Tag Archives: breathing

My Journey into and out of Silence

Being silent is something that doesn’t come easily to me. I’m always talking to someone, listening to music, or reading (Facebook, a novel, or live updates to a baseball game. Go Giants!).

So, it was quite a departure for me to spend a night and a day in silence at a church retreat recently. About 30 people came to the Mercy Center in Burlingame. We met on a Friday afternoon and got our instructions for the retreat.

We would be able to talk during dinner, but after that we would be silent from 7 pm until 3:30 pm the next day. During that time we would do a series of meditations, alternating sitting, walking, and lying down. We were asked not to speak or even make eye contact. We were also asked not to read, write, or use any electronic devices, aside from an alarm clock.

We each had a private room with a simple bed, desk, sink, and closet. There were community bathrooms on each floor. Meals were included.

The thing we did most was pay attention: to our bodies, our breathing, our thoughts, and our surroundings. This was not altogether a pleasant experience. Sitting for long stretches got physically uncomfortable at times, and paying attention to your thoughts can show you just how cluttered and chaotic your mind is.

I noticed I spend a lot of time planning what I need to do next, even if it’s days, weeks or even months away. I have negative self-talk about eating junk food and being overweight. I judge people for inane things like what they’re wearing, how they move, and whether they were following the instructions.

Noticing these thoughts allowed me to create distance from them. Instead of just accepting them as truth or fact, I observed them objectively and let them go. After awhile, I was able to have short stretches of time where I didn’t think that much. I just felt my breath moving in and out of my nose and lungs. I felt the smoothness of a tree leaf. I smelled a rose with my full attention. I savored my food and felt grateful that I didn’t have to prepare it and that it was healthy. I felt my legs, knees, and feet as I walked super slowly and with purpose.

The Mercy Center has an outdoor labyrinth that’s surrounded by trees and flowers. At the entrance to the labyrinth I asked for help being present and eating healthier. As I walked into the labyrinth I focused on my breath and on letting go, of my anxiety, my worries, my ever-present thoughts. When I got to the center, I ran my fingertips over a tall rock and felt myself filling with peace, stillness, and lightness. As I walked out, I imagined myself carrying that lightness back into my daily life.

The calm and lightness I felt from the retreat lasted about 20 minutes after I left the Mercy Center on the last day. I immediately ate ice cream and was already checking my phone at red lights. I’ve had many false starts at writing this blog post because going to a retreat is supposed to bring some amount of enlightenment and empowerment to really change my life, right?

I did learn some new mantras at the retreat, which I’m still using.

(while inhaling) think, “Breathing in, I am breathing in.” (while exhaling) think, “Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”
(while inhaling) think, “Breathing in, I calm my body.” (while exhaling) think, “Breathing out, I smile.”

What I think I got most out of attending the retreat is that I’m not alone on this journey to find my calmest, most empowered self, and as difficult as it is to make time for myself to slow down and just be, it’s sometimes the most important thing I can do. There’s no shortcut to epiphanies or transformation, but it’s all going to be okay if I take life one breath at a time.

Please share in the comments your experience attending a retreat, whether it was silent or not.

Indifference Can Be a Killer

A doctor with a clipboard

Ever had a doctor blow off your concerns, dismiss you, and leave you completely unsatisfied with your visit? Go check out my guest blog post over at My Migraine Family.

A Few Tips on How to Meditate

A girl meditating

I’ve been spotty on how often I meditate, but I know when I do meditate, I function much better the next day. There are so many different ways to meditate, and in some ways that makes it easier to practice. You can try a few different ways to find what works for you, and if you feel the desire to change things up a little, there are plenty of new things to try.

Warm Your Body Up First
One of the most important things for me is what I do before I meditate. I walk around my house for a few minutes, stretching my shoulder blades back, and rotating my arms to loosen my muscles. Then I stretch as tall as I can, reaching my hands to the ceiling. I bend down and stretch as much as I comfortably can towards the floor.

Stretching and walking help get my blood flowing and ease some of the tension in my body. If I try to sit and meditate “cold,” I find it much more difficult to focus. A yoga teacher once told me that one reason yoga was invented was to help people strengthen their bodies so they could comfortably sit for long periods of time in meditation.

Maintain a Relaxed Posture
I sit cross-legged on the floor with my back lightly resting on my bed. I place my hands palm up on my knees, but you can put your hands and arms anyway that feels comfortable. I sit as straight and tall as I comfortably can, and pull my belly button in so my back doesn’t have to work as hard.

Breath slowly and deeply
I breathe as slowly and deeply as I can. I imagine my throat opening as I inhale and lift my rib cage. When I exhale, I let my rib cage fall and pull my belly button in even more, pushing every last bit of breath out so that I can take an even deeper, fuller in-breath.

Repeat a Mantra (or two)
A mantra is a repeated word or phrase that can help you focus your mind. While I’m inhaling, I think, “I’m inhaling.” While I’m exhaling, I think, “I’m exhaling,” and I count the breaths. I think, “I’m inhaling, I’m exhaling, one, I’m inhaling, I’m exhaling, two,” etc. until I get to 10. If you lose track of the counting, start over at one. After that I think, “one” every time I inhale or exhale.

The inhaling, exhaling, and counting thoughts help me focus on what I am doing in the moment. Repeating “one” over and over gives my mind something boring to think about so my mind is busy but relaxed. When other thoughts or feelings come up, I notice them, and then I go back to thinking, “one.”

I try to remember that there is just one universe, and we are all part of it. I try to think of myself as one whole being, not the fractured thoughts and worries that I have.

While I sit thinking “one” over and over and breathing slowly and deeply, I also imagine a rope runs through the crown of my head and gently pulls my spine taller and straighter.

I usually meditate for 20-30 minutes at night. If you’re just starting out at meditating, I’d suggest trying just one focusing practice. You can meditate for as little as two to five minutes when you first start. It’s less important how long it is than that you take a few minutes away from the busyness of your day and just let your body and mind relax. It’s an important practice to let everything else wait just a few minutes and remember that nothing catastrophic happens when you take short breaks for yourself.

Do you meditate? How do you help yourself relax and focus on the present moment?