Meditation and Breathing

Stop scrolling.

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Soften your jaw.

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Relax your eyes.

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Drop your shoulders.

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Start to slow your breath.

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Breathe in for 1…2…3… and hold for 1…2… and breathe out for 1…2…3… and hold for 1…2…. Repeat this this as many times as you need.


How does your body feel? What is your mind like? This simple breathing exercise has the ability to bring you into the present moment, detach from the thoughts racing through your mind, and bring you into a more relaxed and peaceful state.


Meditation, mindfulness, and breathing have become popularized in mainstream culture. But what is happening to our bodies when we utilize these practices? Is there a difference between each of these? Why are they beneficial?


Meditation and Mindfulness are often used interchangeably, but there are subtle, yet important, differences to understand:


· Meditation usually refers to a formal practice that can calm the mind and enhance awareness of ourselves, our mind, and our environment (Behan, 2020).

· Mindfulness is simply being aware of the present moment.

· The act of intentionally breathing is a tool that humans can use to calm our bodies down and be in a more relaxed and present state.


These three practices have overlap and connection with each other, but this post is going to be focused specifically on meditation and breathing.


Meditation


Meditation is a practice in which an individual uses a specific technique to train their attention of awareness and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. Some of these techniques can involve mindfully breathing to anchor yourself in the present moment, compassion or loving-kindness meditations, body scans, walking meditations, focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity, or the use of mantras. Meditation can take many forms. Previously practiced primarily in Eastern cultures, meditation has now reached Western cultures and can be utilized as an effective therapeutic modality (Behan, 2020). These practices allow you to look inward, create pause in your daily life, and adhere to a more centered way of being. They can also connect you to different elements of the world – nature, a greater being, or spirituality, for example.


Over time, incorporating meditation into your life regularly allows you to react to your environment and anything that arises in your day in a calmer and more regulated way (Behan, 2020). Studies of people who have meditated over the long-term show changes in areas of the brain concerned with stress and anxiety (Afonso et al., 2020). The prefrontal cortex, the cingulate cortex and the hippocampus show increased activity, and the amygdala shows decreased activity consistent with improved emotional regulation.


Breathing


Intentional breathing can be used during meditation or as a tool on its own to bring the body into a more relaxed state during a period of crisis, anxiety, or fear. When we slow down our breath (like you did at the beginning of this post), our body is activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our “rest and digest” response. It decreases our heartrate, increases digestion, and lowers our blood pressure.


During an episode of high anxiety, fear, or worry, what typically happens is our heartrate increases, our breathing becomes quick and shallow, and our body gets ready for a survival response. You’ve probably heard of the phrase “fight, flight, or freeze”. When our body experiences these sensations, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, which pumps our body with epinephrine (i.e., adrenaline). It’s preparing our body for survival because it thinks we’re in some type of danger. This is our body’s way of keeping us alive.


However, when fear and danger have been stored in our bodies because of past traumatic or distressing experiences, our bodies activate our sympathetic nervous system when those emotions are triggered at a later time. This elicits an anxiety and danger-perceiving response to something that we identify as life threatening. Our bodies go into fight, flight, or freeze in order to keep us safe. When this is the case, our anxiety response can be regulated by activating our parasympathetic nervous system and intentionally slowing down our breathing.


These tools and techniques can be used regularly, or whenever they are needed. People may be averse to trying them because they may have the assumption that it’ll take too much time, or they “won’t do it right”. Know that any bit of meditation and intentional breathing that you incorporate into your life will have benefits. They are a skill – something that takes time and practice.


These practices are also something you can work on and discuss more deeply with a professional therapist. Check out our website (link in bio) to book a free consultation with one of our therapist’s if you’d like to know more!


And once again, because we all need a pause in our days:


Soften your jaw.

.

Relax your eyes.

.

Drop your shoulders.

.

Start to slow your breath.

.

Breathe in for 1…2…3… and hold for 1...2… and breathe out for 1…2…3… and hold for 1…2…. Repeat this this as many times as you need.



References:


Behan, C. (2020). The benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices during times of

crisis such as COVID-19. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 37(4), 256-258. Doi:10.1017/ipm.2020.38:


Afonso, RF, Kraft, I, Aratanha, MA, Kozasa, EH (2020). Neural correlates of meditation: a

review of structural and functional MRI studies. Frontiers in Bioscience (Scholars Edition) 12, 92–115.



Do you have any feedback/questions on this article? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know. I'd love to continue learning with you :)








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