A scattered mind can be overwhelming. Having too many ‘tabs’ open on your to-do list causes exhaustion, sadness and stress. Whether it’s the holiday season or you have a deadline at work, sometimes you just need a little breather to reset in order to continue your day with clarity and a sense of calm.

The saying ‘to take a breather’ stems from the early 1900’s and literally means ‘resting to recover one’s breath’. Whereas taking a breather – or a break – seems logical when doing physical exercise and exerting oneself, it’s equally important when it comes to exerting the mind.

Having a steady mind usually means having a steady, full breath, whilst a busy mind most likely means dealing with a shallow or choppy breath. The most powerful tool to help still a busy mind is therefore your own breath.

Focussing on your breath is a great way to meditate, improve mental clarity, gain more energy, and calm the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system – your relaxation response. When you calm the body, you calm the mind.

Meditation or breathwork isn’t about switching off or emptying the mind. It’s simply a way to pay full attention to the breath, which eventually allows you to pay full attention to day-to-day activities, rather than functioning on auto-pilot.

WHY THE BREATH CAN HELP WITH A STEADY MIND

1. IT’S ALWAYS WITH YOU

No matter where you are or what you are doing, your breath is always there. It’s a constant ‘moving’ point of focus that can help ground you in the here and now. Whether you’re walking in the park, hanging out laundry or doing the dishes, you are (hopefully!) breathing.

Therefore, in moments of overwhelm or stress, allow yourself to ‘take that breather’ by becoming fully aware of every single inhale, and every single exhale. Notice how the breath moves in the body. Notice the air as it enters the nostrils. The sense of coolness as it hits the throat and enters the lungs. A change in temperature of your breath as you exhale. Whilst you are focussing on the breath, try to make your inhales deeper, and your exhales longer. Try for three minutes and notice if there is a shift in your physical and mental state.

meditation to still a busy mind

2. YOUR BREATH IS A MONITOR FOR YOUR CURRENT STATE OF MIND

Your breath is a personal health monitor that measures how you are feeling at any given moment. Is your breath short and shallow, or is it long and deep? Do you focus on your breath at all during the day? Unfortunately, most people tend to breathe incorrectly these days. Lucky for us there are easy ways to learn how to breathe correctly.

As mentioned before, a disturbed mind means a disturbed breath. Long and slow breaths are key to creating a sense of calmness within. When you inhale, your heart rate naturally accelerates. When you exhale, it drops. Try to make your exhales longer than your inhales in times of stress and see what happens.

Do your breath work either lying down or in a comfortable seat

Lengthening your breaths, and in particular your out-breath sends a message to your nervous system that you are safe, that all is OK. In response, your body has a chance to rest and the chatter in your mind decreases.

3. YOUR BREATH IS A STEADY ANCHOR IN A FRANTIC WORLD

Christmas or no Christmas, we can all agree that today’s society is fast-paced.

Your breath can literally ‘anchor’ you in the present moment. And all you have to do is pay attention to it. We know this is easier said than done, and it might take a little practice. Every time you sense your mind wandering off to your to-do list, or unpleasant things that are outside of your control, re-direct your awareness back to your breath.

Begin to follow the natural rhythm and pace of your breath and do your best to consciously notice when your mind wanders, which will inevitable happen. Even the most devoted meditator will experience thoughts coming and going.

If you feel your thoughts shifting, simply re-focus your attention back to the breath, and start again. It’s called a meditation – or breath – practice for a reason. It’s not a breath perfect. It takes effort and time to train your mind. And just like anything, some days we are better at it than others.

OUR MOST FAVOURITE AND MOST POWERFUL BREATHING TECHNIQUE

It’s perfectly OK to park your to-do list on your mind’s workbench. In fact, we’d like to say it is absolutely necessary to give your mind a time-out. Give yourself a breather by following the below breathing technique, and return to your to-do list at a later stage with less stress, more time and increased mental clarity.

find a quiet place to practice your breathing and meditation

The four magical steps:

1. Inhalation

Slowly take a deep inhale, breathing in from your belly and up into your lungs using the diaphragm (your main muscle for respiration, located just below the lungs) for a count of 4. You want to feel your belly, ribcage and chest expand to all sides, like a three-dimensional breath, but without creating tension in the body.

2. Hold Your Breath 

Retain the air you just inhaled for a count of 4 (or reduce to 2 if that works better for you).

3. Exhalation

Slowly and steadily start to exhale the air from your lungs for a count of 6 or 8. Try to gently push the air out of your lungs by drawing your belly button inwards and upwards. This helps to move your diaphragm inwards and upwards as well, which in turn pushes any stale air out of your lungs – making space for a bigger inhale.

4. Suspend

When the lungs are empty, pause for a count of 4 before you inhale again. Relax your muscles before you take the next inhale. You can adjust the number of counts to whatever you’re comfortable with, but try to either make your in- and exhale the same length, or double your exhales. Pause and repeat for as long as comfortable. Try at least 5 minutes.

About the author: Sab is the founder of Retreat Here and Sabijn Linssen Yoga. She creates Yoga and Wine Events and Retreats to connect like-minded women in Victoria. She’s also a fully certified Yoga Instructor, offering private and corporate yoga classes in Melbourne.

Sabijn, founder of Retreat Here

- Sabijn Linssen


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