and i said to my body. softly. ‘i want to be your friend.’ it took a long breath. and replied ‘i have been waiting my whole life for this. Nayyirah Waheed
Where is your breath in your body?
For real. Notice your breath in your body. Right this second. I’ll hold tight. Maybe even close your eyes. The rest of this story will await you as will all the other things that are begging for your attention. Inhale and exhale five times and notice where you encounter the sensation of your breath.
Excellent! No matter what you discovered, whether your breath was high in your chest or deep in your belly or the exercise nearly gave you a panic attack because you couldn’t remember how to breath, you did it exactly right.
December is a regular ol’ beast of a month and the holidays can be tricky on our very best days. We are pressed into hyperdrive to do all that we normally do while likely shopping more, wrapping up year-end tasks, decorating or feeling like we should decorate, perhaps partying and/or Netflixing more, and beginning to mentally prepare for our better self who we are sure will show up, for real this time, on January 1st. Or 2nd. Depending.
Back to the breath. Let’s notice again. Perhaps put your feet on the floor if you can. Sit up tall. Close or focus your eyes. Take several more breaths. Inhaling and exhaling. Notice any movement you sense in your body. You might feel the rise and fall of your breath. You might notice tension or the release of tension in your body.
Again, whatever you notice it is perfect. You are a total pro at this!
In the language of mindfulness and meditation, the minute you notice your own body’s biological responses and sensations, you are helping your nervous system down-regulate and reboot. There are a ton of fantastic breathing techniques but the first and most important thing to do is to simply notice your own patterns. Become your own “breath whisperer.” Just notice. Observe.
Once you begin to have a practice of noticing the breath, you can cultivate a practice of returning to the breath. So, let’s say you are standing in a long checkout line at a big box store and you have fatigued of entertaining yourself on your smart phone and you are beginning to get agitated from the wait, perhaps even formulating non-charitable ideas about hard-working cashiers and other customers, return to your breath.
See if you can invite your breath into your low belly and create a steady, slow rhythm. See if you can coax your exhale to be as long as your inhale.
There you go.
Look around. Smile at your fellow, weary travelers. Take another deep breath in and out. Your grounded, connected moment of breath noticing will fire up the mirror neurons of others and you might even share a civilized moment of conversation and empathy, even if it is simply to marvel at how cool the fizzy water maker really is or how much you enjoy the frozen truffle mac and cheese boxes you have loaded in your cart.
Or let’s take another fraught December moment, the “shouldn’t I be happier than this?” moment. It might happen while you are with others, even those you love. It might happen while you are in bed alone watching Netflix on Christmas eve. You might take a look at your social media feeds and decide that pretty much everyone else you know is having a better time than you are. You might decide to look up all of your exes on Facebook to see how much fun they are having without you.
Stop. Notice your breath. Holy smokes! You are barely breathing! Your shoulders are up to your ears, your muscles are tight, particularly in your chest. No wonder you don’t feel well. What would happen if you took five more deep breaths and allowed your body to melt, your jaw to release, your lips to curve toward a Mona Lisa smile.
In that moment of surrender, how do you feel? If you feel better, if you feel more at ease, if you feel less gripped by ideas of happiness vs. the actual sensation of contentment, then copy and paste that feeling into your next actions and interactions. My guess is your family will seem much lovelier and that warm bed of yours will feel cozier. You may be able to recall that your ex is your ex for a reason.
We are sensory beings and our emotions and thoughts are triggered by and connected to habituated patterns in our bodies. Most often when we begin a movement or meditation practice, our lives don’t become less stressful or more joyous, we do. We find a way to be present to the present and to cultivate a sweet and willing acceptance of that which awaits us in every moment.
Studying our breath in the busiest of times is, perhaps, even more useful than those quiet moments on the yoga mat or wherever else you find yourself. There is no need to wait until the New Year’s Resolution rush. You might even find that your movements toward wellness become more intuitive and less date-sensitive.
So here we go. Let’s do it again. Put your feet on the floor and find your breath. See if you can sense the gorgeous beat of your own heart in the space between your breaths.
Perfect. You are ready.
For more resources including a guided, breath-focused meditation, come visit me here.
Originally published at medium.com