Breathing & Meditation, The Game Changers
For years, I have been what I would call a “breath-holder.” When I am under stress, I hold my breath. When I do a series of tough movements in my work outs, I hold my breath. I’m sure it started out as a control mechanism of sorts, but what was alarming was that I didn’t even realize I was doing it… despite the fact that I had been for years!
During a particular rough period in my life, when I was under a lot of stress at work, and putting a lot of pressure on myself to get every little thing just right, I realized I needed to start taking some action towards a more healthy lifestyle. Despite working out on a regular basis and eating decently, I was experiencing a lot of chest pain, I was exhausted all of the time and I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic. I was stressed to the extreme, and I wasn’t handling it well.
I ended up turning to meditation, and it was truly a game changer.
It still amazes me how much good can happen from just a few minutes of time sitting in silence, and being present. The stress eases, the thoughts unwind.
I am not going to lie though, at first I was very intimidated by meditation. I felt like I needed to get it just right if I was even going to bother trying it, and my need for perfection was getting in my way. Finally, I decided I just needed to try it already (shout out to Jared for his persistence), and I downloaded two apps I read about online. The first was Headspace, a free guided meditation app with 10 meditations for you to try. You can then buy monthly and yearly subscriptions for guided meditation if you end up liking it. I also downloaded Simply Being, which has the option of being a guided meditation, or just soft background music for your time meditating.
I ended up buying a year’s subscription of Headspace, after trying their free app and trying 10 of their meditations. Now-a-days, I opt for using less guided options. Simply Being is my go-to now, but sometimes I will sit in complete silence too, focusing on the ins and outs of my breath.
I do, however, highly recommend Headspace for beginners, or those who are nervous to try meditation. It helps ease you into the process and makes you feel much more comfortable with your practice. Meditation, although it seems easy, is actually very hard. It gets more natural with practice, but the guided meditations with Headspace really helped me on my journey with meditation the first year.
As an example of how Headspace and my meditation practice have helped me, I want to revisit those breath holding habits I talked about earlier.
During my Headspace meditations, I regularly scanned the body the body for areas of tension, taking an unbiased look at what was going on in my body, which was a technique used often in these meditations and one that I still do now. By doing this body scan, I realized how deeper breaths helped me ease the tension in my chest. I learned that my breathing patterns were shallow and tight when I was stressed, and much more free flowing when I wasn’t.
I tried not to judge myself for this in any way, I was simply learning, and examining what was happening in my body, which was good. Despite this intention, I do admit that I did feel pretty silly at first for not recognizing my own breathing patterns and just how much it could affect my body and mind.
After a little more thought though, I don’t think that this is really my fault, but instead an unfortunate consequence of our crazy modern lives. Getting caught up by trying to juggle a mission tasks, constantly worrying about the future, mulling over the past, and constantly being bombarded with new information (whether solicited or not) makes for a hectic lifestyle and not one very conducive for self-examination.
So I refuse to be ashamed, and instead I choose to be empowered. Because had I not waded into that scary area I was building up in my head and tried meditating in the first place, I know I would be in a much worse spot today. I just wish, knowing just how much it has helped me, that more people would try it for themselves.