We live in an age that has seen a huge spike in anxiety disorders and different forms of depression. The endless distractions around us make it nearly impossible to focus our attention on any one task for an extended period of time and equally difficult to devote the energy needed to genuinely look after ourselves and our own well-being.
It is difficult to have a Zen-like attitude in a life that is filled with constant interruptions and distractions. However, living more mindfully is a way that we can devote the time necessary, if even for a fleeting moment each day, to find the stillness and solitude needed to slow ourselves down.
Slowing down and focusing on the breath has a multitude of benefits for our body. However, slowing down requires a sense of presence and self-awareness which can only be achieved when we make a conscious effort to do so.
Living in the present and being more mindful is a trainable skill that can be developed if we are willing to commit just a sliver of time each day to finding some calm and quiet. One of the ways to stay centered is to pay attention to your breathing. Slow, deep breathing has been proven to lower the body's fight or flight response and help to calm us down. The more we can find calmness, the more we can develop the ability to consciously be more aware of how we respond to anxiety and stress and to do something to combat these things in a proactive manner. However, it definitely requires a daily commitment.
Developing more mindfulness in our lives does not require a Herculean effort that ends up robbing us of all of our time and zaps us of the much needed energy to get us through our busy days. There are 1440 minutes in each day. All we need is just 0.5-1% of our day, just 7-14 minutes to begin this practice.
Even starting with just 7 minutes of intentional breath work while sitting quietly is a great starting point to live more mindfully with the intended purpose being to better look after ourselves. To develop our mindfulness practice further, we can then extend our practice little by little with each passing week.
Imagine that we start off with just 7 minutes a day of mindfulness practice. By extending our practice by just 30 seconds each week, we can slowly build on the mental and physical stamina needed to sit for longer periods of time to focus purely on self. With each passing month, we will find ourselves being able to sit for much longer periods of time.
Slowly infusing more mindfulness and meditative practice can help us to build sustainable habits that stay with us and become more deeply entrenched in our lives.
Starting with 7 minutes of daily practice (0.5% of our day) was just an example. Start with whatever amount of time works. We can then slowly build up from that point, but make it a daily practice whenever possible. For example, a person can begin with 10 minutes a day and increase by one minute each week. That’s a 4-minute increase per month which equates to 44-minute increase per year. 10 minutes in the first month will lead to 14 minutes in month two, leading to 54 minutes in your twelfth month.
There are no hard and fast rules about how much time is needed to begin this practice. The main point is to slowly build up on the ability for sit for longer periods of time.
Focused Breath Work
There are a number of different ways to focus on the breath while sitting still. If the mind wanders, no problem, just return back to the pattern of breath that you are focusing on. It’s natural to get distracted but using the breath an a anchor point always helps us get refocused. Below are some examples of breath work that you can try out.
The 7-11 Breath
Slowing inhale for a count of 7 and exhale for a count of 11. Repeat this for the entire duration of the meditation. It’s OK if you lose count of the number you are on, just keep consciously returning to the pattern when you find that you’ve become distracted.
Box Breath (4-count)
Breath in for a count of 4
Hold for a count of 4
Exhale for a count of 4
Hold for a count of 4
Repeat this process for the duration of the meditation
The Staggered Inhale, Long Exhale Breath
Inhale through your nose in short bursts making a noticeable sound with each burst. Slowly your lungs will fill to maximum capacity. Then exhale steadily in one complete exhale. Repeat process for duration of meditation
There are many more types of breath that you can work on but the above three might be a great starting point if this is your first time trying it out. If you are experienced at doing breath work, you’ll know many different ways to focus on the breath while meditating.
The opening quote in this blog post is an important reminder that improvement and results take time. By focusing on the long haul, we can make the micro-improvements necessary for lasting change. Our well-being matters! In the long run, mindfulness practice can be slowly infused into our lives by choosing to focus on one small step at a time. Hope this blog post helps you to reflect on your own well-being and what needs to be done to make it more of a focus in your life.
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily