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Mindfulness and breathing have been key in transforming me from someone who lives in the fast lane to someone with a more wholesome, present, and calmer life.
I grew up in a religious environment, and given the amount of time I spent in church, I still lacked peace. Later in life, I started developing practices that led to a mindful way of living. I didn’t set out to become mindful, or practice mindfulness. My intention was to cultivate inner stillness.
Religion was making me feel anxious. Impossible standards were the cause of strain and internal pressure. Belief systems passed on were questionable. I worried that if I went against the grain, I’d go to “hell.”
I just never felt at ease with myself, like I wasn’t “allowed” to relax or take time out to soul seek.
I had been taught to “do” instead of “be.” To always perform. To act perfect. To be productive. To be on—all the time.
And it was an imbalanced (and exhausting) way of living.
I struggled to slow down and be mindful. I worried I would become lazy. Fail. Or waste my life. I was so used to achieving, and being on the go. But in my desire to be healthier and enjoy life, I started to carve out small increments of time to practice being. The temptation to escape the discomfort of slowing down was very much alive. I was confronted with layers of guilt, fear, and worry. However, having endured mental burnout many times, I knew the answers were not in avoidance.
Mindfulness is not just something we do to manage stress and be calm in the moment.
It’s a lifestyle choice to slow down in our approach to everything, and move with grace, posture, and good form.
A mindful life means to breathe. To pause. To be patient. To act with discernment. To act diligently. To do things well.
It is not being a seeker of external validation, quick fixes, and fast stimulation.
When we are always doing, and hardly being, it can shut off our heart flow, lower performance, and cause burnout. While we may understand that we need time to relax, to appreciate life, and live in the moment, it’s not always easy.
As a trainer, I worked with many women who wanted to lose weight, become fitter, and feel healthier. And they were often taken back when I would suggest slowing down and focusing on how they breathe while exercising. Generally, the responses were mistrusting. They were used to doing things hard and fast, and being completely breathless after exercise. It seemed the idea of slowing down and focusing on how they breathe wouldn’t get them results. If they didn’t feel like almost passing out, how could it be effective?
When they followed the suggestion to breathe, they still found it hard. They felt challenged, mentally and physically. The difference? More control, improved body-to-mind connection, and less stress on the body.
Their performance and physical strength improved. They also felt more confident and happier, during and after sessions.
Mindfulness is generally grounded in ancient practices, or based on nature’s way of being. We might think of mindfulness as taking a deep breath rather than panicking. Being curious about negative thoughts rather than worrying. Allowing nature and long walks, or rhythmic practices, to tune us into our inner being to detach from mental clutter. It is very similar to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), a therapy which can help us challenge our thinking, improve our responses to life and situations, and cope with stress. Mindfulness, just like CBT, has been found to be helpful in dealing with personal traumas and anxiety by reframing how we see situations and moving into a problem solving mentality.
I found the best way to describe mindfulness is simply:
Breathing: physically, mentally, and spiritually speaking.
Rushing in life, whether it’s while exercising, working, or driving somewhere, can result in accidents. Mistakes. Injuries. Missed opportunities for deep growth. But being mindful in everything we do, and slowing down, deepens our connection to self (body, mind, and soul). As a by-product, it nourishes other areas of our life, such as our productivity, performance, and relationships.
There is more to breathing than oxygen flowing in and out. There is more at work then simply taking a few deep breaths.
Our brains need oxygen to survive and to work optimally. When we fail to breath deeply, and we live on edge consistently, our brain operates in survival mode and our body will only do what it needs to survive. That is why when we are stressed or anxious, we may experience digestive issues, PMS (Premenstrual syndrome), and other ailments. It’s also easier to fall back into unhealthy habits.
Our body might be saying, “Right now, I’m not interested in digesting food or making positive changes because I just want to survive!” When we breathe shallow, we also operate in our life at this level. Our physical body is compromised because we lack down time, deep breathing, and relaxation. A lack of deep breathing, especially over long periods of time, can result in living in survival mode.
Our body is working how it needs to, to keep us alive; it’s the demand we place on ourselves that needs to be in question.
It’s our disconnection to breath that needs attention.
Often though, we question our health as though it is separate from how we live our lives.
But our lifestyle could be causing us to breathe less. Unresolved trauma and past pain can cause us to breathe less. Worry, anxiety, busyness can cause us to breathe less. Too much coffee can cause us to breathe less.
Always doing and hardly being can cause us to breathe less.
Being mindful is about understanding the importance of breathing in every area of our lives. When we honour our breath, what we are really doing is respecting ourselves, our body, and our natural rhythm.
I recently asked our readers, If someone asked you about mindfulness and where to begin, what would you say? Share your practices and insight with us.
1. “I work with young children so I begin with breathing and listening. I find that it helps return them to the moment and calms them so I can help with them with whatever problem they are having. It also shows them that I am listening and present with them.” ~ Lisa
2. “Mindfulness meditation. Sit in a place that is as quiet as you can find. If it’s not totally quiet that’s okay. Begin to focus on your breath. I am breathing in. I am breathing out. Your mind will begin to wander, that’s okay. Acknowledge it. I have begun thinking about dinner, or whatever. Now return your focus to your breath. I am breathing in. I am breathing out. Observe quietly the feelings of your breath. Every time there is a distraction acknowledge it. It’s not bad, it’s not good. Observation without judgment. Return your focus to your breathing always. I am breathing in. I am breathing out.” ~ Gregory
3. “Live alone, focus on self-care and personal growth, get out of your comfort zone, meditate, become self-reliant, journal, travel, sit in nature, do yoga volunteer work, make a gratitude list.” ~ Evelyn
4. “You’re already on the path and doing it beautifully. Strive to be aware of your thoughts in every moment, because you have so much control over them.” ~ JustCall
5. “Channel heat energy in the body, refine it so it emulates electricity. Choose a meridian and direct that energy through the meridian all hours of the day. That is how to hold God inside of you.” ~ Madison
6. “Being able to name/feel your feelings and not (necessarily) act on them. Prioritizing your mental/physical/spiritual/emotional health before anything else.” ~ Taylor
7. “I communicate with very few people, which I greatly enjoy. So, I am sure I’m present for my wife. I listen. I often am a vent for her frustrations, I don’t agree or disagree or offer any suggestions, I just listen and that is often enough.” ~ Jordie
8. “Take a walk outside, try to relax while you concentrate on your breathing and the bird sounds. When you get home, look up the author Thich Nhat Hanh.” ~ Joseph
9. “Please sit in a quiet place . Then breathe in, breathe out. Watch your breathing. Focus on the sound from the environment. If your mind wonders that is okay, gently turn it back to the sounds and sensation.” ~ Henok
10. “Take five deep breaths counting in and out whenever you feel it’s appropriate, such as when you feel overwhelmed or when you are extremely grateful, and want to absorb the moment.” ~Nat
11. “Being whole. A complete person on your own without needing someone to complete you or justify your worth. That way when someone leaves you, you will not be left broken and empty. I don’t like the term “other half”, as if you are an incomplete work that has a missing piece. I believe in being able to stand strong on your own before you can be any good to others. Like they say, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Learn to be independent not only financially but psychologically and emotionally as well as socially. Appreciate your own company because you are your longest companion in life.” ~ Sakura
12. “Being aware of your surroundings, the senses, what you can hear, feel, touch, smell. Focusing on breath anchoring you to the present moment. Being mindful of your actions, those around you and how you’re effecting them. Connecting with yourself. With nature.” ~ Christopher
13. “Begin every day. It’s a practice, you’ll never be perfect! And if you think you do, you missed the mark by miles!” ~ Nikki
14. “Learn how to feel love for yourself without participating in a material activity. Material self care is right and good in small amounts but small dopamine rushes distract you from the work you need to do. Love is what you need to get through it. And I need to take my own advice.” ~ Angie
15. “Think about the words you use and the thoughts you think (motivation and intention). Trying to create an awareness of patterns and reasons for them or ways to break them. Use fresh eyes in everyday experiences.” ~ Ginger
16. “Sometimes you have to meet a person who gives off this type of energy, and shares this type of information with people. Majority of people don’t partake, know or dabble in mindfulness, I don’t think by choice, I think it’s because it’s seldom spoken about. I am so blessed to have learnt about mindfulness, and met like-minded epic human beings.” ~ Juarn
17. “Living in the present moment by being aware of your senses is a good start. Accepting the past has gone and can’t be changed. Letting go of guilt or negative thoughts.” ~ Sally
18. “Start by pausing a minute and taking time to listen to the everyday noises around you.” ~ Jennifer
19. “Let go of the “things” around you. Watch a sunset to just enjoy it. That’s my best example of being in the now. Active consciously in the moment with no thoughts of future or past.” ~ Fred
20. “Give yourself permission to feel. It’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling now. Feelings are your friends. Your soul knows what is good for you, trust your intuition. Staying present in a moment of peacefulness and calm will allow you to return to that place when you need it—all is okay.” ~ Maja
21. “Learning you are worthy just as you are, and putting a lot of value to yourself, with no external validation, learning to be okay alone and learning you are loved by God or a higher being and believing these things.” ~ Cici
22. “Stop for a moment. Start to feel yourself, your emotions, your thoughts. Let it flow. Just be there, with you, for a moment. When you are conscious about yourself, you start to be connected with the universe. The universe speaks through you, for you. Be aware of you at all times, no matter what. Allow you to know you, even on the worst moments. Those are extremely important. Once you do that, the universe will guide you, trust.” ~ Mariana
23. “Work on effective breathing, increasing physical activity/movement, regular sleep patterns, learning to say “no” to additional external commitments.” ~ Freddie
24. “Start with your breath. You can always come back to the simple practice of focusing on your breath.” ~ Angela
25. “Doing things slowly and with purpose. Being present avoiding distraction while focusing on the task.” ~ Eileen
26. “Start paying attention to the everyday things. Engage fully with things like washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, don’t use this time to be “mindless” or think about the next thing your doing or planning. Pay attention to your breath, your heart beat, how it feels to have your feet on the ground. It sounds silly, but it really helps to slow down and try and focus fully on seemingly mundane tasks.” ~ Ryan
27. Sit still for 15mins. Let go of the thoughts. Focus on a mantra. Breathe. ~ Ab