We are all capable of living whole, happy, calm, lives. Let that sit for a minute. We are ALL capable of living whole, happy, calm, lives. You CAN cultivate an inner peace when there is a world of unknown surrounding you. You CAN cultivate an inner peace that allows you to navigate life’s messy situations more effectively.
Everyone handles stress and pain differently. Some use alcohol, some work, some run away. Through the years- I have learned that running toward my problems made my life easier than running away. In my own way, music, piano, and singing became my “happy place". I would listen for hours to the melody and I would feel my soul calm. I remember sitting in my room with my little cassette player hitting "play" and "rewind"so that I could write down the lyrics of songs that spoke to me. Writing became my “go to” when life was messy. I started writing my own lyrics and poems to edit the thoughts and emotions blurring my view. I found an inner peace that had eluded me for so long.
As life went on, I learned that what I CHOOSE to focus on, becomes my focus. Through writing, I was able to adjust my focus and see life through a different lens. Inevitable, the new perspective encouraged emotions to gently shift, my thoughts changed, and life was happier.
What I CHOOSE to focus on, becomes my focus
The way in which I chose to perceive the world mattered and determined if I was grounded or a hot mess. I was able to get out of my head using what we call "mindfulness" today. Back then I didn’t know what “mindfulness” was, I just knew that observing and being curious worked better than being "judgey". I could be happy even though some things were hard. I learned to center myself, pull calm into my soul, and edit my life.
So what is this mindfulness all about? It is about learning to observe, being curious, allow the thoughts to flow in and out of your head. and not try to control or have opinions about them. The great news is that there isn’t a right way or a wrong way. Our jobs during “mindfulness” is simply to Cultivate the Observer in us. Learn to cultivate stillness, cultivate calm, cultivate stillness, and observe your thoughts.
Below are a few basic simple breathing exercises to help you "Cultivate your Curious Observer"and channel your inner calm.
Find Your Breath.
Take a quiet moment to focus on where in your body you feel your breath.
1. Take three slow breaths, and while you are breathing, try to notice where you feel your breath the most.
2. Put your hand up to your nose, and notice what your breathing feels like.
3. Put your hand up to your chest, and notice what your breathing feels like.
4. Put your hand on your stomach, and notice what your breathing feels like.
Now, cultivate your curious observer! Ask with a curiosity:
Where do I feel your breath the most?
• What does it feel like when I breathe in?
• What does it feel like when I breathe out?
Heartbeat breathing has become invaluable and one of my favorite skills. Sometimes anxiety pops up and we feel our heart race and naturally try to shut it down. Heartbeat breathing allows you to “sit” with physical feelings, cultivate your curious observer, calm, and channel that peace.
By tracking the heartbeat along with the sensations of the breath. you experience a cascade of changes in your body. The breath influences the autonomic nervous system, which changes your heart rate, which in turn slows down the circulatory system. Because you will be tracking two bodily sensations and their interaction, this can be a helpful practice if you sometimes have a hard time with mental chatter. Sometimes the struggle is real!! Consider this an opportunity to Cultivate your Curious Observer. You are welcome.
Here we go.
Find a comfortable position in which you can feel your pulse in your wrist with your fingers. You may want to place your hand over your heart too. There is no right way or wrong way. You can lie on your back, sit in a chair, or you can kneel or sit cross legged if you are comfortable in a more traditional meditation pose. Please know, I have been known to lean my seat back in the car or go into a bathroom stall! I now simply sit down where ever I am. If anyone asks what I’m doing, my response is simple, “I am breathing. You should try it- it matters!”
Next, find a particular place in your body where you can feel your breath. It could be at your nostrils, your belly, your chest, or the back of your throat. Spend a few minutes getting familiar with the sensations you find there. Remember, Cultivate your Curious Observer.
Gently shift your attention to your heartbeat. Notice that your heart is not a metronome or a drum machine. Your heartbeat is amazing. Each heartbeat is unique, some coming closer together and some farther apart. Some feel stronger and some more faint. Notice that. If thoughts come in, notice them and let them float away on clouds (or what ever works for you).
Shift your attention back to your breath. Are you getting full inhales and exhales? Is the breath catching at any point? Is it fluid? Do you inhale or exhale faster? How long do you hold your breath in between an inhale and an exhale? Just see what you can learn about what your breath is doing right now. Cultivate your Curious Observer.
Now, see what happens to your heartbeat when you play with your breathing. How does it change when you breathe faster or slower? When you hold your breath on an inhale? On an exhale? What kind of breathing makes your heartbeat slow down or speed up? Again, if the thoughts come in or you get distracted, gently pull your attention back to your heartbeat. If you need to touch your chest, your neck, or your wrist to feel your heartbeat more, do so. Do what feels right for you.
If you are not noticing a relationship, stick with it. It is definitely there, but it can be subtle. See what happens if you take a slow, very deep inhale, and then exhale slooooowly. You might notice that your heartbeats are farther apart as you exhale. Spending time practicing this, even for a few minutes from time to time, will give you a resource to regulate yourself next time you are overwhelmed.
I want to encourage you to start making mindfulness a part of your life. You will find that you are more centered, responsive, present and calm. You begin to author your life and write your own narrative.