As research continues to show the benefits of deep meditation, more and more people are turning to the practice. While it’s great that more people are seeking out meditation, the reality is many people will give up on the practice before giving it time to work. There are numerous reasons beginners may give up on the practice, but the one complaint repeatedly mentioned is that meditation is too difficult.

As the saying goes, “nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy.” Achieving a deep state of meditation takes patience, consistency, and practice to master. However, there is a way to speed up the process. The secret lies in using breathing exercises as a gateway into deeper meditation. Before we dive into the details, let’s take a step back in time and explore how the practice of meditation has evolved over the years.

A Brief History of Meditation

Meditation has been practiced as a way of life in India for thousands of years, well before becoming a popular wellness trend in the West. Its origins date back to as early as 5,000 BCE when Indians documented evidence of the practice, leaving behind wall art of people seated in meditation postures.

The practice of meditation emerged as part of ancient religious and spiritual traditions. The Vedas, ancient scriptures that form the foundation of Hinduism, are the earliest written evidence of the practice, and the scriptures are a respected source of wisdom worldwide. Meditation is a central component of traditional yoga texts, and it is widely practiced in Buddhism as well.

Traditionally, meditation was performed as a spiritual practice to explore the existence of the soul and connect to higher levels of consciousness. In these traditions, it is part of a path towards achieving liberation, a state of pure bliss and inner peace that brings about an end to individual suffering.

As the practice evolved, studies began to emerge regarding meditation’s health benefits, drawing interest from Western society. Mindfulness meditation quickly caught on in the United States to calm the mind and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Other forms of meditation, such as loving-kindness meditation, body-scan meditation, and breath meditation, also became widely-used as self-care techniques.

The Breath as a Gateway to Meditation

Pranayama techniques have been used by yogis for centuries to regulate the breath and prepare the mind for deep meditation. Even today, the breath is a vital part of a yoga practice, allowing the body to flow effortlessly through asanas, or yoga poses.

According to the Yoga Sutras, gaining control over the breath leads to mastery over the mind, and modern science is beginning to catch up to this concept. Research studies suggest that deep breathing exercises can stimulate the vagus nerve, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and producing a calming effect on the mind and body.

Two Breathing Exercises for Deeper Meditation

In today’s busy world, the mind has become restless—constantly thinking and processing information. So it’s not surprising that our minds continue to wander when jumping straight into a meditation practice. But what if you took time before your practice to prepare yourself for a deeper experience?

The key to deep meditation is calming the mind and body before your practice, and breathing exercises can do just that. When you start your meditation practice with a clear mind and a relaxed body, you’re more likely to enter into deeper states of meditation. Let’s take a look at two breathing exercises you can try before your next session.

4-7-8 Breathing

As its name suggests, this specific breath pattern involves a 4-second inhale, 7-second breath retention, and an 8-second exhale. It’s sometimes referred to as relaxing breath since the exhale is longer than the inhale, which produces a calming effect on the body. This effect results in powerful meditation and can even lead to a night of deep and restful sleep.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up with your back straight, relax the body, and release any muscle tension. Take a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  2. On the next inhale, breathe in through the nose. Fill the belly with air to a count of 4.
  3. At the top of the inhale, pause and hold the breath for 7 counts.
  4. Slowly breathe out through the mouth, making a whooshing sound as you exhale to a count of 8.
  5. Repeat this exercise for 4 rounds.

Bellows Breath

Also known as bhastrika in Sanskrit, this pranayama breathing technique involves a series of quick and forceful inhales and exhales. This exercise increases oxygen in the body and sharpens the mind, making it great to perform before your meditation practice. Since this is an energizing breath, avoid performing it right before bed.

How to do it:

  1. Sit up tall, relax the shoulders, and take a few deep breaths in and out through the nose. Fill the belly up with air as you inhale.
  2. Make a fist and fold your arms, placing them near your shoulders.
  3. Inhale deeply, raise your hands straight up and open your fists.
  4. Exhale slightly forcefully, bring your arms down next to your shoulders and close your fists.
  5. Continue for 20 breaths.
  6. Relax with palms on your thighs.
  7. Take a few normal breaths.
  8. Continue for two more rounds.

Take Your Meditation Practice to a Deeper Level

When you’re new to breathing exercises and meditation, it’s normal to have a lot of questions. If you’re feeling stuck in your current practice or need some tips to take your training to the next level, try our Meditation Retreat. Expert instructors, gorgeous natural surroundings, and nurturing programming combine to create the perfect place to go deep and immerse in peace and clarity.

The Meditation Retreat

Anyone can learn to meditate. The key to success is a powerful technique, experienced guidance, and practice. Our signature Meditation Retreat offers all of this—and more.

Original article, including two additional breathing techniques, originally published on artofliving.org.

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