Mindfulness Techniques (Step Two)

If do did not do so already, please review “STEP ONE”…Creating the habit of setting aside time in your day. Starting small with just 5 minutes.

https://carolbaileyyoga.com/mindfulness-practice/

This post is considered STEP TWO...ideas on techniques to do during the time you set aside.


Pause for a moment. If you feel safe to do so, close your eyes. Bring your attention to the literal center of your brain. Focus on that spot as much as you can and just be there and breathe. How does that feel? Did your body respond?

Is yoga about controlling your thoughts? I think so. Or as Judith Hanson Lasater puts it, we are manipulating our nervous system. (which you do anyways each time you drink coffee) I think a huge health benefit is that with multiple techniques including breath focus, mantras, yin yoga, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, and meditation we can allow the thinking mind, literally the brain, to rest. This is much different than spending time watching TV, reading, playing video games or napping/sleeping. This is consciously becoming aware of your thoughts, deciding that you are not going to fixate or figure anything out right now and then focusing on something neutral like the breath, mantra, etc.

Sounds simple but it is not easy to do. Often when we start it can be frustrating and may seem to “not work”. A red flag that you need it is when it is difficult to do and might be something that you avoid trying all together. Start small, 5 minutes a day. Pick one of the suggestions below, set a timer and just try. Next day, repeat. It will take time but it is worth it. Rome was not built in a day and your mind will not settle quickly either. Have patience, be gentle to yourself and keep going. You are worth the time & effort.

Note this is not a luxury or ever a waste of time. There is nothing you can do in those 5 minutes that is more important. I am reading a booked called Radiant Rest by Tracee Stanley which is about Yoga Nidra. She says it beautifully that we are not just resting for ourselves. We are resting also on behalf of our family members who came before us. They are part of our DNA. So it may not be our tendency to stop and take care of ourselves before others. But this is my way of knowing the larger picture. I am resting for myself and those who came before me. It makes it a deeper practice in my life.


Enjoy science studies? I do! I think it is helpful to ask why and know that it is not just a yoga teacher suggesting this but real science is behind it as well. The scientific studies about having mindfulness moments is so numerous you don’t have to look far to find multiple books and reputable studies online on the subject.

  • During a conscious focusing of the mind, your brain activity can be summed up into the following categories…
    • Mind-wandering
    • Awareness of the fact that one’s mind wandered
    • Redirecting attention back to chosen object of concentration/meditation
    • Active maintenance of sustaining attention on given object (or focal point)
  • All of these activities are controlled by different networks and cortexes of the brain. (The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care by Khalsa, Cohen, McCall and Telles- not the easiest book to read but it does have science studies about yoga. I also like to subscribe to a scientific research yoga online news outlet to get more details https://www.yogaresearchandbeyond.com/breath-connects-mind-body & https://www.yogaresearchandbeyond.com/yoga-memory-brain/
  • You are not just helping out your brain but it has a full body impact as well. Even helps boost your immune system. Think of these breaks as a daily vitamin.

My intention with this blog post is to provide a stepping stone to some techniques that I have found helpful. There are SO many ways to do this and I suggest having multiple ones you enjoy to add into your toolbox. Days are different and one may resonate with you more in a given moment.

All of these practices can either be done seated with a tall spine or reclined in a comfortable position. As much as possible, the inhale & exhale are done via the nose. Keeping the breath subtle, smooth, silent and comfortable. Like a whisper. Not trying to force the breath or take a HUGE deep breath like you are filling up a balloon to capacity. Of course, when possible, make your practice longer than 5 minutes. I have been trying for 20 minutes each day.

In future blog posts I will provide some info on suggested restorative poses (based on the work of Judith Hanson Lasater) that I have found helpful for enhancing my “brain break”. I will also get into more breathing methods or pranayama (if interested, explore this book Restoring Prana by Robin Rothenberg).


The quieter you become the more you are able to hear.

— Rumi


Present Moment Focus

The most simple way to get into the present moment is to focus on sensations. What you are feeling. The air on your skin, the touch of fabric from clothing, which parts of your body are in contact with the floor and which are not. We have memories of past events but we cannot recreate the actual sensations of that moment. These are only found in the present and this is what anchors us into the here and now.

Soham or Sohum Mantra “I am that”

  • Listen and feel the rhythm of your breath
  • Inhale say silently to yourself “So”
  • Exhale in your mind say “Hum”
  • Inhale “So”, Exhale “Hum”
  • Repeating the mantra linking to your breath cycle provides a focus point for the mind.  If you lose focus, just start again.  

Visual Alternate Nostril Breathing for Balance

  • This method does not manually close the nostrils, it uses a mental focus to visualize the flow of breath in a U-shape. The third eye can be seen as the space between your eyebrows.
  • Inhale up the right nostril, looping up past the third eye
  • Exhale down this U-shape and out the left nostril
  • Repeat in the opposite direction. Imagine you are inhaling via the left nostril. Looping up past the third eye center. Exhaling out the right nostril.
  • Repeat the pattern going back and forth. Focusing on which nostril is receiving the breath and which is releasing it.
  • If helpful, you can imagine a healing blue light associated with the air you are breathing in and out.

Breath Wonder

  • I could name this breath curiosity but I have been loving the word “Wonder” lately. It has a playful tone to it.
  • There are many ways to create a sense of wonder with the breath cycle, here are a few to try out…
    • Focus your attention on the cooler air entering the nasal passages and the warmer air exiting.
    • Visualize the movement of the diaphragm (your primary breathing muscle). Located around the low rib area, it begins as a dome shape. As you inhale, it contracts and moves downward, creating a negative space vacuum for the air to be pulled into the lungs. As you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and move upward, returning to its dome shape. Note the lateral (side) movement of the low ribs with each breath. You may want to provide some feedback by placing the webbing between your thumbs and index finger on the sides of your waist at the low rib level.
    • Note the pause at the end of the exhale. Not holding the breath but just noticing the pause and then continue with a comfortable inhale breath.
    • As you continue your subtle, smooth, soft breathing pattern, see if you notice any changes in your body temperature, overall feeling or even the amount of saliva in the mouth. These will indicate the rest/digest/recover nervous system is turned up in your body.

Counting or Words associated with breath cycle

  • There are so many techniques for this it would be difficult to write all of them. Here are some that I suggest exploring.
  • You can even read a quote or poem you enjoy and then use a line or a couple words from it for your mantra.
  • Counting length of your inhale and exhale. Knowing that each breath is unique and may not match this pattern exactly. Still continue to count and notice the pauses after the inhale and exhale.
    • Inhale, 2, 3, 4, PAUSE, Exhale, 2, 3, 4, PAUSE, repeat…
  • Counting backwards from 27 per breath cycle (kind of like counting yoga sheep)
    • Inhale 27, Exhale 27, Inhale 26, Exhale 26, Inhale 25, Exhale 25…
    • Don’t worry if you lose your place, that is actually a good sign that you are beginning to let go and rest. Begin again or start around 10 and continue counting. I like this one before I go to bed.
  • Saying a word silently to yourself with each breath
    • Inhale “Calm”; Exhale “Stress”; Inhale “Peace”; Exhale “Worry”
    • Or even as simple as Inhale “Inhale”; Exhale “Exhale”

Guided Meditations & Sounds

  • A guided meditation can be helpful since you are listening to someone for directions. Another way is to provide some white noise in the background as a way to provide a calm environment.
  • During these guided meditations, utilize any of the above methods to keep your mind focused.
  • I have some guided meditations on YouTube that you can try. (It is just weird for me to listen to my own voice.)
  • Sanctuary by Rod Stryker cell phone app = Guided meditation and Nidra
  • Relax Melodies cell phone app = You can create custom sounds like rain drops and set a timer. There are also guided meditations on there as well.
  • There are SO many to choose from like calm, headspace, etc for your cell phone.
  • Last little tip is that I normally keep a pen and paper near me just in case I have too many distracting thoughts, I can write them down to get them “out of my head”.

Remember always, you are worth it. Start small, continue on, and you may surprise yourself at the results.

Mindful Breathing: Ocean Breath

There are so many benefits of mindful breathing and increasing the length of the breath cycle. This is free and easy to do. It also can be done at anytime during your day! The magic is in the slowness of the breath cycle. Consciously breathing and lengthening the cycle to around 10 seconds per breath or 6 breaths per minute. This is a switch from unconscious breathing to consciously breathing and watching the breath, setting a little internal timer in your head to count the inhale and exhale length. There is some effort to slow down the inhale in a comfortable and smooth manner. However, there is no need to force out the exhale, the diaphragm has a natural rebound effect. The focus should be on the slow and smooth inhale and the slight pauses.

“Four S’s” of breathing exercises: Maintain a smooth, slow, subtle and steady breath

Each breath is unique. I encourage you to try this practice without expecting a precise count with each inhale and exhale. If you are new to this technique, I encourage you to start small. Begin with 3 to 5 cycles of the Ocean Breath and then just relax and let your unconscious breathing take over again.

Side note if you want to follow the route of your breath according to how your diaphragm works, you can do the following. As you inhale, follow the breath as it fills the upper chest (aka upper lobes of the lungs), then expands the rib cage and the finally can be felt in the belly due to the diaphragm contracting and moving slightly downward. The exhale will be the verse of this route as the diaphragm returns back to the upside down dome-shaped muscle near your low ribs.

Simple Pranayama Exercise: Ocean Breath

  • Find a comfortable seated position so your spine can be long. Sit on some height like folded blankets or a cushion. If this is very uncomfortable, then practice in supported bridge pose with a block under your pelvis/sacrum.
  • Inhale for 4 seconds
  • Pause for 1 second
  • Exhale for 4 seconds
  • Pause for 1 second

Benefits

  • Activates your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which is your rest/digest/recover nervous system. The great part is just your breath alone can enable this response. You may notice an increase in the saliva in your mouth and a decrease to the rate of your heart beat.
  • Increases heart rate variability
  • Healthy for your vagus nerve which is your pathway of information to and from the brain and organs.
  • Improves baroreflex or the way your body automatically changes blood pressure
  • Improves exercise tolerance. This is the reason we are encouraged to breathe through your nose slow and smooth while exercising.
  • Increases blood oxygenation which means the heart does not need to work as hard since there is an increase in the amount of oxygen in the blood stream.

Recommended books

  • https://yinyoga.com/the-yinside-of-breathing/
  • The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark
  • Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
  • Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing by Timothy McCall
  • Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

  • This Pranayama (breath control) entails inhaling in one nostril and exhaling out the opposite nostril.  I will be describing the moon-piercing breath (Chandra Bhedana) since I have found it to be the most calming version. It considers your left side of your body, the Yin, which is the restful and cooling side.  The opposite is the right side of your body, the Yang, which is the active and hotter side.  All your inhales will occur via your left nostril.  All your exhales will be done in your right nostril.  If you like a visual, the breath goes in and out in a clockwise fashion.      
  • Have a tissue ready since this tends to clear out sinus blockages and can help during allergy season.  This is a relaxing breath to do before a big meeting or something you know that elevates your stress levels.  It is also a nice one to do right before going to sleep.
  • Steps to perform this breath:
    • Take either hand and curl in your first and middle fingers into your palm.  Bring your thumb to the outside of one of your nostrils.  Your ring and pinkie fingers will be on the outside of your other nostril. 
    • Block your right nostril, inhale left.
    • Block your left nostril, exhale right.
    • Continue this breath for one to three minutes.  Each breath should be slow, controlled and deep.