I never really understood what meditating was until, one night last year while lying in bed feeling restless and fussy, I paused and took three deep breaths. As I inhaled, my chest rose and my ribs expanded, and I felt a rush to my forehead. Then as I exhaled, my belly flattened toward my spine and I felt lighter and more refreshed.
After many years of practice and six months of teaching yoga, I had finally found my own breath and realized its power to calm, restore and center. I slept great that night and still do.
Did I meditate? Maybe ... but maybe not. While meditating may enable us to access a higher plane and vibrational frequency of our selves — for a beginner like me, a mini-breakthrough of deep breathing was a powerful and rewarding experience.
Meditating is an accessible way to center yourself, come into the present moment and consider a bigger picture. It can also pose a challenge because it is difficult to sit still not fidget, and focus on doing just one thing: nothing.
Even for a few minutes a day, meditating has profound effects. The innumerable health benefits of a regular meditation practice include lowering your heart rate and decreasing your overall stress. If you are interested in exploring a mediation practice, consider the following beginner-level meditations.
Find a quiet, comfortable place to settle down and sit still with your eyes closed, either at work or at home. Then experiment with one or all of the following five easy meditations to help you relax and sleep better.
Count backwards from 100, restarting every time you lose track. Don't attach to forgetting your place; simply start over and keep counting down. Remember, there is no right or wrong — it's all mediating!
Concentrate on a single face, place, color, etc. Allow your mind to clear and focus on a single image. Your partner's face. A peaceful green field. A cookie. You get the idea. Notice how this makes you feel.
Develop a personal mantra such as, "I am grateful for ..." As the Buddha said, "Better than a thousand hollow words, is the word that brings peace." Silently repeat your mantra and allow your mind to clear as you focus on a single phrase.
4. Pranayama & Square Breathing
Practice yoga breathing, or Pranayama, aka the "life force" we all know as our breath. Inhale and exhale through your nostrils only, cultivating your Ujjayi breath, a common practice of Pranayama. Let the air drag over the back of your throat to create a low, ocean-like sound on the inhale and exhale. Once you're warmed up, segue into square breathing: Inhale for four counts, hold for two and exhale for four. Repeat for two to three minutes.
5. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Keep at your Ujjayi breath and incorporate alternate nostril breathing into your Pranayama practice. Close your left nostril with your right ring finger. Inhale for four counts (through the right nostril only), hold for two (close right nostril with thumb), and exhale for four (through the left nostril only). Repeat for two to three minutes.
I like to incorporate a few minutes of meditation to each of my yoga classes, and I've guided my students through each of the practices above. After the final exhale, as the students gently blink their eyes open and come back into the room, I pause for a moment to notice their peaceful faces and most importantly, their smiles.