A healthy dose of mindfulness
Our mental wellness is just as important as our physical wellness. Many of us are in shape physically but out of shape mentally. The benefits of being in shape mentally include regaining control of our mind and body. We can begin to a have a deeper concentration and joy for each of life’s moments when we begin inner work. Many of ou r daily struggles are far more mental than physical these days. A calmer mind can bring about remarkable changes in our lives. For any outer change to happen it must first come from the inside. To have you must do, and to do you first must be.
Many of us have heard the saying that you can’t outtrain a bad diet, and how true that is. For our lives to be full and healthy, we cannot outrun a bad inner diet. A healthy inner diet is called mindfulness, which can be described as keeping our consciousness alive and present, and letting each moment be the most important moment in our lives. We are constantly active and so much goes on in our lives that being present each moment can feel unattainable. Physical exercise and mindfulness exercise are no different. We merely need to start, and we will find our groove. Through patience and persistence we will start to see and feel real results. The tool used for building mindfulness is right in front of us, always. It is our breath.
Think of the practice of watching your breath as an exercise program for the mind. From Thich Nhat Hanh: “To master our breath is to be in control of our bodies and minds.” And from Osho: “The Mind, a beautiful servant, a dangerous master.”
To begin noticing your breath only takes a few moments. You can be seated or lying down, in a relaxed but attentive state. Begin by focusing your attention on your exhalation. Count the length of each exhalation and allow your inhalation to occur naturally afterwards. Eventually you will arrive on a pattern for yourself which may be four or five seconds for each exhalation. Don’t overexert yourself with this, just allow it to happen. Add one more second to your exhalation. If you had a five-second exhalation, make it six seconds now, always allowing your inhalation to occur naturally afterwards. When you are focusing on your exhalation, it is like a string that is attaching your mindfulness to your breath. You are fully present.
As you become more comfortable with this process, begin turning your inhalation into a smooth, long breath, the same length as your exhalation. This will turn your breathing into a graceful and gentle pattern of concentration of in and out, which is a way of meditation. The breath is a tool. It bridges the gap between the feeling of separation and oneness. Not only does it help us concentrate on the moment, it builds up our lungs, strengthens our blood and revitalizes every organ in our body.
As simple as watching the breath may sound, it still may seem like a narrow, difficult path to take. It may seem that there is not enough time to start a new practice of mindfulness in our hectic lives. To make this practice doable, we have to make the path wide, large and inclusive. Meaning we take this breathing practice with us while we walk, stand, sit, work, wash our hands, eat, hang with friends, etc. A healthy, graceful breath gives us access into mindfulness anytime we want, no matter where we are. Mindfulness is making everything in your life inclusive and connected. Mindfulness is like driving a car. We must be fully awake or an accident will most likely occur. Mindfulness is as simple as one breath at a time, gentle and alert.
Tim Hahn of Springfield is a Life Coach and co-owner/head coach at CrossFit Instinct.