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Destination Relaxation

Breath Control and Meditation Techniques

By Hannah Hitcheson

If last year taught the world anything, it just may be that society needs to find ways to better manage health and stress during trying times, to find a little more calm among the chaos, and to find peace in the pause. A couple ways you can do this is through pranayama (breath control) and meditation.

Think about people who sigh often. While it may seem a little dramatic at first, it’s really an instant release of feelings. Sighing is also an audible release of carbon dioxide. Audible breath work relays to your body and mind that it is time to relax by releasing feelings and thoughts that were weighing you down. An inhalation is breathing in fresh oxygen to replenish and renew your tired body and mind. Now that it sounds that simple, you must be conscious of doing it.

Breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which means you don’t have to think about it because the body naturally performs. When you make a conscious effort, you begin to practice yoga. The word yoga means to yoke, the union — to yoke the mind and body through the movement of the breath, weaving a beautiful thread of life through the body. Yoga is often thought of as asana (the postures), but just consciously working the breath is mastering yoga.

To truly calm the mind and body through breath, you can practice longer and deeper inhalations and exhalations by following these steps:

  • Count how many seconds your inhales and exhales last.
  • Try to make your inhales and exhales match in duration.
  • Once the inhales and exhales match, make them longer and deeper.
  • Next, breathe into the belly first by raising it as high as it will go.
  • On the exhalation, pull the bellybutton towards the spine.
  • During your next breath, breathe into your belly, and then move the breath up to your ribs.
  • As you exhale, your ribs will release and your belly button will pull back toward your spine.
  • On the next inhalation:
    (1) breathe into the belly,
    (2) expand your ribs, and
    (3) add to your heart space (the chest).
  • On the exhalation: release the heart space, the ribs, and lastly, the belly.

Continue with this three-part breathing exercise as though a wave in the ocean comes to shore and leaves, taking with it shells and debris, cleansing the space.

Another way to find a bit of peace is through meditation. A common misconception about meditation is that the end goal is to clear out the mind, to think of nothing. While this may sound ideal to some, especially those who suffer with depression and anxiety, it is not the main goal. Meditation is a journey into one’s own consciousness. It’s a moment of peace, and a glimpse into one’s own higher self. Meditation asks the practitioner to be in the present moment, the now, where peace resides. When you are living in the past, you are living in a depressed state. When you are living in the future, you are living in an anxious state. So why not try to live in the peaceful state of now?

For some, the thought of meditating may seem unappealing because they believe the practitioner must sit still for an hour with fingers in a certain mudra (hand positioning), legs in full lotus (a pretzel asana for some), and remain fully quiet and in a state of bliss. In reality, few yogis truly feel that.

Meditation can be quite simple. Find a comfortable seated position with the spine elongated and hips higher than the knees (meditation cushions help with this). If that is uncomfortable, lying down may help. Once comfort is found in the body, you are ready to continue. Eyes can be closed or gently open with no distractions.

To begin, focus on your breath. Practice the previously mentioned three-part breathing exercise. Once your focus is on your breath, thoughts may begin to dissipate or slow down. Some thoughts will still come, and that’s OK. Imagine that there is a door at the front of the mind and a door at the back. As thoughts come in through the front door, you do not have to entertain them or “offer them tea and to sit a spell.” Just politely show them the back door, and they will go. It can be as simple as that — just don’t give negative thoughts any energy. Meditation can liberate you from the thoughts that can consume your life, allowing you to arrive at the destination of relaxation.

Hannah Hutcheson is the owner of Horizon Healing Center. 182 North Street, Canton. 678-631-8797.