Ever take time to listen to that small voice within you? The whisper that grows into a large voice that helps create clarity for your life evolving? Our wellness and meditation expert Paige Davis shares tips of how you can breathe your way to greater insight.
FIND THE PATH
When I stumbled upon meditation a bit accidentally, I was a stressed out entrepreneur on the verge of burnout and desperate for some peace in my life. The quick fixes I usually relied upon simply weren’t making a difference and I was craving something deeper, so I surrendered my search to Google and landed on… a meditation retreat. My decision to attend the retreat was poorly timed and illogical given all of my other commitments, but there was a feeling, an indescribable guidance that was beyond me, and I knew I simply had to go.
Needless to say, attending was a life-changing experience. I walked away with an understanding of what meditation is, what it isn’t, and tangible tools to cultivate a daily practice that fit my busy lifestyle. I learned that meditation refers to the many modern and ancient techniques and practices that settle the nervous system. With origins from the yoga tradition – yoga means to yoke, or to join – there are many different types of meditation, with the most common being mindfulness meditation. I like to think of mindfulness as a muscle, and as we exercise it through meditation, we train our brains to be more focused, engaged, and less reactive. As we do this, we are altering the landscape of our brain with some pretty significant benefits.
BREATHING THROUGH OBSTACLES
Further exploring my daily practice, I experienced many of these immediate benefits first hand: sleeping better, being less reactive during stressful moments in my life, and communicating better with my loved ones and co-workers. But my real connection occurred about 9 months into my daily practice when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Throughout my cancer journey, I was aware of the magnitude of what was happening. I also experienced an unbelievable focus and discernment as I was forced to navigate such uncharted territory. Was it the most difficult thing I have ever experienced? Yes. It was also a very meaningful and transformational time. To others this appeared as positivity, but to me, it was simply being present and my daily practice at work.
So how do get to this utopia of present moment awareness? It doesn’t require abandoning our lives for a retreat or receiving a life-changing diagnosis. I believe it starts with daily practice and some practical tips and tools to integrate in our everyday lives. It also requires dispelling some common misconceptions.
The most common misconception is that we are supposed to quiet our brains. The truth is, it’s ok to have thoughts. It’s the nature of the brain to have thoughts. A big “aha” for me when I started my daily practice is that it’s not necessarily about that Zen moment where everything is calm and serene (although that ultimately can happen). It is about shifting our relationships with our thoughts. For example, you may be sitting in silence or focusing on your breath when your thoughts start to drift: What will I make for dinner? What do I need at the grocery store? Did I send the email? That’s normal.
Meditation is the tool to interrupt those thoughts and cultivate the ability to pay attention to the here and now, bringing your attention back to a point of focus, on purpose and without judgment. With daily practice, we start to experience a “new normal” – where what we think, feel and do start to align.
Here’s a great way to begin meditating for long-term benefits. Start with 5 minutes – set aside time daily to simply sit and breath. By simply breathing in and out through our nose, we access our parasympathetic nervous system that automatically relaxes us. Practice at red lights and breath through the entire cycle of the red light. Then, count your breaths: inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3, etc., up to 10. If you get distracted – which you will – start again at 1.
The greatest benefit is that it is not necessarily about what happens during meditation, but the shifts that occur in how we respond in our lives with more compassion, patience, generosity and forgiveness. While meditation won’t necessarily change current life events or remove the stress that is part of the human condition, it becomes a tool to transform our approach to responding in a much more calm, engaging, and meaningful way.