A mindful breathing meditation for relaxation
Based on the guided meditations for stress reduction presented in Mindworks Working with Stress course, read on to learn how to switch from the usual mode of doing to a mode of non-doing—of simply being—at your own pace.
Begin by assuming the correct posture for meditation. Now take a moment to relax.
In this relaxed state, become aware of your breathing. Notice the movement of your breath as it enters and leaves your body. You don’t need to manipulate your respiration in any way or try to change it—simply remain aware that you are breathing and note any feelings associated with the process.
Observe the breath deep down in your belly. Feel your abdomen as it expands gently on the in-breath and falls back towards the spine on the out-breath. Do your best to be totally present with each breath. You’re not trying to get anything done; you’re not going anywhere. You’re simply being with your breath.
From time to time, your mind will wander off into thoughts, fantasies, anticipations of the future or the past, worries, memories, whatever. When you notice that your attention has wandered away from your breathing, without judging yourself, bring it back to the breath and ride the waves of your breathing. Use your breath to help you tune into a state of relaxed awareness and stillness, moment to moment, fully present with yourself.
If it helps you stay attentive, you can count your breathing cycles. Practice by trying to keep your attention on the breath for 21 cycles. One inhale and one exhale equals one cycle. So you breathe in, breathe out and count one; breathe in, breathe out and count two. Keep going up to 21. When you notice that you’re distracted, simply bring your attention back to the breath and start counting again from the beginning.
During breathing meditation, there’s no need to try to make anything happen. Simply observe what you find and practice letting things be for a while. When something uncomfortable, like an ache or an itch, grabs your attention, observe it first and see if it changes. See if you can stay with it with gentle acceptance.
How to train in handling stressful situations with meditation
If you would like to train your mind in equanimity when faced with a stressful experience, as you practice your meditation breathing techniques, recall a recent event that was stressful for you. Select a moderately stressful experience. Bring your awareness to what happened, and to your thoughts and feelings about the experience. Let your heart open as you breathe in and out. Without any judgment, turn towards the difficulty with compassion and acceptance. Just be there with it.
By training in this way, you’ll learn to stay with any experience without rejecting it or feeding it. You’ll learn that you can simply tell yourself: this is a moment of stress. Meditation can be used to welcome that unpleasant experience with great acceptance. You’ll find that you can let it go, place your attention back on your natural way of breathing and relax. You can also practice specific breathing exercises to reduce stress.
Stress is part of life and we all suffer from it. Breathe into this reality without judgment or the need to change anything. As you practice stress relief meditation, just be with any experience without rejecting it or feeding it. Without any effort or striving, just be one with your breath and be kind to yourself: you are doing the best you can in this moment. Let all thoughts, images, feelings and sensations go and return once again to your breathing.
You can look within yourself with mindfulness and equanimity. With compassion, you can acknowledge the difficult thoughts and emotions and then let them go. You are not your emotions; you are not your thoughts. You are the inherent qualities of your mind: peace, love and compassion, ready to be shared with others.
May you find peace and healing. May you accept and find ease with things just as they are. May you allow everything to just be. Everything you need is already there, within the clarity of your mind.
Check out Maria Camara’s full guided meditation instruction on reducing stress online course.