This is the second of a 12-part series titled “Baby Steps.” On the first of each month, I’ll post 1 tiny step toward better health that you can take every day for that month – practically without trying. Soon, that tiny step will be part of your daily routine, and you won’t even remember you never did it before. The next month, add the next baby step. By the end of 2016, you’ll have accumulated 12 new healthy habits, and you’ll notice a difference – not day to day, perhaps, but definitely between any before and after photos you might take and any journal entries you might make. Check in during each month with a comment below and/or on Facebook – I’d love to hear about your progress!
How did Baby Step #1 work out? Have you incorporated some lemon water into your morning routine, and if so, do you notice any differences in your health? Let me know in the comments below, and if you didn’t notice a difference, keep at it: the practice can take a while to have an effect, and it certainly isn’t harmful!
As for Baby Step #2, it seems pretty silly to recommend that you breathe, but what I mean for you to do is develop a breathing practice. There are many articles out there on the value of mindfulness, and the most basic function that keeps us alive – breathing – is a great place to start what might develop into a full-blown mindfulness practice. Don’t run away – I’m asking for less than three minutes of your entire day!
We breathe without thinking, and our breath speeds up and slows down as necessary for what we are doing, so it’s no surprise we aren’t aware of it unless we are having trouble breathing, whether it’s because of a cough or cold, because we suffer from asthma or we’ve just pushed ourselves to our physical limit. Precisely because we don’t normally pay attention to it, breathing is an ideal activity on which to practice mindfulness.
If you like, you can just sit or lie very still and breathe through your nose – it helps to focus on where the breath flows in and out of your body, right under the nose. Try following the breath all the way into your lungs, filling the top, the middle, and the very bottom of them, pushing out your belly. Then follow it all the way out, pushing it out at the end so that your diaphragm contracts, which makes the next inbreath happen automatically as you release the diaphragm. Feel how the air is slightly warmer coming out. Repeat, trying to make your in and out breaths of equal length. If your mind wanders off, don’t worry about it – just bring it back to your breath. Try to do this first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
If you find that your mind wanders off to frequently, try counting as you follow the breath in and out – or try my favorite breathing exercise, Dr. Andrew Weil’s “4-7-8 Breath.”
I adopted this breathing exercise a few years ago, and I use it all the time – as part of my morning yoga/meditation practice, as part of my bedtime routine, and any time during the day when I recognize I need a breather (hahaha): when I’m upset and need to think before I speak, when I’m sleepy and don’t have time for a quick walk, when I’m craving something that I know is not a good choice or is just a way to deal with an emotion.
Try a breathing practice for the next month (and keep drinking that lemon water!) and spend some time journaling about any changes you notice. Leave a comment below if you have any questions or have any “aha moments!” And tune in next month for Baby Step #3.