The power of breathing

Twenty three thousand and forty. The average number of breaths you are likely to take every day. Despite being so vital to keeping you alive, for most people the vast majority of them will go entirely unnoticed.

Meditation has been part of my daily routine for over two years now (if you discount the days I forgot to do so after being rather distracted in Paris after my now husband proposed to me). For my practice, meditation either takes the form of focusing on my breathing or doing a body scan. My main tools are the apps Calm, Smiling Mind and meditations from the app for my Leaf fitness tracker.

Years ago I really did not get on with meditation because I had the mistaken belief that it involved completely emptying your mind to the point that it was void of thoughts. Rather than becoming more deeply relaxed I just became intensely irritated at the incessant chattering in my head. The more I tried to create the blank space, the more it was filled.

The problem was I was trying to push away what was, rather than just allowing my thoughts and emotions to simply be without getting invested in them. I was rejecting rather than accepting.

It was not until I changed my meditation to focusing on my breath that I saw the real power and benefits. This was because by focusing on the breath you cannot help but be present, suddenly all that matters is now, not the past nor the future and you feel so wonderfully alive.

Combining meditation with every day mindfulness I have found that I am far more tolerant of background noise, think more carefully before I speak, notice little details more and feel more able to take a step back from thoughts and emotions.

There are many benefits to meditation, the below is a small selection:

Better physical health
- Increased immunity - see here for example
- Decreased pain - see here for example
- Reduced inflammation - see here for example

Improved mental health
- Reduction of psychological stresses such as depression or anxiety  - see here for example
- Increased positive emotions - see here for example

Changes to the brain
- Increased hippocampal and frontal grey matter - see here for example
- Increased thickness in brain regions associated with attention, interoception and sensory processing - see here for example 

Increased productivity 
- Improved ability to multitask - see here for example 
- Improved focus and attention - see here for example 
- Improved memory - see here for example 
- Improved creative thinking - see here for example 

Today I certainly found that focused breathing can be highly beneficial in terms of increased creativity. This evening using mindful breathing with the help of my husband I was able to design a character for the Shadowrun roleplaying campaign he is looking to GM between friends in August.

Prior to choosing to do the meditative breathing, I had felt completely intimidated by the idea of inventing a character. Rather than getting increasingly frustrated by feeling unable to generate ideas, I cleared by mind by breathing meditatively from my diaphragm. Then a little detail came - she has a brother. Before long I had Storm's whole back story - she is a paralegal for a major corporation who had an identical twin sister who for an unknown reason died of a drug overdose. Her brother took it extremely badly and turned to drink.

If you have never meditated before,  or it has been a long time why not give it a try? If you have, is it something that is part of your lifestyle and if not would you like it to be? You don't have to sit in the lotus position, nor put your hands in a certain way, nor clear your mind of all thoughts, nor chant. Your mediation can be as unique as you are. It does not have to be focused breathing,  it can take a physical form such as dance, painting or walking, or anything that puts you in "the zone".

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