One of the first forms of meditation I tried that actually gave me the results I was looking for – calmness, clarity, easing of anxiety – was Prana, an incredibly simple breathing exercise I learned from Benjamin Lee while in massage school at Brian Utting.
Since then, I’ve favored breathing meditations as mind calming introductions to my clients. Here is one of my favorites.
Read these instructions completely before starting or, even better, have a friend read them aloud to you, and then switch roles.
Disclaimer yadda yadda: The following is offered freely as felt-sense education. It is not therapy and does not replace medical diagnosis or treatment. Please use your discretion in participating in this exploration as you do so at your own risk. If it hurts, stop. If you are currently suffering from chronic pain or acute injury, attempt these instructions only under direct medical supervision.
Cleansing breath exercise
Close your eyes.
Take 15-30 seconds or so to do a quick scan of your body. Does anything hurt? Is your jaw tight? Do you have a knot in your stomach? Is your chest constricted? Are your shoulders tight? Is your brow furrowed? Observe these things, and take note of them. This information is what we will refer to as your baseline.
Inhale as slowly and as deeply as seems feasible.
Though it may be, don’t concern yourself with whether the breath is shaky, or if your air capacity is not as big as you’d like it to be. Just breathe, and be aware of the sensation of your breathing.
Can you feel the cool air rushing in at the base of your nostrils? Do you notice the expansion and contraction of your belly? The expansion of your ribs? Are they expanding up into your throat, or out to the back of your chair, or forward from your sternum, or a combination of these?
Maintaining this same experiential attentiveness, exhale, slowly and completely, at a rate which makes your exhale breath about twice as long as your inhale.
Repeat this breathing technique for about 20 breaths, or as long as it takes you to comfortably reach your timing goal, whichever comes first. Try your best to continue observing your breathing and how it feels. When your mind wanders, simply bring yourself back to the exercise once you’ve noticed. Note any changes in the lengths of your breathings – are they getting longer?
Now, scan yourself again, and note your new baseline. What has changed? Take a few normal breaths. What has changed?
Congratulations. You’ve just meditated, and come back to your senses. How’s it feel?
Take care of you,
Notes: If you need to, you can count as you breathe. A nice rate is a 4 second inhale, and a 7 or 8 second exhale. If you’re faster than that, 4/8 is your new goal. If you’re slower than that, GREAT. If numbers are a stress for you (salutations, comrade!) try saying to yourself in a calm and gentle voice “I am breathing in” when you inhale, and “I am breathing out” when you exhale.