Every cell in your body needs oxygen to function. You get the oxygen your cells need from the air you breathe. Your body cells use the oxygen you breathe to get energy from the food you eat. This process is called cellular respiration. During this process, the cell uses oxygen to break down sugar. Breaking down sugar produces the energy your body needs. Much of the energy produced in cellular respiration is stored chemically for the cell to use later.
The oxygen that is provided to all the organs and cells of the body comes through the humble breath. So how best can we maximise our breathing potential? The emotions and thoughts of the mind are closely linked to the breath. Shallow, quick or rapid breathing is often a symptom of someone experiencing anxiety or stress. When someone is angry, their breath can become forceful and rapid, when depressed or despondent and when in pain, people tend to gasp. We tend to shift the way we breathe as different emotions arise. However, when the mind is calm, the breath follows with a smooth and slow pace.
Many people have experienced the clarity and power of focused breathing and studies have shown that appropriate breathing has a powerful effect on stress, helps fight depression and improves sleep and overall well-being; all the while also supporting immune function and rapid recovery from illness. Thankfully, new breathing processes can be learnt and applied in a short amount of time, making it a useful self-care tool.
Meditation is effortless focus whereas focus with effort is called concentration. The fact is, most of us already know how to meditate. For a small child, the object of meditation could be a toy. For an adult it could be wealth, power, success, a loving relationship or a higher purpose.
When we focus our attention upon one thing, it is meditation. Everything starts with thought. We are used to having so many thoughts whizzing around in our minds. We are certainly not used to thinking only about one thing, so when we start meditating, we are often disappointed by the number of thoughts that appear in our mind as we sit in silence.
It is natural and, in fact, it is expected that different thoughts will arise. Do not repress thoughts, feelings and emotions. They will be better out than in. We want them to leave and as they leave, we often become aware of their presence. When that happens, we learn to ignore them as the mind lets them go. So, the idea is not to fight with them, but simply remind ourselves that we are meditating.
Let it be soft, as no force is needed during meditation. Meditate like this for 15–20 minutes. After completing meditation, sit for five minutes so that you can observe and savour the condition you feel within. Each time it is a unique condition, a unique gift. Hold onto it and cultivate that state. Slowly get up from your position, carrying that condition with you, as it has become a part of you.
Being relaxed automatically gives us the ability to manage psychological stress and anxiety in all day-to-day situations. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) therapy is a mind-body technique. It involves sequential tensing and relaxing of major skeletal muscle groups and it aims to reduce feelings of tension to lower perceived stress, and to induce general relaxation.
PMR increases your awareness of the sensations that are associated with muscle tension and reduces stress response. This relaxation technique can help you cope with everyday stress and with stress related to various health problems.
Practising relaxation techniques can have many benefits, including slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, slowing your breathing rate, reducing activity of stress hormones, increasing blood flow to major muscles, reducing muscle tension and chronic pain, improving concentration and mood, improving sleep quality, reducing anger and frustration.