Do you like January?
January is always a challenging month for me. It’s not unusual in our neck of the woods to have few sunny days in January and this year we actually set a record for cloudy and rainy days.
To compound matters, I feel like I've been living in the shadows due to unusually stressful family issues. Fortuitously, on January 1, the Lexington Herald-Leader ran a great little article in its health column by Dr. John A. Patterson, associate professor at the University of Kentucky Medical School, about mindful breathing.
Like you, I’ve read other descriptions of this practice but for some reason, this method seemed to resonate with me and I’ve had good success using it so I wanted to share it with you. I firmly believe we’d all be healthier, mentally and physically, if we learned to do this every day, whether we're living in the light or the shadows. Here are some key points.
- “Assume a comfortable position, lying down, seated or reclining. Closing your eyes improves focus and reduces distractions.
- Allow your muscles to relax, especially the neck, shoulders, jaw, face and back and anywhere you are tense.
- Take a few deep breaths, paying attention to the physical sensation of breathing.
- Notice the pause at the end of the out-breath. Without prolonging that pause or thinking about it, experience its calmness, quietness and peacefulness.
- Shifting your attention to your belly, allow it to be soft, rising with the in-breath and falling with the out-breath. A soft belly increases the movement of the diaphragm. This stimulates the para-sympathetic (“rest and digest”) of the vagus nerve, which runs through the diaphragm, acting as an antidote to the sympathetic (“fight or flight”) impulses of the stress response.
- Finally, feel the physical sensations of the breath in the nostrils, throat, chest and belly. Notice when the thinking mind wanders and, without judging yourself, simply return to feeling the breath.”
Dr. Patterson suggests practicing five to twenty minutes a day, once or twice daily. And the great thing is, you can do this anywhere although if you’re driving, you might want to keep your eyes open.
The hardest part for me? Keeping my mind from wandering. To do this I think the word “in” on the in-breath and “out “on the out-breath. (Hey! I never claimed to be a great wordsmith!) You can use whatever words or phrases work for you but the key is using a tool to help you focus on the breathing.
Perhaps you have other ideas which you can share with us about reducing the stress load on your body. If so, please share with us in the comments. We’re all here to help and support one another and I don’t claim any particular expertise in this field. I just want to start a conversation. Want to join in?
Wishing you sunny days and blue skies,