If you ever tried meditation, chances are that you struggled to keep your mind quiet. Even if you are an experienced meditator, you know what I'm talking about. The moment you close your eyes, your mind becomes flooded with thoughts. You start thinking about the past, make plans for the future, become annoyed by the impossible task of calming down the stream of thoughts. You discover that your mind is crowded like the Times Square… The thoughts come running, one after another. Even if you try do disengage and maintain the attitude of the mere observer, you get carried away in a train of thoughts.
Although the ancient Yogis spent hours of their time meditating, they knew well the problem of calming down the thoughts. Essentially, Yoga is an ancient technology of gaining control over the mind – not an easy task to accomplish! A great Indian sage, Swami Vivekananda compared the mind to a relentless monkey, jumping from one tree to another from dawn till dusk. Its nature is to remain in constant motion.
Luckily, there is an excellent tool for slowing down the thoughts – the pranayama.
Anchor your breath
Simply put, pranayamas are the Yogic breathing techniques. They have multiple health benefits, such as increasing the lung capacity and reducing the heart rate, but their main goal is to influence the mind. The pace of your thoughts and the rhythm of your breath are inseparably connected. You can easily experience it on your own. When you are active and agitated, you breathe faster and think faster. On the contrary, when you deeply relax or even become drowsy your breath slows down greatly.
Scientifically speaking, the mechanism of the influence of your breath on the thinking is also mediated by the cardiac system. There is a mechanism of natural arrhythmia: during your every exhalation, your heart beats a little bit slower than during the inhalation. In fact, you can control your heart rate and slow it down by making your exhalations longer. That’s why there is a great emphasis of slowing down the breath cycle in pranayama.
Concentrating on your breath and slowing it down, you automatically become more focused. The slower you breathe, the less thoughts come to your mind. You become less distracted. Your mind calms down, and slowly, slowly... you reach a state of meditation.
Your first Pranayama practice
How to begin with pranayamas? You can start with a basic, simple exercise.
Sit with your back straight in a meditative position. You can put a folded blanket or a cushion under your pelvic bones, to make keeping your spine straight easier.
Bring your concentration to the breath.
Try to be deeply aware of what does it feel like to breathe...
Feel the movement of the air in your nostrils. Notice that the air you exhale is a little bit warmer.
Feel the movement of your chest and your abdomen. Feel, how your shoulders move a little bit upwards with every inhalation and downwards with every exhalation.
Once you become focused, start slowing down your breath: make every exhalation twice longer than the exhalation. Although the sensation may be a little strange in the beginning, you will get accustomed to it. After a short training, exhaling twice longer will become effortless. If you feel short of breath or dizzy, it means that you are pushing yourself too far. Be gentle with yourself and patient – the progress will come with time.
Enjoy the calming effect the pranayama has on your mind. Notice, that with the control of the breath there are much fewer annoying thoughts coming to your mind and it’s much easier to mediate.
You can use your breath not only for meditation. It can be of great benefit in your everyday life as well. Every time I want to get focused, or when I do something demanding high precision, I switch on my breath awareness. It immediately gets me in the zone.
You can train your breath awareness even while performing your household chores. When doing the dishes or cleaning up your apartment, try shifting your attention to your breath. Notice that it does not make the work more difficult – on the contrary, you become much more focused and relaxed at the same time. You can coordinate the movements of your hands and body with inhalations and exhalations, turning your weekly cleanup into a Tai Chi practice…
Use your breath. It can be a tremendous tool, if taken care of properly.