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Monday Mindfulness: The Basics of Breathing

Blog

All of the blog posts are written by Arien Smith with the intention to heal, inform, and expand every reader. Three posts a week: Monday Mindfulness, Wednesday Yoga, Saturday Reflections. 

Click here for the blog archive!

 

Monday Mindfulness: The Basics of Breathing

Arien Smith

Breathing is life-giving and constant. Our ability to breathe is something which sustains every action of our body and, when we bring attention to the breath, we form the most stable foundation for our spiritual practice. Breathing meditations are catalysts for mental stillness, energetic refreshment, physical healing, and are themselves a whole and complete meditation. They can also be supplementary meditations preceding another type of meditation after the relaxing breath has been used to still the mind. Breathing is an invisible art, making it an employable meditation even in public situations. This is a meditation worth mastering and returning to throughout your entire spiritual path, even for only a short moment each day. 

With Monday Mindfulness, the challenge is to try the suggested meditation at least five out of seven days of the week. With this amount of work, you will give the practice ample time to prove or disprove its worth to you. We all meditate in differing ways, as certain practices that benefit one person may not serve another, so this five to seven day trial is enough to give a type of meditation a fair run, without wasting time on a practice that truly does not serve you. With breathing meditations, it’s best to have at least one type in your spiritual toolbox that you regularly practice. 

This week, the idea is to focus on a simple three-part breath. In a Yoga practice, all breathing meditations are called “Pranayama” and the three-part breath is called “Dirga Pranayama.” Since the breath is the physiological life-giver, “prana” is an applicable term as the Sanskrit word means “life force energy.” The breath sustains both our physical bodies and spiritual energy, making it the most generally applicable type of meditation practice. 

Breathing is easy to focus on, since it is just complex enough to keep your mind silent (for the most part!), but not too difficult to pick up after just a single minute of practice. It’s a great starting point when working towards more in-depth meditations like visualization, forming intentions, intuitive work, and energy healing. 

For this first week of Monday Mindfulness, the recommended time to spend on this meditation is a minimum of 3 minutes, but it can increase to over 30 if that feels right for you! Set a timer if you want to not worry about the time and start small if you’re new to a meditation practice. Three minutes is powerful.

This meditation is best done in the morning or afternoon for an energy recharge, or during states of stress. It’s an amazing way to kickstart your day, since the deep breathing will not only wake up your brain, but it will also provide your spirit with ample life force to carry you from dawn to dusk. It can also work as a substitute for a 2pm coffee, since prana works as a lot better of a motivator than caffeine. For some it can aid in restful sleep when done before bed, but for others the increase in prana energy makes it harder to sleep. Find the time that works best for you!

Benefits of Dirga Pranayama: 

In spirituality, prana is known to be essential energy that supports all vital physical and spiritual functions. Since Pranayama exercises sustain and balance this energy, they are theorized to help overcome disease, illness, and negativity. When prana becomes unbalanced, it is believed to affect the spirit, subtle energy, mind, and body. This exercises rebalances and replenishes prana like no other! 

  • Dirga Pranayama will also work to cleanse your subtle energy system (like the chakras), especially if you intend for the breath to reach certain areas of your body or energy system.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing, essentially the same practice with a Westernized medical name, is used in therapeutic practices to calm the sympathetic nervous system in people suffering from anxiety, stress, or post-traumatic responses. There is an interesting blog about Pranayama and the physiological benefits here
  • Lowered levels of stress is an effect of this meditation. If you do your best to stick with this for at least three minutes, I’m almost 100% guaranteeing that you will feel more steady, centered, and generally a little bit better. Imagine this multiplying over weeks of this practice—this simple meditation could change your life.  

How to Do This Meditation: 

Since this meditation can be done anywhere, slight adjustments to the meditation can be made. The meditation itself begins after step two, but the first two steps are some good preparatory suggestions that may benefit you. Throughout this, make sure you won’t be disturbed by people, phones, or alarms and give yourself ample time after this meditation (10-30 minutes) before attempting complex tasks like driving. 

  1. Get into comfortable clothes, then find a comfortable position. Usually sitting upright or laying down on your back is ideal for this. Make sure to have good posture if you’re sitting, since you want an open chest and a straight spine. (This is also a great meditation for forming better posture—pull those shoulders back!). With laying positions, you still want open shoulders and a straight spine, so a pillow under the knees may help.
  2. Close your eyes or, if you prefer them open, focus on something appealing and not distracting. I’d suggest looking at something still while learning this meditation, rather than a moving object like a tree branch or candle flame. Keeping your eyes open is pretty typical while performing Dirga Pranayama in public. 
  3. Begin to focus your attention on your breath, not seeking to change anything, but instead just meeting your natural breathing cycle for the first time. Become acquainted to how you naturally breathe, feel the pleasant rise and fall of your chest, marvel at how your body sustains your life through this simple repeated action. 
  4. Optionally, you can place your hands on your abdomen and chest: the right hand on the lower abdomen and the left near the heart center. Some people feel this connects them better to their breath, while others feel it distracts them from the meditation. 
  5. With or without hands on your torso, feel the rise and fall of your chest and the sensation of air moving through your nose and throat. Try to pay attention to the whole action, rather than just one part of the process of breathing.
  6. Begin to control your breath, inhaling and focusing on the air filling your chest all the way down to your lower abdomen. 
  7. Exhale and pull your abdominal muscles in towards your spine, fully expelling all air. 
  8. Repeat this at least five times, then inhale and focus on the air filling your lower abdomen as well as your rib cage. Visualize those intercostal muscles stretching and expanding! 
  9. Exhale and release from both parts, abdomen and then ribs. Continue this two part breath for at least five cycles. 
  10. To begin the full three-part breath, inhale to fill the abdomen, ribs, and then the collarbones. With this step, don’t lift the shoulders, but instead feel the collarbones push out (similar to the movement in the ribs). Your collarbones don't have to move more than a millimeter for this to be successful, it’s the intention that carries the breath there. 
  11. Exhale from all three areas: abdomen, ribs, and finally the collarbones.  
  12. Now continue the three part breath as long as it serves you! Eventually, you should feel it become a more smooth and continuous motion, but don’t expect this within the first few minutes or even the first week of practicing this. 

Challenges You Might Face: 

  • The mind is a hectic thing, so it’s completely natural if it doesn’t quiet down for the beginning of this meditation. Even in a whole week of five minute practices, it’s unlikely to get a “Zen master” state of mind right away or even at all. This is natural and acceptable and does not mean the meditation isn’t working! Replenishing your prana happens slowly and steadily, hence why this meditation is best when regularly practiced. The effects may not be easily observed, but meditation is powerful even if it seems to invisibly act. If your mind is wandering, thank your mind for having the ability to think, then state (in your own words that work best for you): “I am going to return my attention to my breath” and focus once again on the sensations of breathing. Do this as many times as your mind wanders! 
  • If your chest, shoulders, or muscles feel constricted or tight, this is probably because of one of two things. It’s possible your clothes are too tight, so make sure that you are wearing loose and comfy garments. It’s also possible you are focusing too hard. Congrats on having such intense attention, but in this meditation it won’t serve you! Work on expanding your awareness and breath to the tense areas (next week’s Monday Mindfulness will talk more about this, subscribe here to get an email when it is published!). 
  • If you have a respiratory condition, practice caution with this meditation—as with all breathing meditations. Stop if you become faint, dizzy, or disoriented. You can always modify this meditation to just spend three to five minutes paying attention to your natural breath with no three-part alteration. You’ll still get a large amount of benefits, even if the Dirga Pranayama itself does not serve you! 
  • Not wanting to start a meditation is natural, but clearly an obstacle. The ego wants to stay alive, so it prevents you from trying to seek things that will make room for growth and the dissolution of the ego. Yet, even this part of your mind will have a hard time arguing with three minutes! If you really can’t get yourself to try this, go for just a single minute the first day and gradually work your way up to longer periods of time.  

Other Ways to Apply This Meditation:

Pranayama is an extremely versatile meditation type, so this breath can be expanded in many ways. Some ideas will be discussed in later blog posts: the January 4th blog will speak about carrying the breath to places of tension in the body for healing. 

  • You can also use pranayama breathing to visualize light or energy flowing into you on the inhale, then gunky energy that was in you but not serving you leaving on the exhale. This is a great visualization to cleanse your entire subtle energy body! 
  • Three-part breathing can also be a lifesaver in moments of anxiety and stress. Nervous before a speech? Startled by something? Triggered? Try this breathing, as best as you can while just surrendering for even a single minute to the breath and it can be incredibly stabilizing. 

If you have other ideas or stories about how you applied this, how this helped you, or any other insights, please share in the comments! We can create a community focused on growing each other’s mindfulness practices and discussion is the best way to start.