Thursday, June 3, 2021

Breathing in Nature

A walk in nature walks the soul back home.
Mary Davis

For the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring our five senses to better understand what we see, hear, smell, taste and feel. We checked with ourselves throughout the day and gave thought to these amazing senses in order to expand our mindfulness awareness. Now, let’s take it outside and breathe-in nature the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing - taking in the forest). This is not just a walk in the woods. It’s an immersion of each of our senses - a communion with the natural environment.

Don’t worry if you don’t have an actual forest to walk around in. The idea here is surrounding yourself with the natural environment. I have found the more I am engaged in any form of Mother Nature’s loveliness, the more peace filled I become. Let’s begin...
  • Find your walking rhythm in an outside space of your choosing.
  • Take a few slow and deep breaths to begin, and let go of everything going on in your head.
  • Walk, pause and breathe. Ask yourself what you see. Continue to walk, pause, breathe and see for a bit before moving to another sense.
  • I like to close my eyes when I pause to take in the sounds, smells, flavors and feelings. Each time I repeat my concentration of one sense, I notice a bit more than I did moments ago.
  • After walking and infusing your senses, you may want to find a place to sit and linger. Immerse yourself by breathing deeper into the natural setting.
The more you bring awareness to your senses, you become more in tune with your surroundings. When you have experienced this space, you can recall it anytime by focusing on what your senses remember.

It’s the end of spring, and summer is just around the corner. Find more time and calm space for yourself outdoors to simply be in nature by breathing-in nature. Continue with this practice as often as possible. It will create a space of calm and wonder, and open a space for your mind to rest.

Take care,
Michelle
Photo licensed through Dreamstime

Monday, May 10, 2021

Mindfulness Senses Spot Check


In January we began the year with the intention of being mindful for the year ahead. Since then, we have explored the practice of breathing fully into ourselves with focused breathing exercises. During the last few months, we’ve brought conscious thought to what we were feeling and opening the doors to awareness. We concentrated on our body as we paused and created a moment of space in the gap between the ebb and flow of our breath. We’ve focused on our heartbeat and learned to push our breathing deeper and slower. Since successful breathing practice opens the door to meaningful mindfulness experiences, we are now ready to explore more fully the practice of mindfulness.

  • Take a few slow and deep breaths to begin and let go of everything going on in your head to be in and of this moment. After months of breathing practice, your mind and body know this as calm space.
  • Now do a 5 senses spot check. What do I see? What do I smell? What do I taste? What do I hear? What do I feel? There's no need to dwell on each answer. 
  • To begin with, you may want to set up reminders to do this exercise a few times throughout the day. Consider it a quick check-in with yours truly. It does not need to take very much time unless you choose to linger in this space. 

When was the last time you thought about your senses? Just like breathing practice, the more you bring awareness to your senses, the more finely tuned they will be. The more overall awareness you can bring to the moment, the better you will be at understanding yourself.

Take care,
Michelle

While we explore mindfulness, continue with your morning and evening breathing practice. For me, it’s a commitment I make to myself in conjunction with meditation. While I’ve shared some of my favorite breathing exercises this year with you, there are so many more to play with should you want to investigate further. Personally, I like to keep it simple. I am more apt to do whatever it is I should be doing by keeping that in mind. Happy breathing!


Mindful photo courtesy of dee and tulah monstah

Friday, March 26, 2021

Breathing Practice 5 Double Exhale




Breathing is automatic; an involuntary process that just happens. But breath is life. So what happens when we actually give this amazing process attention? That’s when the magic happens!

I hope you have enjoyed the last month trying out heart focus breathing and going back over the previous breathing practice posts. I understand many of you have had difficulty with breathing exercises in the past. In my instruction, I’ve purposely slowed down the steps by creating building blocks from post to post. I believe this is a much better way to explore not only breathing practice but mindfulness as well as meditation. You’re probably thinking that it’s about time I get back to mindfulness since it is our focus for the year. But guess what? Breathing practice opens the door to a more meaningful mindfulness experience and it also makes it easier for those who would like to explore meditation. Without a doubt, breathing practice is when the magic happens!

So, without further ado, let’s get back to breathing. As with heart focus, this is another of my favorite breathing techniques and is the first one I connected with many years ago. For those in the know, it is a variation of what is known as 2-1 breathing. It’s my go-to calming method for instant clarity and relaxation. And I often use it to fall asleep when my mind decides to do otherwise. It is also an excellent exercise to increase lung function because we are pushing the limits of our normal shallow breathing.

  • Sit or lie down and relax in your favorite place. If you are sitting, rest your hands in your lap or lightly on your knees. If you are lying down, rest your hands on your stomach. Relax your jaw and allow soft eyes.
  • Inhale slowly through your nose and notice the coolness. Then exhale through your nose and notice the warmth. This technique informs your mind that you are tuning into awareness.  Do this three times then begin exhaling through your mouth.
  • With each breath slow the inhale and the exhale down a bit until you reach a comfortable rhythm (lesson 1). Let your cares and thoughts float away by coming back home to your breath and how it feels to breathe.
  • When you are ready add deeper breaths slowly. Be aware of how you feel as your deeper breaths relax your lungs (lesson 2).
  • On your next inhalation, mentally count slowly to 4 or more until you are unable to inhale, pause your breath for a 4 count (lesson 3), then very slowly release and fully exhale pushing out every-last-breath as you continue to count to 8 or more. Then repeat. Your goal here is to be able to double the count on your exhale. I like to push this by one count on each breath until I achieve my maximum (think 8 inhale, 16 exhale).
  • You will find this to be a much deeper method of breathing. Once you reach a comfortable rhythm, you may listen for your heartbeat (lesson 4) whenever you pause. As you play with this exercise, try counting further on the inhale, then try holding your breath for a few extra counts or skip holding it altogether and go right into exhaling. This is your time so make this exercise your own. Reminder - if you are not breathing slow and deep enough you may find yourself lightheaded.
  • Enjoy this exercise for 15 minutes or longer each morning, throughout your day as often as you would like, and before you drift off to sleep.

When you are finished, sit for a few minutes bringing your breath back to your natural rhythm. Don’t forget to whisper to yourself thank you - insert your name. And go ahead and give yourself a big hug while you’re at it!

Looking for instant calming in any stress filled situation? Double exhaling is the key. In just three breaths you will find a space that will bring clarity to the moment. Why three? You will notice it will take you three breaths to open your lungs fully allowing more oxygen to flow in which acts like a secret superpower. You’ll notice the more you bring this exercise to a particular moment, you will naturally find yourself doing it without considering it. Magic! Superhero pose anyone?

Stay safe and take care,
Michelle

Inhale exhale photo licensed through Dreamstime

Friday, February 19, 2021

Breathing Practice 4 Heart Focus


Just you, your breath, and the beat of your heart.

Since the month of February is heart month, it’s the perfect time to add the beat of our hearts to our breathing practice. I think of this technique as heart focus. It’s one of my favorite breathing techniques and I know it will become one of yours. Our heartbeats will take us deeper into our breathing practice, and our minds will become intensely focused on the beat so there’s no room for other thoughts or distractions. Essentially, it’s heartbeat bliss. 

  • Sit and relax in your favorite quiet place. Some of you may have been lying down previously, but it’s easier to hear and feel the full effect of your heartbeat while sitting. Rest your hands palm up in your lap or lightly on your knees. Relax your jaw and allow soft eyes.
  • Begin to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. With each breath slow the inhale and the exhale down a bit until you reach a comfortable rhythm (lesson 1). This is your time so allow your mind to relax. Let your cares and thoughts float away by coming back home to your breath and how it feels to breathe.
  • When you are ready add deeper breaths slowly. Be aware of how you feel as your deeper breaths relax your lungs (lesson 2).
  • On your next inhalation, pause (lesson 3) and suspend breathing for 4 seconds before slowly exhaling and pausing for 4 seconds. Allow each breath to flow slowly into the next. Reminder - if you are not breathing slow and deep enough you may find yourself lightheaded.
  • Once you reach a comfortable rhythm, listen for your heartbeat whenever you pause. There's no need to over think this, allow your heartbeat to rise above the noise in your head. Please note that hearing and feeling your heartbeat does not necessarily happen right away. It takes practice as with any breathing exercise. But once you become aware of heart focus, it’s always there for you with every beat of your heart.
  • Enjoy this exercise for 15 minutes or longer each morning, throughout your day as often as you would like, and before you drift off to sleep. Adding more time will help achieve a successful breathing practice.

When you are finished, sit for a few minutes bringing your breath back to your natural rhythm. Don’t forget to whisper to yourself thank you - insert your name. After all, this time has been your gift to you.

Let heart focus be an easy exercise. As you focus on your breathing and heartbeat you may even feel a slight sway to your upper body. Allow it to move and breath, ebb and flow with every beat. Allow mindfulness to flow in and out, in and out, to the rhythm of each breath, each heartbeat.

Continue with this heart focus exercise and go back and review previous lessons until next time.

Stay safe, be well,
Michelle
Heartbeat graphic courtesy of Aliaina Rakes

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Breathing Practice 3 Pause


"It’s not so much knowing when to speak, but when to pause."
Jack Benny

We’ll continue to build our breathing practice this week by hitting the pause button. There are times in our lives when we wish we had a pause button. Now, we will create one in this simple breathing exercise. By controlling breathing with a pause, we are creating a gap. In this gap we are creating space. We suspend the breath and are in control of one thing - this space, this moment.

  • Sit or lie down in your favorite quiet place with your hands in your lap or on your stomach. If you've been lying down, you may want to try sitting and vice versa. Relax your jaw and allow soft eyes.
  • Now simply begin to breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. With each breath slow the inhale and the exhale down until you reach a comfortable rhythm. Remember this is your time so allow your mind to relax. Let your cares and thoughts float away by coming back home to your breath and how it feels to breathe.
  • Begin welcoming deeper breaths slowly. Be aware of how you feel as your deeper breaths relax and expand your lungs.
  • After your next inhalation, hit pause and suspend breathing for 4 seconds before slowly exhaling. Experiment with hitting pause after you exhale. If this is going well, try hitting pause after the inhalation and exhalation. Become aware of which breathing pattern you are most comfortable as you bring conscious thought to your breath patterns.
  • Continue the rest of the exercise with the most comfortable pause pattern. There should be no gasping for air as each inhalation-pause-exhalation-pause flows into the next. If you are not breathing slow and deep enough (a common occurrence for all us shallow breathers) you may find yourself lightheaded, so breathe s-l-o-w-l-y. This is not a race!
  • Do this exercise for 15 minutes or longer each morning, throughout your day as often as you would like, and as you drift off to sleep. Adding more time will help achieve a successful breathing pattern over time.

When you are finished, whisper to yourself thank you - insert your name. We can go for days never hearing a thank you or even our name. Simple positive affirmations help acknowledge what it is we’re doing and go a long way in achieving the cornerstones of self-care. These breathing exercises hit pause and give you this moment which is a gift to you from you.

Again, let this be easy. Concentrate on your body and the ebb and flow of your precious breath as it moves in, pauses, moves out, pauses, and creates space. Consider each pause as you would a gap between thoughts. With each breath allow peace and mindfulness to flow.

Next time we’ll continue to build our awareness with each loving breath we take.

Stay safe, take care,
Michelle

Pause button courtesy of Holly Ireland