Meditation 101: First You Breathe

Some of you who read this newsletter may be experienced at meditating; others may have tried it in the past, and found that they couldn't seem to do it. And some of you may have convinced yourself that you could never do it, and have never tried.

When we approach meditation with the idea that unless we immediately meet our guides and angels and have a mystical experience disappointment will inevitably result. You wouldn't take your first swimming lesson and expect to win an Olympic gold medal the following week, and meditation is a kind of exercise which is similar to physical forms in that you improve with practice.

What I am about to describe is a very basic form of meditation which will teach you one of the basic prerequisites: correct breathing.

In Comes the Good Air

Many years ago I learned that I didn't breathe naturally. In natural breathing the solar plexus expands on the inhale and contracts on the exhale. Most people do the opposite, which increases, rather than releases, emotional tension.

Babies breathe naturally, but most children learn that shallow breathing seems to reduce feelings of emotional pain. The next time you get very upset observe your breathing. Are you holding your breath; are you trying not to feel? (This is especially obvious when people are afraid.)

The emotions we try not to feel don't go away, though. They accumulate in the form of stress and tension in the solar plexus, where they can cause all sorts of physical ailments, such as asthma and ulcers. Shallow breathing also depletes our intake of oxygen, which can cause anxiety.

Relearning how to breathe is the first and most important step in releasing stress. Try practicing natural breathing for five minutes a day. Imagine your breath rising from your feet and traveling up your body to the top of your head as you inhale. On the exhale feel your breath descending again to your feet.

Do this also whenever you feel yourself getting tense. Lean back in your chair and just breathe.

Beyond Breathing

Gradually increase the amount of time you spend on this breathing exercise. You may want to put on a favorite piece of classical music while you do so.

Once you feel comfortable with the basic breathing exercise you'll find that it creates a relaxed mood which is conducive to problem solving. (Remember, you're increasing your oxygen supply, which stimulates the brain.)

Maybe you need to come up with a creative way of doing something. Focus on it, think about what you hope to accomplish; then concentrate on your breathing. Allow your thoughts to wander. Don't automatically dismiss any idea, however ridiculous it initially seems; your imagination doesn't like to be rejected any more than you do. If no solution immediately emerges tell yourself that one will; then let it go. An idea may surprise you later on.

The relaxation method can help you in conflicts with others, especially when you're angry at them. It's important to feel anger and equally important to know when to let go of it, to realize that it tenses the body, tightens the jaw, and often conceals the heart of your feelings. When you get relaxed you may find that you're also feeling taken for granted, invalidated, betrayed, vulnerable. Once you've allowed those feelings, try to imagine how the other person might feel. Focus on resolution rather than on being right.

You can use this procedure when you're in conflict with yourself, when you're trying to choose between Choices A and B. Imagine each choice fully, noticing what feelings arise with each, and which choice calls up the most positive feelings.

The more regularly you practice this relaxation technique the more readily you'll be able to apply it in a crisis situation. After using it you may not feel ready to take on the world, but you'll be more at peace with yourself and ready to go into deeper states of meditation.

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