When we think about our health, we often focus on nutrition and fitness. These are important, of course, but there’s a third crucial component that can be easily overlooked: our self-care and emotional wellbeing. This includes anything that makes us feel good, calm and at peace with the world. And it all begins with our breath.
Instead of the shallow breathing many of us fall into, taking a few deep, conscious breaths can calm our nerves and slow our heart beat. It can also help build internal awareness—Where is my breath getting stuck? Can I breath into my belly? How tight is my chest? Getting more closely in touch with how our body feels is a giant step towards achieving greater overall health.
Connecting breath, body and mind, also known as meditation, is certainly not new. But for a lot of us, it can feel difficult, even intimidating, knowing where and how to start. Remember, meditation is a practice, so it's completely normal that it feels hard in the beginning.
The good news is, we can meditate anywhere and at any time with no special training or props required. It’s also chock full of health benefits—from stress management and increased concentration, to helping with high blood pressure, heart disease and depression. There’s no one right way to do it and you’ll never be graded on your performance. The only “goal” is to relax and focus on your breath.
Give these three simple meditation exercises a try. Remember to start off slow (maybe 5 minutes at a time) and set a timer so you’re not tempted to peek at the clock. Whenever a new thought comes up (and they most definitely will) simply label it “planning,” “thinking,” “worrying,” “ruminating,” etc. and let it go.
1. Follow your breath: Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Experiment to see what feels best for your body depending on the day. Close your eyes and take a few moments to release any tension, starting with your feet and moving all the way up to the top of your head. Then start paying attention to your inhale and exhale. Place one hand on your belly to feel the rise and fall, exhaling as fully as possible. Notice that the deeper you breathe, the more your hand will move. Don’t worry about trying to change your breath, just watch and feel it. In and out. In and out. To help keep you focused, silently count each breath, saying “one” on the inhale, and “one” on the exhale. Then “two” and so on. You’ll probably find you won’t get very far before your mind starts to wander. Don’t worry! Just let those thoughts go and start over again with “one.”
2. Walking meditation. Find a quiet space outside and begin walking at a slow pace, focusing on your feet. Try to distinguish when your toe first touches the ground, when your foot is flat and when your toe points back upward. Feel the continuous roll of your foot and observe how your feet feel. Whenever your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your feet. Learning to notice when our attention drifts and how to quickly bring it back into focus allows us to be more present in daily life. Start by dedicating a specific time and place to practice. When you become more comfortable with walking meditation, try it as you stroll to the bus stop, office or grocery store.
3. Gratitude exercises. What are your first thoughts when you wake up in the morning? Before you throw back the covers and start planning your outfit, breakfast and to-dos, take two minutes to find calm and focus. Close your eyes and think of five things (they can be people too) you are grateful for and silently thank them. These can be as simple as having two hands or the warmth of the sun. This will be more challenging on some days than on others, but stick with it. You’ll be amazed at the calm, connected and positive feelings that arise and stay with you throughout your day.
Give it a try! Here’s a guided meditation you can try right now from teacher and Yes Health advisor Lorin Roche:
Lorin Roche began meditating in 1968 as part of scientific research on the health benefits of the practice, and found he loved it. He was trained as a teacher soon afterwards and has been sharing the joy of meditation for the last 47 years. He has a PhD from the University of California at Irvine, where he conducted research on the language of meditative experience.