I need to relax but I don’t have time or a quiet space to meditate. Is there anything I can do?

Mental Health

A: Yes. There is a simple breathing exercise you can do anywhere anytime.

The year 2020 was very challenging in many ways for all of us. And 2021 seems to be keeping pace with the strangeness. Though there is a bit of relief we can feel, none of us can predict what will happen next. Relaxation and self-care are essential. Self-guided meditation apps for devices are booming business. Here is a meditative practice that costs nothing but time. You don’t need an app or special equipment. You don’t need to enter a trance or sequester in a special space. All you do is breathe. This practice is called anapana sati.

Anapana sati is a simple breathing exercise that can be done anywhere even without stopping your routine. Anapana sati comes from Sanskrit words that mean “mindfulness” and “breath”. This practice is so easy, it is taught to children all around the world. It is an introduction to meditation for many people. Let’s try it.

1. Get as comfortable as you can. The beauty is that you can do this anywhere— sitting, standing, lying.

2. You can close your eyes. Or you can gaze comfortably.

3. Breathe gently through your nose. There is no special breathing pattern to use. Just breathe.

4. Try to feel your breath on your upper lip.

Continue for as long as you can before a thought other than the breath on your upper lip enters your mind. Then try to go longer.

Start with a few seconds. Can you breathe gently for 5 seconds, 5 breaths, 5 minutes? Go as long as you can. As soon as a thought pops into your mind, start again. Each time a thought comes, start again.

Breathing with your diaphragm (diaphragmatic breathing) during anapana sati is even more beneficial. It allows you to release calming natural neurotransmitters in your brain. These chemicals flow through the brain by the movement of cerebral spinal fluid, the liquid that bathes our brain all day. This is how the body is designed to breathe. However, years of stress, sitting at desks, wearing girdles and high heels force us to breathe inefficiently with our chests and shoulders. Let’s try breathing with the diaphragm.

1. Sit or stand comfortably with your shoulders relaxed.

2. Breath all the way out while squeezing your belly in.

3. Now, take a slow deep breath without expanding your chest. Watch your belly move out with inhalation. The diaphragm, like a bellows, drops and pushes your stomach out.

4. Try again. If needed, place your hands over your stomach to watch it move in and out.

Once you get the hang of it, you realize it is a natural way to breathe. Remember that all breathing exercises may leave you a little light headed and very relaxed. So practice them in a safe environment until you are comfortable with the effects.

Dr. Dena

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