Sarah May Bates
October 20, 2013 8:00 am

Reset your life by changing the pace of your life-experience.

Imagine we’re wearing earth tones and sitting in a circle under a canopy of maple trees.  A gentle wind blows through, rustling the dried leaves still clinging to the trees.  The smell of pumpkin pie wafts by from a nearby ranch house. And maybe there’s a guy in a beanie strumming an acoustic guitar, and it’s that song you loved as a child…You picturing it? Okay, let’s begin.

Fall is a time for refocus and regeneration: a time you replenish your soil for future growth.  The fruits of a long, hot summer have been cultivated, and now you have an opportunity to examine yourself: what deserves the most priority in your life, and where you should place your focus moving forward.  As a part of the transition into colder weather and more time spent indoors, I offer you this self-reflection exercise.  Think of it as a reset button for how you experience your current life.

If you find you are mentally always in tomorrow, or distracted from your present by worry or stress, know that you are robbing yourself of the best version of your life.  When you obsesses or rush or multitask, you are not more productive.  If anything, you are doing the same work while mentally removing yourself from the equation.  What happens is you skip over parts of the life you have and many of the insights you might gain into its depth go unnoticed. The more you stress, the faster time goes by, and with that you can lose sight of what you know to be of value.  When you slow down, you are more present in every one of your actions.  You can thoroughly invest in them and do exactly the same job, if not a better one.  Honor the sanctity of the moment you are in now and get everything you can out of it.  You only get to live it once.

Changing the pace of life can change everything within it: how you experience stress, time with loved ones, your ability to relax and even work.  When you move slowly enough to be conscious and present, you can savor your life.  When you make a habit to reset and reflect, what you gain is self-knowledge, more meaningful memories, and a clearer understanding of your desired trajectory for the future.  The experience of your current life can be enjoyed on a completely different level when you recalibrate your presence of mind and simply change the speed by which you move through it. Today, take some time to instigate future growth.

People are not happier when they are mentally elsewhere.  The truest form of bliss can only be felt when you are present.  For many of us, sitting in our present can be uncomfortable because a lot of painful or confusing feelings arise.  That is to be expected and it’s just part of the process.  The outcome of learning to quiet your brain is your brain is not the boss of you.  Through brain quiet, you gain an overwhelming sense of calmness and serenity.  And when your brain shuts up you can really feel how you feel, authentically. You give yourself enough distance to reflect.  It’s a kind of processing that your brain cannot do.

Nowadays, mental quiet time has become such a rarity that often our brains – the HAL9000’s of our being, make it extremely difficult. Which is why we have to first, commit to the decision to quiet our brain, then make a consistent, disciplined effort.  I find yoga is a perfect combination of meditation and physical balancing. For meditation, I find with more deliberate and specific breathing exercises, quieting the brain is a lot easier, so to get you started, here are a few of my fave meditational breathing exercises.  For my incredibly life-like pose illustrations, see this older post.

Hang Loose • Conscious Breathing

Sit comfortably and sit up straight. Close your eyes and begin to take deep, even Ujjayi breaths (pronounced Oo-ja-ee). Breathe solely through your nose and constrict the air as it passes through your throat, making a sound similar to Darth Vader.

Now hold your right hand in a hang-loose position, palm facing your face. You’re going to be pushing your thumb to your right nostril and your pinky to your left, one at a time. So close your eyes and press your right nostril in. Breath all the way in through just your left nostril, then plug that nostril with your pinky. Now breath all the way out through your right nostril- wait that’s not all! Now breath all the way in through that same nostril. Now plug it with your thumb and breath out through the left again. When you’re emptied of air, breath in through your left nostril, and then plug it. Repeat.

You might panic a tiny bit at first, but stick to your even rhythm.  You’ll find you have plenty of oxygen. Either set a timer for 5 minutes or take 20 full breaths, meaning an inhale and an exhale on each side. If your brain wants to interject, listen harder to your breath and the sound that it makes. Focus on making sure your breathing is even in pace.  Because my brain can be incredibly rude, what I do is keep breathing and trying until it finally quiets. Sometimes that requires me telling my brain to shut up, repeatedly.  For the most part I tell myself, “Stay here. Stay here.”

One Bead, One Breath • Conscious Breathing

Grab a beaded bracelet, anything about the same length with a clasp and nice chunky beads. You remember those smooth round Buddhist-style ones that everyone had in the late ‘90’s? Not sure if you saved any but if you did, grab one of those. Otherwise try to find one with a clasp or a unique bead so you can feel when you’ve come full circle when your eyes are closed.

Now that you have your beads, sit comfortably with your eyes closed, maybe on top of a squishy cushion, and hold the beads in the hand you write with. Hold onto that one bead or clasp that is unique.

Close your eyes and begin to take deep, even Ujjayi breaths (pronounced Oo-ja-ee): breathing solely through your nose and constricting the air as it passes through your throat, making a sound similar to Darth Vader.

For every full breath in and out, push one of the beads through the grasp of your fingers. Do this for one full round of the bracelet until you return to the first bead, and check how long it has been. If it’s been about 4 minutes then you’ve found a good bracelet. If it’s been less, then try going around it twice. Remember to make your breath and smooth and steady as possible – listen to it. It should get you to a place where you can hear your breath and nothing else. It will also give you a post-massage relaxed feeling depending on how long you do it. And if you’re a bit hesitant to do this in public, here’s another one.

Inversions + Conscious Breathing

If you didn’t know it already, inversions are yoga poses in which your heart is elevated higher than your head.  They have a slew of physical and mental benefits and can also help treat depression.  It’s a great way to change your outlook on your surroundings If you’re a seasoned yogi, do your breathing exercises in Handstand, Headstand, or Upward Facing Bow. Downward Dog is most likely the easiest, unless you have really tight shoulders. To do this, get on all fours with your knees directly beneath your hips and your hands directly beneath your shoulders. Now lift your knees and push your legs straight back, keeping your arms as straight as they can be. A small bend in your knees is okay if it hurts.

Your arms should be stretched outwards like Superman flying and you should feel a stretch in your shoulders and the backs of your legs. Close your eyes.  Try and keep a curve in your lower back.  From the side you should look like the letter “L” tipped on its side. Try to get your heels as close to the ground as possible and make sure your abs are engaged.

Now, the most important part: the breath.  Breathe in and out as slowly as possible through only your nose and constrict the back of your throat to sound like Darth Vader. Set a timer and do this for at least 5 minutes.  I recommend 10 minutes.

If you want to try another pose, lie on your back and tuck your shoulder blades underneath you so your chest arches up. Your lower arms will be fanned out a bit. You can also achieve this with a rolled blanket under your back at the base of your shoulder blades – like you were lying across a tiny speed bump.  Now, close your eyes. Breathe in and out as slowly as possible through your nose.

Concentrate. Focus on the sound of your breath and shut everything else out. Keep your breathing slow, even, and deliberate. If a thought comes into your mind, tell yourself, “Stay here, stay here,” and let it go.

(To be combined with)

A Personal Reflection Exercise

Today and as you move through the next few weeks, reflect on these questions more than once.  I feel they’re best thought about on a walk around the block or sitting somewhere out in nature.

Do you feel you are truly participating in your life experience? 

Do you mentally invest in what you’re doing while you’re doing it or are you mentally somewhere else?  Do you experience calmness and quiet in your brain? If you wanted to, could you?

Positive actions you can take moving forward: Give yourself a bit of reflective space and take five minutes a day to quiet your brain.  Do not allow thoughts to drag you away from it.  Make an effort to be present, wherever you are.  Do not let your brain steal you away from your life. And make a decision to invest more value in all of your experiences, and commit to living them to the fullest.  Your life exists solely in the moment you’re in right now.  Don’t throw it away to be somewhere else.

What do you want more of in your life now?  

What will you tell your grandkids about the best way to live life?  What would you do if you were not afraid?  As your life is now, what could you see regretting when you pass on?  What is the greatest goal you have for yourself in your lifetime? Are you on a path that will lead you toward attaining it or is that goal simply a process with no end?

Positive actions you can take moving forward: Aspire to enjoy the pursuit of your goal, just as much as success.  You only live in today.

Do you feel peaceful and happy?  

What is the most important part of your life – your favorite thing about it?  Do you give that thing the kind of attention that matters? Consider whether you’re enjoying your life and savoring meaningful experiences, enough.

Positive actions you can take moving forward: Practice savoring individual moments. Recall something you enjoyed about your day today.  Make a decision to mentally call out future moments that you enjoy – almost like making little mental notes of gratitude.

Whatever you learned about yourself and what you’re working toward, write it down.  

If you discover through reflection that there’s currently an imbalance in your life related to your focus, decide to correct it, because the longer imbalance goes on, the more engrained and invisible it becomes.  If you are not spending your mental time with your friends even when you are with them. If you are stressed out about work all the time. What you allow to occupy your brain is your decision. It just takes being consistent about working toward that goal.

Challenge yourself to reset.  Take this opportunity to reorient your attentions to what matters.  Remap your trajectory toward a much richer, more balanced, and more fruitful life. What you truly want in life is available to your right now, but to see what that is and really hear your heart speak, you have got to slow down enough to listen.  Today, as the wind and rain replenish the soil with fallen leaves and nutrients, do the same for your life.

Happy windy weather, friends. xox Sarah

Featured image via Kira Glass 

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