Take a breath

I’m loving listening to Sharon Salzberg’s free daily meditations this month. I met Sharon in 2007 when she was speaking at an Omega Institute Conference in NYC. Of all the classes I took that weekend, Sharon’s is the one that has stayed with me the longest. Sharon lives a Zen life, and her advice and teaching are always about finding the middle path – not too relaxed and not too tense!

In her meditation prompts this week, Sharon focused on breathing, something we barely notice and yet… try not taking a breath! I start each of my talks on Organizational Zen with quiet breathing. This is a great way to help you feel focused. And I like how even five minutes of quiet breathing helps transition you from one space, or project, or idea, to another.

Here are a few of Sharon’s exercises to get you breathing. Start each of these sitting quietly in a comfortable chair or on the floor. Make sure your back is straight. There’s something magical about having a straight back when you breathe. Your backbone is like an antennae to the Universe! However you sit, you don’t want to feel either too tense or too relaxed. You want to feel attentive and alert.

You can do the following exercises with your eyes open or closed. If I’m in front of something really beautiful, I love to keep my eyes open because I feel myself go deep into whatever it is I’m looking at. But when I really want to get lost, I close my eyes. I like seeing the colors of the light behind my eyelids and having my eyes closed makes me feel unified, mind and body.

If you’re new to meditation, try each of these exercises for just five minutes. Setting a timer on your clock or phone is a great way to stay focused on the exercise and not think about how much time is left. The goal with meditation is to let your brain relax, but as thoughts pop up, just notice them and come back to a quiet place on your next breath. Life is distracting! How nice it is that each breath is a fresh start.

Exercise #1 – Paying attention to your breath
Breathe naturally and notice the pace of your breathing. Is it fast or slow? Long or short? As you “watch” it, how does it change? Are you breathing through your nose or through your mouth? Try switching and see how different that feels. When you breathe through your nose, your body generally feels more relaxed than when you breathe through your mouth. When you breathe through your mouth, your body is ready to run!

As you breathe, feel the sensation of your breath inside your nose or in your mouth. Feel your breath in your chest or in your stomach. Notice how your body muscles change as you breathe.

Notice where your energy is as you breathe. Are you stepping away, like, “I’m not really going here.” If so, move your energy forward. Or are you trying so hard to focus on your breath that your energy is all along the front of your face? If so, take a mental step back until you relax as you breathe.

That’s it. For five minutes just breathe and see how it feels.

Exercise #2 – Counted breathing
Again, sit quietly and notice your breathing. Did you know that whatever you pay attention to changes it?

Now take a breath and as you breathe in say “In,” to yourself. And as you breathe out, give the breath a number. So on the first breath, when you breathe in say, “In”. And when you breathe out, say “One”. On the next breath, breathe in and say, “In”. And breathe out and say “Two”. When you get to ten, start again at one. Do this for five minutes.

When you take a last big breath, take a “look” at how you feel. Lighter? More grounded? Is there a smile on your face? Do your eyes feel more relaxed? Do you feel ready to shift gears to something new?

Exercise #3 – Walking meditation
This exercise uses the same relaxed, focused breathing but takes it out for a walk. If the weather’s nice, go outside. Temperature change, wind, and light are a natural lift to your spirit. But staying in works too. Either way, take a few breaths to feel grounded, then take a step and feel the sensations in your body. Feel the pressure in your feet. Feel each step as your bones and muscles move. One step. One step. One step.

Feel the air on your face and look at what’s around you. Really look. If you pass a tree, look at the shape. Look at the color. Look at a lone leaf or branch. If you’re inside, stop and look at something you pass by every day, but this time, really look at it. Walk slowly and breathe it all in. Then walk faster and notice how that feels.

At the end of your walk, sit quietly to catch your breath and settle back into your day.

Here’s a link to Sharon’s blog if you’d like to learn more.

Happy breathing!

I popped down to Boston yesterday to audition for a commercial. What fun that the Boston Public Gardens were on my path. I breathed in a lot of beauty as I sprinted through for the audition, and leisurely sauntered back after. 🙂

Boston Commonimg_7033 img_7042

2 thoughts on “Take a breath

  1. Hi Sam. When I first started meditating I did. I could almost hear the clock ticking! Then I got where I was shocked when the alarm went off. Now I don’t set an alarm. Your brain seems to “get” this after awhile!


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