Whenever the conversation moves to the topic of stress, someone inevitably starts talking about meditation. When that happens, one of two thoughts enter the listeners’ minds; they either think, “I keep hearing that can be helpful, but haven’t really tried it,” or “That’s something monks in robes do when they sit on top of mountains for days at a time.”
Like so many things, meditation is a tool that, when used correctly, can make a huge positive difference in not only your stress levels, but in every aspect of your life. However, it’s never going to help you at all if you either, a) don’t try it for a long enough period of time to make a difference for yourself or b) think it’s something only monks in robes do when they sit on top of mountains for days at a time.
As someone who has been meditating (for real) for about a year, there is one thing that has changed dramatically in my life that I can trace directly back to my meditation practice. That thing is always driving with a full tank.
Let me explain.
Breath = fuel.
When we talk about meditation, what we’re really talking about is focusing on the breath. Learning to focus on your breath helps to quiet your mind (and all those runaway thoughts that tend to live there!).
To your body, oxygen is like gas is to a car; without it, nothing runs. But the way you manage your fuel (breath) determines how well your vehicle will drive, how far it will go, and how smooth a ride it will be. For example, if you put one dollar of gas in the tank and drive, you have to keep stopping and you are constantly worried about running out of gas; that can get exhausting quickly. But if you fill your tank and just drive, you don’t have to worry or constantly be focusing on running out of fuel and getting stuck, and you certainly don’t have to keep stopping to refuel.
Just like these two different driving experiences, your breathing can be choppy and quick or full and relaxing. Meditation simply teaches you how to go through each day with a full tank.
It’s odd to think about how so many people are breathing wrong; that they pay no attention to their greatest fuel source — the one that can give them exactly what most of them are looking for…calm.
“Breath is the link between mind and body.” – Dan Brule
The secret is in the exhale.
When someone else is really stressing out, what do you tell them to do? You say, “Take a deep breath.” Why? Because, if they are stressed, they are most likely breathing high and shallow in their chest; that’s fight or flight breathing. Hence the word “deep” to get them to breathe in a way that begins to calm them by lowering the breathing into their bellies. You help them refocus on their breath instead of their thoughts.
That’s important because most people spend all of their waking hours focusing on their thoughts…and those are usually the very things that are stressing them out! But your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. So, if you are focusing on thoughts, you aren’t taking deep breaths (filling your tank) and if you are focused on your breath, you aren’t in your head focusing on your thoughts (which are usually causing much of that stress).
Here’s the secret…start with the exhale, not with an inhale. Try this right now; take a big breath in. You probably noticed your shoulders go up and your chest lift and fill. If so, you just breathed in a way that promotes and maintains stress and anxiety. In order for you to learn to get your breath down lower (get oxygen into the bottom part of your lungs instead of just the top part), take another breath, but begin this time with the exhale.
Here’s how: exhale all of your breath until there is no more to push out, and just let the breath come back in naturally.
You probably noticed the breath coming into your body “lower” than before. Congratulations! You just took a “deep” breath. THAT is breathing that promotes calm. If you breathe like that for several breaths in a row, you will send a message to your brain and body that everything is ok, and it will not kick you into fight or flight. 🙂
The result of simply taking a couple of deep breaths whenever you feel stressed is that you can instantly begin to lower your stress levels in the moment. You are in control because you are filling your tank. It’s a little thing that makes a big difference!
Meditation teaches you how to drive with a full tank. Make it a habit and it will be there for you in any moment you need it. Your full tank will allow you to keep going while others are stopping (again) to refuel and it will train your body and brain to be in control of you regardless of the situation, who is in the room, or what is being said.
Calm is a superpower and if you haven’t put this tool in your toolbox, you are missing opportunities every day to be less stressed and more in control of you.