Practicing the 4-6 Breaths Stress Management Technique using the Heartrate Coherence+ App

The Breath and Stress

When we breathe in, we are activating the sympathetic (fight and flight) nervous system. When we breathe out, we are activating the parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system. By increasing the ratio of time spent in relaxation, we relax the body. This sends signals to the brain that all is well.

By breathing regularly and smoothly we are sending signals to the brain that all is well. This results in reduced heart rate variability. Our heart beats with less variation of time and helps to induce calmness.

4-6 Breaths

The 4-6 breath breathing pattern is an easy breathing pattern that helps many students to become calmer. If this causes you and discomfort in any way please do not practice it. Instead you can learn some of the relaxation exercises.

To practice the 4-6 breaths follow these steps

  • Breathe in while counting to four seconds and breathe out while counting to six.
  • When you have achieved a comfortable natural rhythm, breathe in and out as smoothly as possible
  • To breathe smoothly, inhale the same amount of air at the beginning, the middle and the end of both the in breath and the out breath.
  • When you have achieved a comfortable natural rhythm again, focus your attention on the point where the out-breath stops, just before the in-breath begins. I call this the bottom of the breath.
  • Notice how it feels, each time the cycle of the breath returns there.
  • Maintaining the rhythm and cycle of the breath, as you breathe in, focus your attention on the top of your head
  • You may have to touch the crown of your head with your hand to focus on it, but once that is done you will have tuned in
  • As you breathe out, focus your attention on the movement of your belly button as it moves in
  • As the out breath finishes notice the bottom of the breath
  • Repeat this cycle with each breath for a few minutes
  • You will find that you become calmer

 
To assist in practicing this exercise I have added a youtube video that explains how to download, install the app, use it and analyse the results.
 

 
Let me know if any questions arise.

How to press the pause button and calm your mind in 90 seconds

How to calm your busy mind in 90 seconds – works for 80 percent of people

Have you ever tried to meditate and found that your mind is so busy that it is an exercise in frustration?

On those rare occasions when life isn’t quite so hectic and we get the chance to stop the hectic carousel of our lives we can sit down for a moment to notice the workings of our minds. When we do that, we discover that there is an awful lot going on.

For many people there is a constant inner dialogue. The inner dialogue is that voice in our heads that labels, criticises, compares and comments. For many, this can be a continuous process. Our become permanently occupied by going over our infinite lists of infinite tasks as they infinitely overflow. Or we can spend days, months or ever years, dredging up events from the past and replaying them or constructing future outcomes and repeatedly rehearsing for them.

Left to it’s own devices, the modern mind is constantly busy. Silent, still calmness seems as remote as anything could possibly be and our society craves for those calm wooded mountain streams or the rhythm of waves on a sea shore that seem to be the only times when we can find this deep well of calmness that we all know, intuitively, can be found within us.

The busy, working day can become a blur of activities, internal and external.

How do we switch it off?

Everyone is different but there are some techniques that work for more, or less people. The technique that I am describing in this article helps, in 90 seconds, to calm the minds of about 80 or 90 percent of the people I teach it to. It is a combination of other techniques that I have learned from various sources and it is very effective in bringing calm to an overactive mind. I call it character counting.

Character Counting

Character Counting

Character Counting

Close your eyes and count random numbers between 1 and 10 in your mind, using your inner voice.
Each time you count a number, imagine you are writing the number in the air on a dark night with a sparkler. You need to notice how it would feel to move your hand and also, if you are a visual person, imagine how the number is displayed in the air.

Do this exercise for at least 90 seconds.

The majority of people notice that their mind becomes calm and still. The inner voice is often silent.
This is the most effective way to calm a busy mind in a short period of time.

If this doesn’t work for you, don’t despair, check out some of our other training on this site or come along to one of our events where you can learn something that works for you.

An insight into my personal meditation practice

A question I get asked a lot is: “What does my personal meditation practice look like?”.

This post is for those guys. I hope you find it useful and feel free to comment.

I dictated this during my meditation on the morning of the 24th July.

I meditate in a variety of ways, places and times: everything from a regular morning practice to meditating wherever I find myself during the day, travelling or waiting in a queue or in a quiet five minutes. I also sometimes meditate in bed after I wake up or before I go to sleep (beditation). When I add the meditations that I teach (I always meditate when I am guiding a meditation), I probably meditate for a couple of hours per day on average.

I decided a while back to go over to using my Zen Bench as often as I can which is the best meditation bench I have been able to find. I usually meditate on one of a number of different cushions depending on my mood but I think that my posture is better on the Zen Bench so I am working on moving over to it. This is because when I teach I often find myself on random cushions or various chairs/stools or on the floor/ground.

If you are interested you can buy one here: http://zenbench.co.uk/ I have no association with the makers.

This article is an insight into a one hour regular practice meditation I did on the morning of the 24th of July. This is just an insight into my experience. It isn’t anything in the way of a regular experience as, for me, there is no regular experience. My meditations vary considerably. Sometimes I might meditate with an intention such as to gain some insight on a choice I need to make, or to just follow the breath, or to calm a busy mind or resolve conflicting thoughts or release some emotion (increasingly rare), or focus on the body, or relax or do compassion practices or open awareness or whatever. But most commonly now, I allow my meditation to go wherever it goes. This is one of those sessions.

I used an app on my iPhone called Drafts to dictate every so often so this is in the nature of a running commentary. I have edited it as much of the grammar was incorrect and many words had been captured incorrectly but there isn’t much change from what I dictated. I dictated a few sentences to describe my experience whenever I became aware to do so. After half an hour I noted the time into the meditation that I had reached. I have left the drafts dictation end bars === in place. These are created by Drafts at the end of each dictation. Any comments that I have added after the meditation, I have enclosed in brackets.

I did my morning yoga before I started which consists of Makka Ho stretches and a set of sun salutations: I do between three and ten depending on how I feel.

I didn’t meditate with any intention (except to dictate my experience) and just allowed the meditation to go where it wanted to go.

I sit so that my torso and head are at the point of equilibrium where leaning back causes my head or torso to fall back and leaning forward causes them to fall forward. This means no muscles are operating and I will be the more comfortable for longer.

My Meditation Space July 2017_680x907

My meditation
“Becoming aware of my connection to the Earth. Allowing myself to feel gravity pushing me down into the ground and adjusting my balance.
My eyes are open. I allow my body to relax with my arms by my side and no muscles are tense. Just maintaining my balance and allowing myself to notice where my awareness settles.

Aware throughout this of the breath. Also aware of the breeze moving the plants and trees in the garden and of the colours and shapes, textures, reflections, contrasts, patterns, shade, light, dark.

===
Allowing myself to become aware of any discomfort in my body and adjusting if necessary. Checking to see if I’m relaxing. Adjusting my balance again.

Checking in with my body
Noticing I’m calmly alert: not tired, no headache (I had a headache the previous night), a tiny amount of brain fog. Noticing it’s quiet, that there is movement somewhere in the house and traffic noise in the distance.

I can’t taste anything, there’s just a hint of a smell of some sort, not obvious what it is, now closing my eyes.

Becoming aware of my physical sensations: balance, comfort, relaxation, warmth, alertness. Noticing I can feel my heart beat, my attention moving to the breath in my chest. Noticing the rhythm.

===
Focusing on the sense of air in my nostrils, Again checking my balance. (I’m surprised to know how often I do that. Possibly it is because I don’t usually use the Zen Bench and I have an underlying intention to focus on my posture).

Now focusing on the breath I’m surprised to notice that I have now been meditating for 15 minutes.

===
Following the breath
The mind is quite calm this morning. When I allow myself to be aware of thoughts arising I notice very quiet, almost distantly in my mind, the beginning of sentences forming as thoughts: half formed sentences arise which stop when I become aware of them. (It is as if the mind is trying to get a train of thought going and my awareness of it doing so cuts it off).

I sit listening for thoughts. No images arise, just half formed sentences of the inner voice.
Adjusting my balance again.
Relaxing in the gap between half formed sentences arising. Slowly focusing on the breath and seeking the source of thought in the background. Now just the occasional word popping into my awareness and words not getting as far as forming into even the start of sentences. I’m aware that there is a potential for the inner voice to arise, but it is not transforming into a coherent statement and it slowly diminishes in the background as I focus on the breath, particularly the coolness of the in breath. Adjusting my balance again. Relaxing again.
Now just focusing on the coolness of the breath.

===
A calm mind
No thoughts arising now at all now. I’ve been sitting for 30 minutes.
Allowing myself to notice how I feel emotionally at 35 minutes. What emotions are there? There is nothing obvious so I’m just sitting, allowing any emotional state, any unsatisfactoriness, any discomfort or anxiety or joy or happiness to arise.
Nothing arises. Making a space for insights. (Sometimes when my mind is quiet, intuitive insights arise but not on this day).

===
Forming an intention to connect to the sensory present moment.

===
Open Awareness
Opening my eyes at 40 minutes. Moving over to open awareness meditation. Allowing myself to connect to all of my sensory experiences. Allowing my vision to roam around as it wishes. Closing my eyes from time to time to focus on the body, sound, smell, taste, the sensation of sitting, the breath, sounds, distant sounds, the sound of the breath, my balance.
Gently scanning my body, readjusting my balance, relaxing, noticing the sensation in my legs, noticing slight discomfort now in my right knee (an old injury). Allowing my sense of feeling and touch in my body to move out around me beyond my body. (I didn’t realise I did this. To me it was just a sensory experience where the sense of connection came into my body. Possibly that varies). Allowing my sense of feeling to move beyond the body and extend out into the room including all of my surroundings, down into the ground and above my head. My mood elevating and a sense of physical connection like a tingling and the best massage ever arising as I connect. Still aware of the sensations of discomfort in my right knee now but it is mildly improved with an adjustment of posture by repositioning my thighs on the bench.
Noticing the breath rising and falling feeling the sense of connection.
Eyes still closed, exploring my feeling of connection and noticing the joy arising. Smiling, noticing the discomfort in the knee, adjusting my body, checking in with my shoulders, ensuring I’m relaxed, tipping my head back to balance, a smile on my face, joy continuing to arise.

===
51 minutes now, I’m aware of the warm sensation throughout my body where the joy is filling it. Grateful and thankful for this.
Basking in the sensory pleasure of the feeling of connection to my surroundings, the rhythm of the breath in the body, the sound of the trees being blown in the breeze mixing with the traffic noise, the airplane noise and the sound of my breath. Connecting with the sound, connecting with feeling, noticing the same sense of pleasure and joy in my fingers and hands as there is in my chest and shoulders.
Settling back to calmly witness all of this, the quality of the joy changing from one of near euphoria to one of a calm collected connection.

===

55 minutes, eyes opening, observing the source of thought again, noticing that there is no thought and also no potential for thought.
Noticing the breath, noticing a sense of compassion
===

57 minutes
Noticing distant sounds, police sirens, airplanes, movement of the plants and trees. The sense of joy has become a calm relaxation.
===

One hour.
Ending the meditation and stretching.”

Namaste.

What’s happening to Britain at the Moment?

A few days ago a student of mine, who I have been privileged to know for a few years now, sent me a question. I thought it might be useful to publish his question and my response.

Q.
“What’s happening to Britain at the moment Robert? So much division and hate – all perpetuated by the media. They seem to wallow in it.”

A.
It’s fear. As Yoda so correctly pointed out… “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
As 21st century humans, our only real fear is the fear of isolation. the fear that arises when we feel we are separate. It’s black and white. You’re either connected to all things or you’re separated from all things. When you feel separate, you try to find groups where you don’t feel separate then of course you’re connected to that group and then the outsiders are separate so you fear them. If you look at terrorism and the response to it, it’s all about us and them. Fear of outsiders. Nothing sells news like fear. As they say in the news media, “If it bleeds, it leads”.

Q.
But does it have to be so sad?

A.
Fear is the state of the human mind, almost universally. However, suffering has a purpose. The purpose of suffering is to expose whatever it is we believe that doesn’t align with reality and this is designed to be uncomfortable to make us to do something about it. The reality is that everything and everyone is connected. In areas like quantum physics and our other explorations of the universe, science is learning this on a daily basis. Though of course science is in denial and consistently uses terms like ‘spooky’. That word gets used more and more for very good reason. Einstein coined it to explain a connection between particles that was unexplained. He called it ’spooky’ action at a distance. (It’s still unexplained by the way). Suffering arises because either you, or someone else feels separate. The greater the sense of separation, the greater the suffering. You only have to look at the private lives of the terrorists to see how they feel separate and different. This is all there to guide us. It’s a lesson to us, you and me. Of course the media couldn’t get this in a million years because they all absolutely believe the very same narrative that we are all separate. Just billiard balls in the table of life bumping into each other in a meaningless random cosmic game. So what to do? Connect. Smile at one more person today than you would have yesterday. Smile at one more person that looks different to you, that you can’t understand or that you might feel some aversion towards or doubt about or even who makes you uncomfortable. This is how we change this sad world my friend, one smile at a time 🙂 🙏

Mindfulness v. Mind Wandering

I recently received an email from a student asking about mind-wandering and mindfulness. He pointed out that he is quite attached to mind wandering and whether mindfulness is better than mind wandering.

“Something that is puzzling me; why do we have a default (“wandering”) mind if that task-positive mind is better and happier to be in? Does it help in some situations, does it encourage imagination, open-mindedness, a wider solution space? I think historically I’ve been quite attached to that default mode, I’m feeling a bit of cognitive dissonance in letting go.”

I can put your mind at rest.

Excellent question. There is no need to let go of mind wandering. It would be impossible to in any case as it is, like task positive mode, an essential activity for the brain. Remember that by fostering mindfulness, we are only ever exercising the ‘choice’ of whether we allow our minds to wander or return our attention to the sensory present moment. We are not, and can not, ever banish mind wandering from our experience entirely. We can also, always choose to let the mind wander if we wish. Mind-wandering is a subset of default mode. Default mode has a purpose. It helps in decision making and in retrieving social information and in a number of other ways. Mind wandering only becomes a problem when it entirely squeezes mindfulness out of our experience or operates compulsively or at inappropriate times (see below).
If I am a judge, mind-wandering is part of my decision making process, I will imagine how I will feel giving various sentences for example: letting the accused off, giving them a light sentence or giving them a heavy sentence. The result is gut feel. It is incredibly useful and can often outperform cognitive assessment. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink gives us an insight into that process. That useful intuition often arises in mind wandering.

Mind wandering is also a place for creativity and it can be a welcome experience. Positive mind-wandering is as enjoyable as actually doing something according to Gilbert and Killingworth, the Harvard guys who wrote the article ‘A wandering mind is an unhappy mind’ in the journal science after studying mind wandering through an app used by thousands of subjects.

What we are seeking to do with these mental processes is to become comfortable with them, understand them and regulate them for our benefit.
What our artificial lives have done is to overload what would be quiet moments of connection with often compulsive mind wandering and problem solving, when it is more beneficial to have a rest from it.

Examples of when mindfulness trumps default mode:

  • When someone else is speaking.
  • When we are trying to get to sleep and the mind is in overdrive.
  • When we are having a special experience, travelling, spending time with our family etc.
  • When we are eating.
  • When we are landing an airplane or doing our tax return.
  • When we are doing sport or exercising (think of a mind-wandering goalkeeper or the runner that doesn’t notice the rabbit hole).
  • Walking the dog or going for a stroll is most usefully a combination of mindfulness and mind-wandering which is exactly what will happen in any case for most of us.
  • When we are suffering from cognitive overload: Waking up with a head full of lists, suffering from anxiety or worrying about outcomes too much. Mindfulness is a refractory period for the mind.
  • When we are driving or crossing the road.
  • When the needle gets stuck and our thoughts become unhelpful, repetitive or affect our ability to sleep.

Examples of appropriate experiences for mind wandering:

  • Retrieving memories especially, social ones.
  • Social evaluations of the self and others.
  • As ‘part of’ the decision making process. A balanced decision making process consist of: rational choices (task-positive mode). Gut-feel – default mode and task positive mode collaborating. Loosely associated thoughts (creativity) are default mode or mind wandering. From this we are making use of three elements of decision making in a skilled way: How we feel, what our subconscious mind contributes and the outcome of our rational decision making processes.
  • Mind wandering is great when we require creative input. Drifting in and out of sleep (the hypnagogic state) is also immensely beneficial which sometimes results in us waking up with the answer in our heads which happens an awful lot to me now. Check this link out if you are interested in this: http://scienceline.org/2014/06/sleeping-on-and-dreaming-up-a-solution/
  • And most importantly, when we are just chilling and our monkey mind isn’t giving us any trouble.

I hope this helps, feel free to ask any questions that arise.