Is anxiety pressing in on you? Does life feel too busy? Creating space, and de-stressing, begin with your breath.
Breath is the beginning of everything. It’s also the end. Life is what happens in between. So exhale. You’ve just hit the reset button.
THE SCIENCE OF BREATHING
Breathing slowly and deeply calms the mind. It reduces heart rate and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
As an autonomic function, breathing is unique – it happens without thinking, yet it’s also under your control. When you adjust the exhale to be longer than the inhale, your body immediately receives the message to relax. Tension releases and your mind quiets. Scientific findings suggest that nasal breathing enhances this calming effect.
Mindfulness is a simple practice intended to bring full awareness to everyday tasks. When you give daily duties your complete attention, they become infused with meaning, care, and quality. This anchors you firmly in the only place anything can ever really happen – the present.
Breath awareness is the cornerstone of mindfulness. The directions are simple:
- Observe how the act of breathing feels,
- Accept that your attention will wander, and when it does …
- Gently return your focus to breathing.
LET’S TRY IT!
- Sit in a comfortable position on a chair or the floor.
- Allow your body a few moments to settle in. Notice the places where you connect with the chair or the floor. How are you feeling today: heart, soul, mind, body?
- Do you notice any tension in your jaw or shoulders? Relax them on the exhale.
- Close your eyes and pay attention to the rhythm of your breath. Don’t try to change it. You’re merely observing.
- How many counts is your natural inhale? How many counts is your natural exhale? There’s no right number. Just notice.
- Now, lengthen your exhale by one count. If that’s comfortable, add another count.
- If you wish, continue to increase the exhale until it’s twice as long as the inhale.
- Focus your attention on the breath. Don’t worry, it’s normal for your thoughts to wander. That’s why mindful breathing is a discipline. Simply notice (without frustration or condemnation) when your mind takes a rabbit trail.
- When distractions come, calmly acknowledge the drifting thoughts, and redirect your attention back to the sensation of the breath.
- Try to keep this going for five minutes. (Set a timer so you don’t find yourself fighting the nagging impulse to check the clock.)
- Practice this once a day, slowly increasing the time in subsequent sessions, stepping up to about ten minutes total when you feel ready.
CREATING SPACE: SIMPLICITY IN LIFE
Nothing is simpler than the breath. It’s the beginning of everything. So how can your external life reflect this internal practice of emptying and being filled?
Start by thinking of ways you can make space for God in your schedule. Are you fully booked? Is every moment scheduled? Give God some space! If you liken life to a race, are you getting bogged down, carrying too much?
What the Bible Says About Simplicity
Humans have always struggled with keeping focused on what matters. God’s Word offers the following timeless advice:
… throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. — Hebrews 12:3
I love that the writer of Hebrews includes both “everything that hinders” and “sin that so easily entangles” — they are two separate things! Not everything that hinders is blatantly sinful. But it can entangle you nonetheless.
Exhale Earthly Things and Inhale Heavenly Things
What’s your perspective these days? What captures your heart’s affections?
Once you’ve surrendered your life to Jesus, the following applies:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthy things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. — Colossians 3:1
Clubs, activities and hobbies can be good, in and of themselves. And, the late nights at work help maintain your income. But is it all necessary?
What can you trim from your schedule to make space for God?
The apostle Paul, addressing Christians in one of the ancient churches, observes that:
You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial. — 1 Corinthians 10:23
Ask Jesus to renew your mind as you submit your life, goals, and scheduled activities to Him. This is not about adding another “to do” to your life. Rather, it’s about simplifying and letting some things go.
Allow Jesus to show you what those things are.
CREATING SPACE: SIMPLICITY IN PRAYER
Do you prefer approaching God with a list — methodically ticking off each item — instead of sitting in silent contemplation? Both aspects of prayer are valuable. However, if you’re like most of us, you find it easier to talk and ask than to wait and listen.
Can you take a moment to quietly enjoy your Father’s company without an agenda?
Don’t fidget about not “accomplishing” anything of earthly value. You are communing with the most incredible Being in the universe! Empty yourself and make room for Him.
And you know what? He will meet you there! If you yield and give Him space, He will fill you. The exhale is a prelude to the inhale.God delights to reveal Himself to you. Hold space for Him. Wait with expectancy, without expectation. Let God do things His way, not yours. Empty yourself so you can be filled.
RESOURCES FOR CREATING SPACE: SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES HANDBOOK
Are you eager for more resources on mindfulness and breath awareness? What about other tools for managing stress and connecting with God? Then I highly recommend Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. This book is a treasure trove of Christian meditation and mindfulness practices. It’s my favorite resource.
God has given you the gift of life through breath. It’s readily available and simple to use. You can regulate your breath to:
- ease anxiety,
- enhance mental focus, and
- cultivate an attitude of prayerful surrender.
Will you harness your breath and thrive, or ignore it and merely survive?
When you come before God, … find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play …. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace.
– Jesus (from Matthew 6, The Message – a Bible paraphrase by Eugene Peterson).
I value your insights and comments. Please leave them below, and I will always respond. Blessings, Ali 🙂
“Set your HEARTS….MINDS ….on things above….” Shout it to the mountaintops!!!
Amen, Tina! I need this perspective refresh every day!