A very simple way to calm ourselves and find a sense of peace is through meditation that connects us with our breath. Taking a few moments for conscious breathing can make all the difference in how we feel and how we approach our day or a situation.
Breath is the link between our body and mind. Often, we will be doing one thing with our body, and our mind is focused on another thing entirely. The simple exercise of conscious breathing brings the mind and body back into sync, so that we can become whole again.
Benefits of a Daily Meditation Practice
Many well-documented studies show the health benefits of meditation, such as:
- Reduction of anxiety and depression
- Improved concentration, focus & memory
- Enhancement of compassion and empathy
- Improved emotional wellbeing
- Lowered blood pressure
- Improved sleep
- Pain reduction
Conscious Breathing Meditation
Conscious breathing meditation can be done anywhere, anytime. You can spend as little as five minutes or as long as you desire. I think of it as a peace booster and equalizer that can be done throughout the day. This meditation, described by Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh in his many books and lectures, is practiced by beginners and long-time meditators alike, as it is so effective and easy.
If you can sit quietly, without distraction, feel free to do so, however, this can be done while at the office, while driving, while on the bus, while waiting in line, etc.
Put your attention on your breath. Don’t change how you are breathing, just put your attention on it.
As you breathe in, say to yourself, ‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in’.
As you breathe out, say to yourself, ‘Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out’.
You can also just think ‘In’ and ‘Out’ instead of reciting the whole phrase. As you do this, your breath will become deeper and more peaceful and your body will start to relax.
After doing this for a few moments, on each in and out breath, you can begin to say to yourself:
Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile
The gentle suggestion to calm your body is surprisingly effective, especially when accompanied by a smile. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests this smiling meditation, as a smile relaxes muscles in your face, promotes the feeling of peace and nourishes awareness. It may seem a little silly at first, especially if you don't feel like smiling, but try it out.
This smiling meditation isn’t just a bunch of woo, by the way. Scientifically, smiling is a feedback loop of joy. Not kidding!
When something makes us feel happy, we smile.
The happy stimulation lights up our brain’s reward centres, prompting neuronal signals to travel from the cerebral cortex to the brain stem and then to our facial muscles, triggering a smile. These signals also catalyze the release of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, like endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. This cocktail relaxes the body, boosts our mood and happiness, lowers blood pressure and helps to relieve stress.
And it also works in reverse!
Contracting the ‘smiling muscles’ in our face actually stimulates those same reward centres in the brain, which then send the signals back to our smiling face which releases more groovy feel good chemicals in the brain that relax the body and bring a sense of well being, making our smile even bigger and the cycle continues.
Just in case you needed a reason to smile. 🙂
For more info on the science of smiling and its health benefits, read my article: Smiling: The Feedback Loop to Health & Happiness