The holidays are in full swing; the lights are hung by the chimneys with care, Christmas music can be heard everywhere; and, yet, this happens to be one of the most stressful times of the year. Instead of loving thy neighbor, many of us can be found in crowded malls, hunting high and low for the latest whatever, to give to a loved one while our blood pressure rises; which is why this post will serve as a reminder to us all to stop and breathe.
Everyone together now- deep breath IN and OUT…
I’m a firm believer that meditation is relevant to everyday people. It’s just as relevant to the NASCAR driver as it is to the yoga master. Meditation is beneficial for stay-at-home mothers, bloggers, stock brokers, ranchers, fast food employees, fashion designers and heavy metal singers. Meditation is good for women and it’s good for men. Meditation is good for humans, and we’re all humans.
All humans need to breathe. It’s one thing that unites us. The kind of meditation I’m going to discuss in this article is traditionally called Anapanasati, which means mindfulness of breathing. If we concentrate on our breathing, a fundamental life process, we are able to brush away unwanted thoughts and find peace. Even a person who shrugs off meditation as a “new age” practice can probably readily admit that she needs a little more peace.
Think about the last time you were in a doctor’s waiting room. Was there a “breathing techniques” poster that endorsed the virtues of breath exercises for relaxation? Has your doctor ever recommended breathing exercises for stress, to help with insomnia or to deal with anger issues? Even mainstream physicians tout the virtues of breathing exercise, and Anapanasati just takes that idea a little bit further.
Whenever I speak to skeptical people about meditation, I often cite academic or medical studies. The world is full of scams and misinformation, after all, so it helps to have sources. In this case, my source is a study from B.J. Medical College Ahmedabad . It states that people who meditate experience lower blood pressure, better lung capacity and lower cholesterol than people who do not meditate.
To quote the study’s abstract, “… meditation provides significant improvements in respiratory functions, cardiovascular parameters and lipid profile.”
In addition, meditation can provide:
• Reduced Stress
• Reduced Anxiety
• Relief from Depression
• Increased Energy
• Relief of Chronic Pain
• Boosted Immune System
• Help with Overcoming Addiction
• Reduced Risk of Dementia in Older People
When we spend time at peace and concentrate on our breathing, we become more in tune with ourselves. We begin to understand how the breath travels through the body, and how oxygen nourishes our physical form. As we concentrate on the dance of the inhale and exhale, we eventually leave negative thoughts behind. It helps us focus on meaningful happiness and the present. The future is unknown and the past remains as it is, but the present is a time we have a direct impact on. When we embrace the present for what it is and divorce it from negative feelings, we become happy. Anapanasati helps us on that journey. It calms us, focuses the mind and reminds us of what is important in life.
Mindfulness of breathing puts us in tune with our body and its needs, as well as our minds. I cannot think of a single thing that’s more relevant to any human being—Buddhist, Christian or Atheist. On a more practical note, meditation is completely free and does not consume much time in its beginning stages. That seems to be the very definition of “universal appeal.”
Where to Start?
There are as many types of meditation as there are people, and Anapanasati comes in many varieties. It is important to find a method that works for you—something that allows you to focus on your breathing in comfort and happiness. Learn from the example that others have set, but do not slavishly adhere to it.
For most people, sitting in an alert yet comfortable position is the key to successful meditation. You should sit up straight, but you should not strain yourself to do so. Comfortable clothing is also important.
The most important aspect of meditation for beginners is this- don’t despair. It’s easy to get frustrated as the negative thoughts keep coming back, but that is perfectly natural. As many times as your mind wanders, you need to be there to guide it back firmly and gently. Set a goal before meditation. It can be something you meet each time, or something you’re simply working toward.
• Notice Your Breath
• Don’t Become Frustrated
• Let Breathing Usher You Away from Negativity
• Set a Goal
• Set Your Own Pace
• Guide Your Mind
There are many tutorials on the web, and most of them were written by people much more experienced and knowledgeable than me. For Anapanasati, I recommend this in-depth guide. Remember to experiment and bend the method to your needs. Don’t worry—mindfulness of breathing is quite flexible.
Breathing is something that unites us all. We can harness the power of our breathing and use it to become calmer, more focused and happier. The cure for emotional distress and the key to cardiovascular health are already inside of us, we just need to open our minds and use what we’ve been given.
Gordon Richman is a writer, music lover and a student of American Buddhism. He enjoys writing about various meditation techniques, the road to enlightenment and Zen in the internet age. He writes for Rama Talks, a free and bountiful resource for talks, music and books about karma, enlightenment and meditation.