It’s OK to feel angry, stressed out or like you want to give up. These emotions can make it feel like you’re about to lose control. When you’re caught up in a stressful moment, try concentrating your focus on one simple thing: your breath. Whether you have three minutes to spare or an entire day to find stillness, here are five basic breath meditations to help you focus on the bigger picture:
1. Create Calm
Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. Keep your eyes closed or gaze a few feet in front of you, and then inhale deeply through the nose as you let the belly expand outward, like an inflated balloon. Let your breath spiral down through your chest and into your ribs, filling up the lungs fully and lowering the diaphragm. As your mind starts to wander, keep returning to the sound of your breath. Take a long exhale out through the mouth, guiding the navel back toward the spine, and release.
2. Build Energy
Practice Breath of Fire, where the air is pulled in and pumped out very rhythmically. Start with long, deep breathing with your mouth closed, then as soon as the lungs are completely expanded, start pumping the navel point in and out while breathing rapidly through the nose. With each breath, expand a bit faster and contract a bit faster until you find a good, steady rhythm, and then let that rhythm take over.
3. Find Focus
Balance the left and right brain through alternate nostril breathing (called Nadi Shodhan Pranayama). Place your left hand on the left knee, palm open to the sky. Place the tip of the index finger and middle finger of the right hand in between the eyebrows, the ring finger and/or little finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril. Press your thumb down on the right nostril and breathe out gently through the left nostril. Now breathe in through the left nostril and then press the left nostril gently closed with the ring finger and little finger. Remove the right thumb from the right nostril and breathe out from the right. Reverse your breathing back and forth between nostrils.
4. Develop Mindfulness
Softly close the eyes and take a few deep breaths—naturally, without trying to influence it. Ideally the breath will be quiet and slow, but depth and rhythm may vary. Begin counting “one” to yourself as you exhale. The next time you exhale, count “two,” and so on up to “five.” Then begin a new cycle, counting “one” on the next exhalation. Never count higher than “five,” and only count on the exhale. You will know your attention has wandered when you find yourself up to “eight,” “10,” even “20.”
5. Connect Inward
Find a comfortable breathing rhythm in and out through the nose. Focus your attention on how the breathing feels in other parts of the body. Start by focusing on the area just below your navel. Breathe in and out, and notice how that area feels—is there any tension or tightness? If there’s tension, think of relaxing it. If the breathing feels jagged or uneven, think of smoothing it out. Now move your focus to the area just above the navel and repeat the same process. Continue your way up through the chest and into your throat, pausing for a few moments on each spot. When we learn to explore with curiosity and let go of attachment, we begin to understand the natural rhythm of our journey.
—by Ashley Rose Howard