Almost anyone can achieve a form of simple meditation without a lot of training. If you’re stressed and you need help now, here are some quick and easy ways to get going right away.
An Easy Breathing Pattern
Instead of leaving your breathing on autopilot, control it in four steps.
Slowly and evenly take a breath in. Make it deeper than normal, but not all the way.
Hold that breath to a slow count of 4.
Now slowly and evenly let your breath out, but this time try to force all the breath in your lungs out as completely as you comfortably can.
Hold the exhale to that same slow count of 4.
Repeat that pattern for as long as you need to feel some calmness.
A Modification to Help You Sleep
The main purpose of breathing is to extract oxygen from the air and inject it into your blood. Your blood then carries that “fuel” to all your organs, including your brain. Your organs then exhaust carbon dioxide into your blood where it’s carried back to your lungs to be expelled from your body.
Depriving your organs of some oxygen can force them to slow down a bit. That means a decrease in your body’s metabolism, which is what happens during sleep and relaxation.
To encourage that sleepiness, skip breathing step 2 above (the inhale hold) and double the length of breathing step 4 (the exhale hold), without making any other changes to the Easy Breathing Pattern.
With each breathing cycle there will be a little less oxygen and a little more carbon dioxide in your system. It’s why people who are hyperventilating are told to breathe into a paper bag to help them relax.
Take It Up A Notch
You’ll master these steps pretty quickly. That means they will become boring and your thoughts will start wandering. They will probably wander back to whatever you didn’t want to think about - those thoughts that made you want to meditate in the first place.
To keep that from happening, you must give your brain more to do without forsaking the Easy Breathing Pattern.
You must focus your thoughts on exactly what your body is doing in order to properly inhale and exhale. Take a look at what’s happening in this illustration:
As you can see, the chest is not going in and out - the belly is! Pushing your belly out pulls your diaphragm down. That causes your lungs to expand downward - not outward. Contracting your stomach muscles reverses the process.
Ideally on the inhale you close your mouth, bringing the air in through your nose. Then on the exhale you open your mouth forcing the air out through your mouth.
It’s complicated, right? That’s the whole point.
To get your brain involved in your meditation, try to picture in your mind exactly what is going on in your body during every moment of every breath you take. Imagine the path the air takes moving into and out of your lungs. Imagine the movement of each body part involved.
This will do two things: 1. You will breathe more efficiently, and 2. It will give you something to focus on to keep out those bad thoughts.
The Pros call this mental state “being in the moment.” You are not thinking about anything in the past or in the future. Just what you are doing at this very instant. Just like a dog does. It's very healthy!
When you can do this healthy breathing, and at the same time be focused only on what you are doing, you will have achieved a state of meditation that will help you relax, lower stress, and maybe even help you fall asleep.
Over the years I’ve gone to Yoga classes, weekend Buddhist retreats, taken on-line courses and read self-help books on how to properly meditate. It’s not easy to learn to achieve the ultimate state. But these few simple practices might bring you some immediate peace.