relationship roles, the cars we drive, how much money we make, and where we live? In the whole grand scheme of things, the elements which define us in the outside world simply distract us from the life force which we carry within us. One of the main reasons why anxiety and depression are so prevalent in the modern world is because people are too afraid to walk away from the craziness for a moment or two.

When you meditate regularly, you may get to a point in which you understand that the important moments are the spaces between thoughts, and the spaces between words. It is incredibly liberating to be able to let go of all the concerns and feelings which may be floating around in your head and just focus on your breath. Inhale, exhale. Just that and nothing more.

Lastly, you shouldn’t feel intimidated by the practice of meditation. If you regard it as a very welcome morsel of time for yourself, you will learn to look forward to your sessions.

If you need help getting started, check out yoga centers for guided meditation classes, or download a phone app such as Insight Timer to guide you through thousands of different meditations. I highly recommend Insight Timer for everyone, from those new to meditation, to individuals who have been meditating for years.

Sit Up Straight!

If you have a tendency to slouch in your seat, you need to pay attention! Poor posture has detrimental effects not only on the body, but also on one’s mood and general attitude.

Poor posture causes muscles in our neck and upper back to become overstretched, while causing other neck muscles and muscles in our torso and between our ribs to become cramped and overstimulated. The muscles in our chest become dominant, and pull our shoulders and upper arms inward and forward when we habitually adopt a stooped posture. This position puts a tremendous load on the diaphragm, and respiration suffers as a result. Even digestion becomes sluggish because the body cannot properly oxygenate and blood cannot circulate as well.

Poor posture can negatively impact your emotional state and confidence, not to mention how others perceive you. If you’re slouching right now, think of how you feel emotionally, mentally. Are you down, depressed? Now sit up straight and take a couple of nice, deep breaths. You should notice an immediate shift in attitude and mood.

Proper spinal alignment also has a positive effect on hormone levels. One Harvard study revealed that an erect posture, with shoulders back and spines nice and straight correlated with a 20 percent increase in testosterone levels and a 25 percent decrease in cortisol levels, while subjects who slouched experienced a 10 percent decrease in circulating testosterone levels and a 15 increase in cortisol.

Lastly, the way you carry yourself has immense bearing on how others perceive you. If you meet someone whose shoulders are pulled forward, your impression may be that the person isn’t the most motivated or energetic you’ve met. Yet if that person had a nice upright stance, with shoulders pulled down and back, your impression would probably be very different.

With some conscious effort, you can correct a hunched posture. Try this stretch at least a couple of times each day, and you will slowly begin to notice a correction in your posture. This is great for resetting the brain and creating more awareness of how you carry your body throughout the day.


AGAINST THE WALL

Stand with your back to a wall, feet together with heels touching wall, and arms hanging at your sides. Relax your shoulders, then pull them back so that they make contact with the wall. Stand in this position for 30 to 60 seconds, taking slow, deep breaths.
When you are ready to step away from the wall, keep your shoulders in the same position. Be aware of how you are breathing, and how your back feels when your shoulders are kept back
.

poor-posture

Proper Breathing Mechanics During Weight Training (Repost)

Hamster hulkNow that I have been weight training for over 25 years, I have an intuitive sense of proper breathing mechanics when I lift weights, as many seasoned gym beasts can also attest to. However, those of you who are not as experienced or comfortable around a weight room might not know how to breathe properly.

The basic concept is that you will EXHALE on the exertion phase and INHALE on the relaxation phase of the exercise.

Let’s use the wide grip lat pulldown exercise as an example (which incidentally should be performed so that you bring the bar to your upper chest and NOT behind your back). You will exhale as you pull the bar down, then inhale when you return the bar to the starting position.

Most exercises can be performed using this basic technique, but if you are lifting very heavy weights, or even lifting heavy boxes, you can employ a breathing technique called the Valsalva Maneuver, in which you inhale deeply, then hold your breath while lifting the weight. This increases intra-abdominal pressure and thug confers support to the back. However, if you have high blood pressure, this movement can cause your blood pressure to skyrocket. Other relatively common symptoms which can occur during the Valsalva Maneuver are dizziness and fainting. As an alternative, you can simply contract your abdominals, keeping them tight, and continue to breathe normally during the movement.

There’s Always Time To Breathe

breathing

As I was speaking with one of my patients earlier today, I was struck by the fact that she said she had no time to do anything, and that her work schedule was so stacked that she felt like she was unraveling. I suggested that she take a moment at some point in her day to just sit still and BREATHE, without any task or agenda. Her reply? “Oh, I don’t even have time for that!”

It seemed unreasonable to me that this woman wouldn’t even take a few SECONDS for herself just to breathe, take momentary break from the maddening rush of her life, and just be in the moment. It’s not that people can’t stop and breathe, they WON’T, because they have been led to believe that remaining on the hamster wheel of life all the time is a necessary sacrifice for all the success they hope to achieve. The sad truth is that those brief moments of stillness enable the spirit to reset and restore balance to mind and body as well.

If you are like my patient, you are doing yourself a major disservice by constantly moving and not allowing yourself to rest, even for a few seconds. Even the most creative and driven people in the world find time to enjoy their surroundings, pause in the midst of chaos, and realign with themselves. All you will do if you insist on going full guns all the time, without a moment to rest, is burn out your adrenal glands, damage your immune system, and set the tone for depression and anxiety.

For only a few seconds a day, you can enjoy the gift of being in the moment. What’s even better is that you can indulge in such moments throughout the day, between projects, meetings and chores. You can even do it upon waking, right before you start the ignition in your car, while standing in line at the grocery store, or just about anywhere.

The Magic Of Meditation

meditation-cognitive-bias

Meditation is something I have engaged in regularly for over ten years, but my practice had dwindled in the past two years to a session every few months. This was partially due to the fact that the death of my meditation teacher had rattled me so deeply that I was unable to sit in a meditation without being distracted at some point by my own grief.

It took a major life event from early April to wake me up and make me realize that by neglecting my meditation practice, I had made my spirit weary and unbalanced, Since the cadence of my life had changed rather dramatically and suddenly, I decided that adopting regular habits like meditating would be good for me. I have been able to carve out time in my schedule to meditate daily over the last few weeks, and the effects have been profound and positive. On some days, I only have a few minutes to set up my zafu (meditation cushion), light incense and the candles on my meditation altar, and sit in the moment for mindfulness meditation, but I still make sure I meditate before crawling in bed each night. I am not joking when I say I think more clearly, feel more calm, and experience less anxiety after meditating daily over the last few weeks. I now look at my daily meditation sessions as important daily workouts for my mind and spirit. I swear that even my gym workouts are better as a result of meditation, because I am more focused and calm during gym time than I used to be. Things which used to irritate me sort of glide off me now.

Regular meditation has made a tremendous difference in my general demeanor and my outlook on life, and now I honestly look forward to my sessions. I strongly encourage everyone to meditate regularly, especially anyone who feels beaten down by life or who deals with constant stress. Meditation provides an excellent outlet for stress, and can lessen symptoms of depression, reduce blood pressure and boost immunity.

Before you say that there’s no time to meditate, I am willing to bet you that there are a few minutes each day you can spare to nurture your spirit. You can either take a few minutes first thing in the morning to sit and meditate, or do it right before you go to sleep. If you feel intimidated by the idea of sitting on a meditation cushion, you can simply sit on the floor comfortably, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Each time you inhale, allow your chest to expand, and pull your shoulders back. When you exhale, imagine pushing away all of the stress of the day, out of your body, and into the air. Keep breathing slowly and deeply with your eyes closed, and try to empty your mind of any random thoughts or feelings which may come up.

For a more detailed description of a great breathing meditation, read on. The original link can be found here: http://www.mindful.org/a-five-minute-breathing-meditation/

A 5-Minute Breathing Meditation To Cultivate Mindfulness

Reduce stress, anxiety, and negative emotions, cool yourself down when your temper flares, and sharpen your concentration skills.

By Greater Good Science Center | February 26, 2016

How do you cultivate mindfulness? One way is to meditate. A basic method is to focus your attention on your own breathing—a practice simply called “mindful breathing.” After setting aside time to practice mindful breathing, you’ll find it easier to focus attention on your breath in your daily life—an important skill to help you deal with stress, anxiety, and negative emotions, cool yourself down when your temper flares, and sharpen your ability to concentrate.

Time required:

15 minutes daily for at least a week (though evidence suggests that mindfulness increases the more you practice it).

How to do it

The most basic way to do mindful breathing is simply to focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale. You can do this while standing, but ideally you’ll be sitting or even lying in a comfortable position. Your eyes may be open or closed, but you may find it easier to maintain your focus if you close your eyes. It can help to set aside a designated time for this exercise, but it can also help to practice it when you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Experts believe a regular practice of mindful breathing can make it easier to do it in difficult situations.

Sometimes, especially when trying to calm yourself in a stressful moment, it might help to start by taking an exaggerated breath: a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds). Otherwise, simply observe each breath without trying to adjust it; it may help to focus on the rise and fall of your chest or the sensation through your nostrils. As you do so, you may find that your mind wanders, distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That’s OK. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath.

Find a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight. Hands resting wherever they’re comfortable. Tongue on the roof of your mouth or wherever it’s comfortable.

Notice and relax your body. Try to notice the shape of your body, its weight. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here—the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Just breathe.

Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.
Be kind to your wandering mind. Now as you do this, you might notice that your mind may start to wander. You may start thinking about other things. If this happens, it is not a problem. It’s very natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered. You can say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.
Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.
Check in before you check out. After a few minutes, once again notice your body, your whole body, seated here. Let yourself relax even more deeply and then offer yourself some appreciation for doing this practice today.

One of the most beautiful things about meditation is that you can be fully in the moment, without holding onto the trappings of your day. Work obligations, chores, errands, and any other mundane distraction can wait. It’s a wonderful escape from the physical world and the ultimate way to attain balance and peace. Plus it’s free!

Breathing Mechanics During Weight Training

Hamster hulkNow that I have been weight training for over 25 years, I have an intuitive sense of proper breathing mechanics when I lift weights, as many seasoned gym beasts can also attest to. However, those of you who are not as experienced or comfortable around a weight room might not know how to breathe properly.

The basic concept is that you will EXHALE on the exertion phase and INHALE on the relaxation phase of the exercise.

Let’s use the wide grip lat pulldown exercise as an example (which incidentally should be performed so that you bring the bar to your upper chest and NOT behind your back). You will exhale as you pull the bar down, then inhale when you return the bar to the starting position.

Most exercises can be performed using this basic technique, but if you are lifting very heavy weights, or even lifting heavy boxes, you can employ a breathing technique called the Valsalva Maneuver, in which you inhale deeply, then hold your breath while lifting the weight. This increases intra-abdominal pressure and thug confers support to the back. However, if you have high blood pressure, this movement can cause your blood pressure to skyrocket. Other relatively common symptoms which can occur during the Valsalva Maneuver are dizziness and fainting. As an alternative, you can simply contract your abdominals, keeping them tight, and continue to breathe normally during the movement.