Lower-belly breathing or deep belly breathing is a form of somatic meditation as it entails not only mindful breathing but also awareness of bodily sensations.
It involves conscious breathing through your lower-belly, being aware of both the in-breath (through the nose) and the out-breath through the mouth. You can place one hand on your lower-belly (below the navel) and the other on your diaphragm.
Now breathe into your lower-belly to a count of four, and exhale to a count of four, feeling the expulsion of breath through your diaphragm. You can complete a number of sets of this exercise and also combine it with holding your in-breath for a count of four and your exhalation for the same count.
This breathiing exercise can be done lying down or sitting up. It is often recommended that you start with lying down and progress to sitting up.
In the following video, Christina Macias discusses the benefits of deep belly breathing – a foundational breathing exercise, and takes you through the basic steps involved (beginning at 6.45 minutes).
Christina Macias stresses the importance of balancing deep belly breathing with other forms of breathing, including conscious expansion of your rib cage. Her instructional videos on her Facebook channel take you through the benefits and steps involved in each form of breathing exercise.
Lower-belly breathing is an easy way to grow mindfulness and increase your awareness – to take your awareness out of the stress-producing chatter in your head and grounding it in your body.
Linda Graham, in her book, Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, defines resilience as:
the capacity to respond to pressures and tragedies quickly, adaptively and effectively.
Shawn Anchor and Michelle Gielan in a HBR article suggest that resilience is about “how you recharge, not how you endure”. They argue that the misconception about resilience and endurance has led to the exponential rise in the “workaholic” with devastating effects on health, productivity and family relationships.
I have worked in many organisations where management has stated that staff needs to become “more resilient” when the staff were not coping with excessive workloads and unrealistic time pressures. This perspective incorrectly equates resilience with endurance and potentially leads to burnout.
As Linda Graham notes, resilience is more about our capacity to “bounce back” from setbacks and this requires us to recharge our batteries on an ongoing basis. It also requires re-wiring our brains so that we overcome negative self perceptions and fear-inducing perceptions of daily occurences.
Neuroscience research has demonstrated that when we grow mindfulness and develop the capacity to be fully in the present moment, we can alter our brains and reshape our perecptions. In the process, we can build our resilience.
Andy Puddicombe argues that the present moment is so underrated and yet it shapes our life.
Jon Kabat-Zinn exhorts us to live as if our moments really mattered. He suggests that instead of worrying about the future which we can rarely influence, we should shape our future through the healing and creative power of the present moment.
Our lives are made up of moments. It is difficult to comprehend that our future is shaped by what we do in the present moment – our choices today shape our future tomorrow.
Jon Kabat-Zinn maintains that we grow mindfulness through paying attention in the present moment:
Paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, but non-judgmentally.
In the following video, he talks extensively about the power of the present moment:
There are so many ways to BE in the present moment – somatic meditation is one of the more readily accessible mindfulness practices.
There are many things in life that can trigger a negative reaction in us. What triggers you, may have no effect on me. A part of mindfulness practice is getting to know our triggers and working out ways to manage our negative responses.
As we learn about our triggers and better understand them, we are able to manage our reponses more effectively. So one way to grow in mindfulness is to identify your triggers and use a process to help you deal with them mindfully.
BREATHE – take a deep breath to relax yourself and help you to manage your reaction
NOTICE – notice your bodily sensations, see what is going on in your body (e.g. becoming red faced, tightening of your muscles, strong sense of unease and agitation)
REFLECT – think about what is going on for you, what is triggering this reaction in you. Go beyond the words and think about what you are perceiving (e.g. are you interpreting the words as criticism and do you have a sensitivity to criticism?).
RESPOND – now that you are more aware of what is going on for you, choose an appropriate response that does not aggravate you, your friend/colleague or the situation.
The SBNRR processs is a great way to improve your self-management, a key element in emotional intelligence. When you first start to use this technique, you might have to rely on reflection after the event – “What could I have done differently?”
However, as you grow in mindfulness, you will be able to reflect-in-action and stop youself from the outset. In this way, you can better manage your response to the triggers that would normally set off a negative reaction in you.
Image Source: Courtesy of Robin Higgins on Pixabay
Somatic meditation involves grounding your meditation in your body and not in your mind. We spend so much time in our minds, thinking about the past and the future.
This form of meditation enables us to take advantage of the “natural wakefulness” of our own bodies and to really connect with the present moment.
Conscious breathing is central to somatic meditation and this can take many forms such as:
lower belly breathing
whole body breathing
Somatic meditation also incorporates awareness about sensations in your body that you can develop through practices such as posture alignment, massage, mindful walking and progressive relaxation.
Dr. Catherine Kerr, through her neuroscience research, has shown that mindfulness-based body awareness (developed through conscious breathing and awareness of body sensations) can actually change your mind.
She demonstrates how somatic meditation can overcome negative thoughts and reduce depression, stress and distress from chronic pain.
Sandra Hotz, through her Body Centred Psychotherapy, uses somatic meditation for healing trauma. Your many life experiences are not only stored in your mind but also in your body. Somatic meditation can help to release deep and painful memories that are locked up within your body.
Somatic meditation takes so little time and effort but its benefits are far-reaching. It will help you to achieve stillness and calm and to reduce the hectic pace of your life – it is one sure way to grow mindfulness.
So often we walk from place to place, lost in our thoughts, unaware of what surrounds us and the response of our own bodies.
Mindful walking is the practice of bringing our attention, in the moment, to some aspect of our walking experience – and doing so for a purpose.
This approach to developing mindfulness is designed to enhance our awareness and clear our minds of clutter, self-defeating thoughts and anxiety.
You can practise mindful walking anywhere, anytime – walking during the lunch break, taking a walk on a beach or through a rainforest, walking to the train or shops.
There are many variations you can adopt for mindful walking. You can adopt an open awareness approach taking in the sights, sounds, taste, smells and touch that surround you.
Alternatively, you can focus on some aspect of your present experience when walking, e.g. the sensation of your feet on the ground.
The Internet provides numerous resources – text, audios and videos – on mindful walking. Here is one approach by Simon Paul Harrison that combines mindful walking and mindful breathing:
Mindful walking is often recommended for people suffering stress, trauma or anxiety. RMIT, for example, through their online counselling services provides a range of online resources, including an exercise sheet and audio for mindful walking, to help students deal with the stress of study and exams.
Isabel Allende, in her book, The Sum of Our Days, describes how she frequently lost herself and found contentment on a tranquil walk in a forest:
These walks are very good for me, and at the end I feel invincible and grateful for the overwhelming abundance of my life: love, family, work, health – a great contentment.(p.299)
Another approach to mindful walking is discussed and illustrated by Chuck Hall:
You can walk anywhere mindfully if you are conscious of the opportunity. You should find an approach, timing and location that suits you so that it can be a pathway to a sustained habit of mindfulness. Once you establish the habit of mindful walking using one approach consistently, you will find that you will automatically adopt mindful walking in other situations as your consciousness of the opportunities grows.
After learning about mindful walking, I decided to use a personal approach that suited me to grow my own mindfulness. On my morning walks around the tree-lined streets and along the river, I would tune into the sounds of the birds that surrounded me. This required turning off my thoughts, tuning out other sounds and paying attention solely to the sound of the birds. I became more aware of birds above and below me, in front and behind and on my left and right side.
Invariably, as I walked, the sound of the birds seemed to stop at some point. The reality was that my thoughts had come back into my head and I had tuned out from the sounds of the birds – I had lost focus. Once I cleared my thoughts and re-focused, the sound of the birds came flooding back into my awareness again, a concert surrounding me as the birds fed off each other’s sounds.
Mindful walking induces peace, calm, clarity and contentment and helps you grow in mindfulness.
“Practice makes perfect” – a truism but particularly relevant to developing mindfulness.
People who know about habit forming suggest three basic steps to develop a habit:
focus on one small and simple behaviour
build the habit into your daily routine/structure of your day
frequently revisit your motivation (s) for growing the habit of mindfulness.
Start simple and develop more complex behaviours as you master an initial starting point. If you are trying to do something complex at the outset and trying to maintain the behaviour, you can easily become discouraged. However, if you start simply and achieve mastery, this will add to your motivation. You will avoid discouragement and frustration this way.
If you structure the new behaviour into you daily routine, you are more likely to be able to sustain the mindfulness practice. So if it is something you do first thing in the morning, then each time you wake up you are reminded to undertake the behaviour. One of the participants in the Search Inside Yourself leadership program decided to do mindful breathing whenever he put the jug on for a cup of coffee. I have started the practice of using open awareness first thing in the morning when I make my first cup of tea. Providing an inbuilt structure (timing & location) to a mindfulness practice helps to embed it into your daily life.
It is important to maintain your motivation when the going gets tough or there are things that distract you from your practice. One way to do this is to write down the reasons why you want to engage in the mindfulness practice. As you begin to practice, you will find that you will be able to add to your motivation list because you have experienced some positive benefits that you had not alluded to earlier in the practice cycle. Some people even develop a personal mantra to help their motivation, e.g. “be mindful, be my best”.
Mindfulness is within everyone’s reach but each person is different. So a particular mindfulness practice may appeal to one person and not another. You need to find somewhere to start (or extend) that suits your personal preference and lifestyle.
There are many pathways to mindfulness – mindful breathing, mindful eating, meditation, open awareness, reflective listening, yoga, and Tai Chi – to name a few. Start somewhere and grow mindfulness from that point.