Why is it that when we need exercise and relaxation the most, this is the time when we generally let it go. Or is that just me? The last few months I have been busy studying for my final psychiatry exams. Spending my time with the DSM-IV (the bible of insanity) not far from my side, trying to memorise all the possible ways the mind can go awry. In very basic terms there are two types of ways the mind can fail us. It can become too rigid or too loose and chaotic. For example: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a situation whereby the mind fills with thoughts or images which are intrusive, like doubt, disturbing sexual thoughts, or concerns you've left the oven on. As a solution the mind concocts specific rigid rules to follow which create a sense of security, like repeating to yourself three times that you are not a paedophile or touching your ear ten times before you leave the house to feel secure nothing disastrous will happen when you enter the world. On the other extreme, when the mind becomes chaotic and loose problems like Bulimia occur. Here the mind fills with unrestrained desire and food is consumed in large amounts with a sense of loss of control. Mind really can be a beast at its worst. However, things really become problematic when we start to believe the thoughts that are generated by mind. Although the DSM tells the story of mind states in their extreme, we can all identify with times when the mind has lost it's balance and we are taking it too seriously.
Mindfulness of breathing is an exercise which can quiet the mind in a remarkably short time, if we find the time. Personally, finding that time amidst stressful, busy periods can be challenging. Sometimes it's only through the support of friends and family that I remember to find that time. Mindfulness of breathing is fundamentally a very basic task, yet at the same time exceedingly difficult.
Last night I found that lying on my bed was the most supportive way to find my balance again. Next time you are stressed, take some time out, get comfortable, lie down. Firstly, become aware of any areas of tension in your body and actively try and let go of the tension with each exhalation. Let the day that has been and all your concerns and future lists dissolve with each exhalation. Imagining each exhale as a gentle breeze blowing thoughts away like leaves on a windy autumn day. Then tuning into your breath, bringing a curiosity to your breathing. After all, it is actually the most intriguing phenomenon there is, without it we die. Bring attention to the space that arises at the end of the out breath. Notice how big that space is. Last night I noticed I hadn't been aware of that space in many weeks. It was nice to find it again, I noticed a brief feeling of anxiety hidden within the space. A thought emerged "How long can that space be, how long can we retain breath for?" I caught myself falling into a spiral of thinking and then with the next exhale let go of that and decided to follow it up after meditation. I noticed my breathing slow down to the pace it would be if I was sleeping deeply. A sense of relief came over me, good to find that balance again amidst what has been a high stress time.
After the meditation was finished I found this interesting you tube clip about the power of breath, which truely amazed me. It describes the profound power that the mind has over body processes. It tells of the under-researched power of breath. A yogi who can slow his heart rate down from 80 beats per minute to 35 beats per minute just by controlling his breath. Why is this so important? Because this counters the effects of stress and anxiety and proves that by harnessing our minds properly we cannot only change our state of mind but also the effect our mind has over our body, a powerful tool with less side effects than a tablet.
How do you find balance? Do you ever meditate and what have you noticed when taking that time to breathe? Would you be interested in joining a 30-day mindfulness challenge?
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