2 Steps to Raise the Quality of Your Life

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What is the quality of life that you want? Have you thought about what this means or where you find it? Is it based on your surroundings? Does living in a beautiful home with luxuries and beautiful scenery bring ‘quality’ to life? What if you have quality surroundings but your mind is disturbed?

We have to take a closer look at life. There is an inward dimension and an outward dimension. The outward dimension, your surroundings and all the things you own and have, is not where the true quality of life can be measured because a quality life is feeling happy, peaceful, loving and fulfilled. You might enhance those feelings by what you do in the world, particularly by doing for others, but there is no guarantee that what happens outside will control what is happening inside.

For life to blossom you have to do something that addresses the mind. You already have a tool that works very effectively on the inner dimension of life, you just need some skill in using it. That tool is your breath.

The breath can have an immediate influence over your mind and vice versa. You have seen that when your mood changes, the breath changes. If worried, you hold the breath and breath shallow. If sad, you have longer exhales. In the other direction, if a friend gets upset the first thing you say is, “take a deep breath and relax”.

The ancient Yoga tradition developed many breathing techniques called “pranayama” to help calm the mind, cleanse the system of stress, energize the body, and prepare you for meditation. Some of these techniques can be learned quickly and take very little time practice. Here are two practices to begin your journey.

  1. Alternate Nostril breathing calms the mind in as little as a few minutes. It is an excellent practice to do before beginning meditation or to calm intense emotions. It is safe to do at anytime as much as you like.

Sit-up straight but comfortably and close the eyes. Use your right thumb and ring finger to alternately block one nostril so you can only breath through the other nostril. Start by exhaling out the left nostril, breathe-in, then switch sides. Switch sides after each inhalation. Breathe normally at your own relaxed pace with some attention to completing the exhalation but without forcing.

  1. Bellows Breath. This is a very energizing technique that also quiets the mind. Ideally you sit-up straight and have your knees lower than your hips. If possible sit on the floor with your legs folded under you. You can also sit on the edge of a chair with legs folded under the chair which lowers the knees.

Bring your arms by your side, hands in a loose fist next to your shoulders. Take a deep breath-in and breathe-out. Next, raise your arms straight up all the way and open your hands as you take in a quick full breath. Immediately breathe-out with some force as your arms fall back to your side, hands closing. Continue in a steady pace taking about 15 breaths then relax. Only breathe through the nose. If you feel light-headed reduce the number of breaths. Repeat only 3 times, not more. Avoid this if you are pregnant, have heart trouble or uncontrolled blood pressure.

There are many more pranayama techniques you can learn depending on how much time you want to devote. Guidance from an experienced teacher offering practices from an established tradition produces the best results. An amazing advanced practice that is ideally suited to the modern western world is SKY Breathing Meditation. SKY takes only 10 minutes and brings you into a deep, rejuvenating meditation automatically without having to think about it. SKY eliminates restless thoughts, settling you into the silent depth of consciousness so the mind can restore itself. You don’t use any physical or mental effort and beginners see results immediately.

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Jim Larsen M.Ed. has taught meditation and breathing practices for 40 years. In 1990 Jim learned SKY Breathing Meditation and added this to his existing meditation practice. The results prompted him to travel to India to study with the founder of SKY. Jim currently teaches SKY and other meditation practices full-time with the nonprofit International Association for Human Values. Jim’s courses include special free programs for military veterans (www.PWHT.org) and advanced meditation retreats for everyone. Jim has also taught prison inmates, trauma survivors in Haiti and patient-centered wellness programs. His website is www.SKYbreath.org.

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