What’s The Big Deal About Breathing?

If you’ve ever been to a yoga, meditation or Pilates class, odds are you’ve heard one of the following phrases: “stay connected to the breath,” “breathe deeply,” or “it’s all about the breath.” While there are many reasons for deep conscious breathing in all of these practices, what good does it do us outside of the yoga studio? What’s the big deal about breathing?

 

 

We know that we have to breathe to live. But breathing deeply and consciously can make a huge difference in how we live. Here are five ways we benefit physically and mentally by the simple act of conscious breathing.

 

An Energy Boost – For those days when you’re so tired you could lie down on a bed of nails and sleep for hours. By focusing on deep, energizing breaths we can boost our energy levels, and combat mental and physical fatigue. We’re bringing in fresh oxygen and helping increase the supply of blood and nutrients to our body.

 

The Great Stress-Reliever – For the times when your kids or your spouse or your boss have pushed your buttons and your head might just explode out of frustration or anger.  By taking deep, calming breaths, you can reverse the stress response. Your muscles and mind can then relax, enabling you to gain perspective on the situation. It’s pretty difficult to hold onto muscle tension or stay angry and stressed when you’re breathing deeply.

 

Keep Your Appetite Honest – For the times you’re trying to monitor your food intake but all you want to do is have that extra brownie and/or bag of chips.  When we breathe deeply into our diaphragm, not only do we keep our digestive system running smoothly, we are also forced to pay attention to when our stomach is full. Have you ever tried to take a deep breath after overindulging at a meal? It’s nearly impossible without feeling like you’re going to see the meal again (except it won’t be on a plate this time).


 

Healthy Heart – For the days, weeks (or months) when we’re running around between kids’ activities, work, family commitments, and we’re taking care of everyone else except for ourselves. With women being more likely to die from heart disease than any other cause, staying connected to the breath becomes extra important. Deep conscious breathing has been proven to reduce blood pressure, improve blood circulation, and lower the heart rate, all of which contribute to the wellbeing of the heart. 


 

Slowing Down – For when the only time you wind down is by falling into bed at night exhausted. Being mindful of our breath allows us to truly listen to our bodies. It causes us to slow down, gain clarity on our physical and mental state, and gives us a little more space in our day. Who couldn’t do with a little more of that?

  In the days ahead, why not try to breathe a little more deeply? And let me know how it feels.

 



Monday Meditation: Balance

It’s the first Monday of 2013 here at Annabel Fitzsimmons Whole Living, and the first post of the year. Happy 2013 to you! Talk of resolutions abound, but I’m taking a new approach to the new year. I’m using January as a time to reflect, and build a foundation for the year ahead.

 

The theme for this week’s Monday meditation is balance. The word balance brings up a wide variety of reactions from people. Some people view it as an unattainable goal, an over-used buzzword, or a concept that places undue pressure on us in an already pressure-filled world.

 

But this week, I’m going to challenge you to throw your idea of balance out the window, and think about it through fresh eyes. Balance could be as simple as the physical ability to balance our bodies upright down the icy sidewalks of this snowy winter. It could mean eating a balanced meal that fills our bellies and gives us energy. Balance could mean standing on one foot in tree pose or staying upright on a spin bike as you get your cardio on.

 

This week, as you take some time to reflect, I ask you to meditate on the many different aspects of the word balance, and the many possibilities the word holds. Try to let go of preconceived ideas about the meaning of balance (somebody else’s idea of balance is not going to be the same as yours) and explore what kind of balance you’d like to see in your life for the year ahead.

 

2013 lies before us, full of potential and promise. May our meditation on balance this week allow us to move into the year full of positivity and optimism.

 

If you’d like a little daily inspiration on the theme of balance, please follow along the 21 Days to Balance initiative I’m involved in this month. You’ll get fast and friendly nutrition, exercise, yoga and meditation tips from nutrition expert Lianne Phillipson Webb, fitness expert Samantha Montpetit-Huynh and me.



Monday Meditation: Hope

Many years ago I was in a heated debate with a friend of mine about the deeper meaning of life, religion, and why humanity continues to endure, despite the many tragedies and roadblocks that befall us. At one point, I asked him what got him out of bed in the morning and he half-jokingly said, “my alarm clock.” We laughed. When he asked me, my answer was “hope.”

 

The kind of hope that each day holds fresh promise, opportunities to make a difference, the hope that – even in the face of challenging times – there is always a greater good. Hope that doesn’t involve naivete or delusion, but a basic belief in life and humanity.

 

This week, given the events that have taken over the news, and with the advent of the holiday season, I am making the Monday meditation about hope, and the role it plays in our lives.

 

Hope can mean to expect, to trust, to anticipate, to wish, to look forward to, to desire. But how does it resonate with you today, this week? What image or images comes to mind when you say the word “hope”?

 

I have many hopes today, but I will share this one: I hope that everyone is able to find peace in their hearts this holiday season.



More Than Just a Yoga Pose

What Tree Pose Can Teach Us

 

Every pose in yoga has specific physical benefits. These benefits are what draw many people to yoga in the first place. But what I witness my clients learning — and what has kept me falling in love with my yoga practice over and over again in the last 19 years — are the many-layered lessons that each pose can offer us. Today I’m going to focus on one of my favourites: Tree pose.

 

 

Like many balancing poses, tree pose requires strength and flexibility. But neither of these can be achieved effectively without a sturdy foundation. It doesn’t matter how strong our legs or core are or how flexible our hips and upper bodies, if we are not grounded through the feet of our standing legs we will topple over. Likewise, in life: if we are not grounded or steady in who we are, no amount of strength or flexibility can prevent us from losing our balance.

 

Healthy trees strike the perfect equilibrium between foundation, strength and flexibility. Healthy trees grow deep roots. They are strong enough to withstand heavy gusts or gentle breezes, yet they have the flexibility to move and sway with the winds of all seasons. An unhealthy tree becomes rigid, inflexible, and will snap or crack when the wind blows too hard.

 

When we practice tree pose, the intention is to be a healthy tree, one that is rooted and strong but allows us to move gently with our breath. By staying grounded and working with our strength and flexibility, we can maintain balance. But if we focus too much on being still or rigid, that is when we are likely to fall out of the pose.

 

Tree pose as a metaphor for life?

 

When we develop a strong sense of who we are and what we stand for, we have a sturdy foundation. Once we have this foundation, we can develop the inner and outer strength to withstand both the calm and stormy days, and the flexibility to move and sway with the changing nature of our lives.

 

 

 

 



Monday Meditation: Desiderata

You know those passages of writing that resonate with you, the ones that seem to speak to the fabric of who you are? And as time passes, the words and ideas within the passage remain just as significant, even though they may affect you in different ways? This poem – Desiderata – is one of those pieces of writing for me.

 

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

 

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

 

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

 

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

 

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

 

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

 

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

 

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

 

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann c.1920

 

 

During my university years, a poster of the Desiderata poem adorned the wall of my various student-housing bedrooms. Then someone gave me a framed version of Desiderata written in beautiful calligraphy which hung proudly in my real-world-no-longer-a-student apartments. The passage was, throughout these years, my manifesto, my way of approaching life and the world around me. But somewhere along the timeline of moving abroad, then moving back to Toronto and into a place with my now husband, between having kids and changing the décor of our lives, the poem got put away. And I forgot about it.

 

Until a few weeks ago, when I noticed a poster of Desiderata on the basement wall at a client’s house. I was struck once again by its power. It stuck with me all that day, and the next. So much so that I sought it out online and have read and re-read it numerous times since.

 

Rediscovering this passage has affected me so much that, for this week’s Monday meditation, I’m changing things up a little. Instead of offering up a topic or idea to focus and meditate upon this week, I’m inviting you read Desiderata every day.  And after each reading, let your heart decide which idea(s) you want to bring into your meditation on that particular day.

 

Every time I read Desiderata, it inspires me in some way. It reminds me of the many things in life I hold dear, and of the way I want to live my days. And yet the passage can be broken down into so many deeper and powerful ideas. I hope that as you meditate upon some of them this week, you’ll appreciate this poem as much as I do. And please let me know what resonates with you.

 

May you go placidly amidst the noise and haste this week.



Where Is Your Attention?

 

“Where attention goes, energy flows.”

 

I heard this phrase in a yoga class many years ago, and every once in a while I am reminded of it, or – as the case may be – need to remind myself of it. This week’s Monday meditation is about where we are putting our attention.

 

We can’t give our attention to all things at all times. Which, if you’re like me, can be supremely frustrating! There are always going to be certain aspects of our lives that we are unable to focus on at any given time.

 

Because of this, we must decide, and reassess on a continual basis, what our priorities are.

 

This week, take some time to meditate on where you are putting your mental, physical and emotional attention. And what type of attention is it? Is it positive, or is it negative? Is it moving you forward? Are you placing your attention on the things that truly matter to you, or do need to shift your focus to do just that?

 

When we become clear about where we want or need to focus our energies, it’s remarkable how the universe seems to step in and support us.



Monday Meditation: Embrace

Last week’s meditation was focused on letting go, on releasing habits, behaviours or thought patterns that no longer serve us. Today, as we start our fresh Monday slate, let’s meditate on the word embrace.

 

It is easy to embrace the parts of life we love, the foods we like to eat, the people we are happiest being around, the activities we enjoy doing. But what about the parts of life that are necessary to our daily living yet don’t make our hearts sing? The minutiae. Like taking out the garbage, emptying the dishwasher, doing the laundry (I have written before about my laundry mantra). Or the behaviours or habits of others that irritate us? (Looking at you, dear husband, who cuts his sandwiches on the counter.) Or the parts of ourselves we are always so quick to judge ourselves on? (Looking at me and my competitive nature.)

 

What would happen if we embraced all of these things happily, and accepted them as part of the larger fabric of our lives. What if each of our daily movements became a lesson, a celebration of sorts, or an opportunity to shift our mindset? What could we let in?

 

Could embracing a different attitude open our views of ourselves and the world a little wider? It could be as simple as embracing patience on our daily commute and letting that person into the traffic jam ahead of us. Or embracing the idea of trying things we haven’t done before, and perhaps discovering a new favourite form of exercise.

 

The possibilities are endless if we’re willing to be open to them, embrace them. What can you embrace this week?



Monday Meditation: Letting Go

This week’s Monday meditation is about letting go. There are always things we hold onto tightly. We might have ideas or habits or relationships that we are scared to let go of because we think they define who we are. Opinions and beliefs that we are so invested in that we can’t see beyond them. Or we may simply have ways of thinking or doing things that we feel we can’t change because we don’t know any different.

 

From small choices or actions to deeply ingrained habits, there are always aspects of our lives that we can let go of. By recognizing – and letting go of – these behaviours, thought patterns, emotions, expectations and interactions that no longer serve us, we can adapt, change, and discover new perspectives.

 

Sometimes it’s painful to let go, sometimes it’s frustrating and difficult, but more often than not – when the letting go has happened – we feel a sense of freedom, ease and potential for positive growth.

 

This week, turn your thoughts to the idea of letting go. What do you feel is weighing you down, holding you back, or keeping you stuck? If you need a little help, here’s a mini guided meditation to get you started. Another activity that is extremely helpful is writing down daily things you’d like to let go of.

 

Here’s to letting go. May it be a freeing kind of week.



Monday Meditation: Peace

I often close my yoga classes by saying or singing the words, “Om shanti, shanti, shanti. Om peace, peace, peace.” This invocation of peace is a powerful way to both seal a yoga practice and also create a mindset with which to leave the mat. Peace, on so many levels, is worth turning our attention and energy to.

 

With Remembrance Day a week away, I thought it appropriate that the theme for this week’s Monday meditation be peace.

 

What comes to mind when we think about the word peace? What does it represent? Some days, I am more conscious of inner peace, of nurturing that sense of contentment felt so far deep inside of me but that is also intricately connected to the world at large. Other days, I’m focused on simply keeping the peace within my household! And there are days when I am consumed by the news and the challenge(s) to peace in so many communities.

 

This week, I ask you to meditate on what peace means to you. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in relation to the world around you. Let yourself explore what brings you peace, and how you can cultivate more of it. Observe whether there are obstacles to peace in your daily life that you can shift or approach differently.

 

And if you’re in need of some inspiration, or an idea to focus your thoughts on, this is a beautiful quote to meditate on:

 

“Within the heart there is a place of peace.

May we all live from that place.” -Marina Raye-

 

Wishing you a peaceful week ahead.



Monday Meditation: Be Open

Mondays represent a fresh start for me. A new week, a chance to look at life afresh, an opportunity to change habits, try a new course of action, to prioritize or shift priorities.

 

It’s become a ritual of mine – on Mondays – to come up with a theme or a phrase to contemplate throughout the day and the week ahead. I’ve coined these ideas my Monday meditations.

 

Sometimes I’ll notice a meditation is specific to my role as a parent, and at other times I find myself applying it across the board to my work, my relationships, my daily actions.

 

I thought I’d begin the tradition of sharing my Monday meditations with you, my readers, and see how they speak to you.

 

Starting today, and checking in on a daily basis for the coming week, take some time to meditate on this:

 

Be open.

 

If you are new to the idea of meditation, go easy on yourself. Start by sitting for five minutes in a comfortable seated position, preferably in a quiet spot. Begin to notice your breath coming in and out of your body. Once you’ve settled into your breath, let yourself explore what “being open” means to you. What thoughts emerge when you say the words to yourself? Is there a particular area of your life where you could be more open? Or are there areas in which you find it difficult to be open? What would happen if you were open to different ideas, to physical or emotional experiences or ways of approaching your daily life? Challenge yourself to understand in what parts of your life you feel you are open and what areas, perhaps, you are not.

 

As the week progresses, you might want to explore these ideas in a journal or you might want to sit longer in meditation. Regardless, I encourage you to reflect on being open and, well, be open to it.

 

And feel free to be open with me on how it goes!