We sometimes underestimate the power of meditation and how really sinking into our rhythm of breathing affects us both mentally, physically and spiritually. In a time where we can fall privy to anxiety due to uncertainty, there has been no greater time to practise the art of breathing and meditation to achieve a greater sense of calm. We spoke to meditation expert and author Pax Tandon, to discover why the art is so therapeutic and how we can learn and mould it into our daily routines.
NS: Why is breathing and meditation so important to incorporate into a routine at a time like this?
PT: First and foremost, because breathing and meditation boosts our immunity, and this helps us put up a better resistance to the Covid-19 virus. We use about 60% of our lung capacity on a general basis, If we breathe deeply and are mindful of ensuring we take full breaths more often, this opens out the rest of the tiny sacs, and we can get more oxygenated blood into the bloodstream, to better fight infections and virus’ of all kinds (in other words, this gives us a higher probability of staying off respirators and ventilators because our lungs have higher functioning).
In addition, there is research to show that practicing meditation boosts our immune system. This is generally because meditation lowers our stress levels, including the hormones associated with stress in our bodies, like cortisol. Stress lowers our immune function (because so many resources are going to the stress response, immune function suffers), meditation enhances it.
NS: What are the benefits?
PT: Beyond the above, breathing and meditation have a calming and opening effect on the brain and body. We are therefore able to think more clearly when we practice, and, in fact, release “happy” chemicals in the brain to keep our moods elevated and our minds sharp. In times of crisis or acute stress, this is a great ally to keep us balanced, calm, optimistic, focused, and solution oriented. On a spiritual level, meditation keeps us attuned to our inner intelligence and “higher” selves, so we maintain perspective on challenging events, and can stay resilient and bounce back quickly when negative events occur.
NS: How does breathing/meditation sit in with skincare, wellness and fitness?
PT: Current research has drawn a link between the ends of our chromosomes - the “telomeres” - and meditation. Telomeres shrink as we age; regular meditation practice keeps them long. In other words, meditation keeps you young. Therefore, skin and general health and wellness is much enhanced with meditation. Meditation and breath work also helps us get more oxygen to our lungs, and therefore muscles, to enhance our workouts and give us more endurance.
NS: What meditation practises do you recommend for beginners, where do we start?
PT: Start with counting the breath, as described above. Then, move onto resting the attention lightly on the breath, but without forcing it into and out of the body (like with counting). You breathe naturally, without any thought. So, the idea here is to let the body take over, and simply let the mind observe the action of the breath as it moves into and out of the body. You can focus the attention on the tip of the nose, where you feel the sensation of the air entering and exiting your body. Or, focus on the belly as it expands and contracts to accommodate the breath. You can ground your attention even more by placing a hand on your belly as it rises and falls, to connect more sensorially with the breath. The idea is to hold the mind anchored on the observation of the breath, so it doesn’t run off on thoughts and other stressors.
NS: Can you talk us through breathing techniques that we can take time out to do during the day?
PT: This can be done very simply. Take a seat in a chair, bringing the spinal column forward so you’re not slouching or leaning into the chair back. Plant the feet firmly on the floor and relax the shoulders. Pull the chin slightly down and back, so it is directly in line with the rest of the spine. You can close your eyes, or, if you prefer, keep the eyes open and the gaze soft, lowered about 45 degrees in front of you. Turn inward and bring your focus to the breath. Slowly inhale for a count of 4. Hold for two counts, and then breath out for a count of 6. Repeat this 5-10 times, or as long as you like to feel the calming benefits.
NS: What other daily elements can you incorporate into a routine to continue the harmony released from meditation/breathing i.e. drinks / oils / nutrition?
PT: Great question, as nutrition is an extremely important complement to these practices. A healthy body is a healthy mind, and vice-versa. Drinking plenty of water is key to vibrant and well-functioning cells. Healthy oils like olive enhances brain functions and keep plaques and other toxins out of the body. Tea helps with meditation, coffee inhibits it. Generally, a plant-based diet is an important complement to meditation, whereas diets heavy in animal products and fats, and other processed foods, work counter to spiritual practices. Fluoride is said to inhibit the pineal gland, which is our “third eye” access point to spiritual elevation. This is found in our water, and most toothpaste, so consider getting a filter for your tap that removes fluoride and buying toothpaste that is fluoride-free.
NS: What do your mornings look like?
PT: I begin every morning by brushing my teeth, and then drinking two tall glasses of water. Then, before checking my phone or ingesting any other content or information, I sit down to meditate for around 30 minutes.
NS: What have you discovered about yourself and your practise during isolation?
PT: I’ve discovered just how much practicing mindfulness and other forms of meditation and breath work have come to serve me in this time. Not only am I much better able to flow with the experience from one moment to the next with fluidity and adaptability (rather than panic, fear or anxiety), I am consistently inspired to share wisdom around what I’ve learned for others to benefit from. This is resilience in action, also the consciousness-expansion (engendering compassion and service) that comes with practice.
NS: Are there any apps and classes that you would recommend?
PT: I love the Insight Timer meditation app. It has all sorts of styles, including mindfulness, my particular area of expertise. It also has varying timed meditations, so you can choose what you have bandwidth for in any given moment. For classes, the best way to learn is with a teacher or guide who can lead you through practices and answer your questions. I am currently taking clients online, and am happy to hear from the CB readers with requests for guidance.