Presence & Breath

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PresenceSoul searching, spirituality, meditation, and all those good things are a big part of my life. Personal growth is a bit of an obsession of mine, and I love to learn new things and try new practices as part of my personal development. In the past, I’ve posted about meditation, which I practice daily, and today I want to write about two practices that are closely related to meditation: presence and breath.

As I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, last year I participated in this awesome group coaching program focusing on eating disorders and body image issues. The foundation for this work was very soul-centered, which is one of the reasons why I was drawn to it in the first place. Two of the first modules we worked on were about presence and breath, so I’ve been learning about and implementing these two practices for a while. Due to daily stress and anxiety (I’m an introvert who can get pretty bad social anxiety), I recently decided to revisit presence and breath with the intention of making them firm fixtures in my life.  

Being present on the daily is a challenging endeavor. I’m still at a place where it takes dedicated and constant observation of my thoughts and feelings to shift into presence. The cool thing about this practice though, is that you quickly discover that in those fleeting moments of full presence, it really is a rewarding and perspective-shifting experience. I find this especially true as someone who is trying to:

  • Connect with my body on a deeper level,
  • Be more aware of my life and how I show up day in and day out, and
  • Be more positive and optimistic in general.

Breath is a huge part of practicing presence. I don’t think you can have one without the other. Really think about it – breathing is this involuntary act that we do constantly to stay alive. But when you really hone in on it and focus on it with intent and curiosity, it can become a great tool that helps alleviate stress and promote wellness. Breathing can literally cause a state change in your body. I’ve found breathing to be really useful when it comes to:

  • Meditation: Focusing on my breath can help me drop into a meditative state quicker, and go deeper into my meditation.
  • Stress/Anxiety: I’ve started to use breath to help curb stress/anxiety. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I’ll stop and take a few deep breaths until I feel more centered and less anxious.
  • Disordered Eating: It’s impossible to binge if you’re present (and focusing on your breath). Most of the time, if I want junk or am heading toward binge autopilot, it’s because of stress or some other #donotwant emotion that I’m trying to suppress with a quick state change – hence the magic of breath.

So how do you start practicing presence and breath?

I started out by setting daily alarms on my phone, usually for 9AM, 1PM, and 7PM. When the alarm would go off, I’d take a moment to breathe and center myself and then check in with myself to see if I needed a shift or to do anything (drink water, walk away from my desk, cord cut, etc.). At first it was challenging, especially for the first two alarms that went off at work. I’d often be too busy to stop, so I’d just shut off the alarm and keep working. BUT when I actually started to commit to these practices and respected the alarms and daily check ins, I noticed such a difference in my mental and physical states that I now do presence/breathing check ins frequently throughout the day without using any alarms.

As for the literal practice I use, it goes something like this:

  1. I close my eyes and take three deep breaths. I favor 6-3 breathing (inhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 3, exhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 3, repeat).  Sidenote: If I’m at work when I do this, and people are around, I’ll head to the bathroom, otherwise if I’m by myself in the office, I’ll just stay at my desk.
  2. Take inventory. Mental inventory is when you check in with your mindset and emotions. Are you feeling sad? Anxious? Angry? Physical inventory focuses more on your body and visceral state: are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Sometimes I take inventory of my surroundings, just noticing what’s going on around me: the conversations, the colors, the furniture, the light, etc.

There are so many benefits when it comes to presence and breath. The biggest benefit of presence is also the meaning of it – to just be in the here and now, where everything is okay, the past is long gone, and the future hasn’t happened yet. The benefit of breath is that you can really hone it to become a tool for your health and wellness. It can up your meditation game and help you learn to alleviate stress and anxiety – those are some game changers right there.

I think there’s something magical in that such simple practices can have a truly profound impact on your overall health and happiness.

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Daily Soul Searching

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lotusSoul searching is a daily practice of mine, not because something is missing from my life and I’m trying to find it, but because I love personal growth and self-discovery. I love peeling back the layers of the most authentic version of myself and uncovering what truly lights me up as well as the areas in my life that I could change, strengthen, or improve.

My soul searching journey began over five years ago when I reconnected with an old work acquaintance. We were both struggling with painful personal issues, and began to lean on each other for support and inspiration. From there, what had only been a friendly work relationship blossomed into a beautiful friendship that is still thriving and changing my life for the better every single day. Daily lunches turned into weekend girl nights, where we began to experiment with tarot cards and meditation. These activities combined with just being together created a bond and a sense of peace and happiness that we both desperately needed.

We practiced meditation consistently, even when apart, and we also began to collect various tarot card decks to share. We were curious about any form of spiritual practice and soul work that we could get our hands on, and this interest eventually led my friend to The Secret and The Magic by Rhonda Byrne. Both books revolve around the concept of the Law of Attraction (like attracts like), but The Magic was more of an activity book – a 30-day daily practice of gratitude. For me, The Magic  was…well, magical. That book changed my life and catapulted me to a completely different level of soul searching and self-discovery.

As I mentioned, I had been struggling with deeply negative and painful personal issues at the time, and practicing daily gratitude and learning more about and believing in the Law of Attraction greatly shifted my attitude and perspective. I began to see inspiration and joy in small, everyday things. I was able to acknowledge that although my life wasn’t perfect (who’s is?!), I had so much for which to be grateful. From there, my life significantly changed. I was able to distance myself from my personal struggles in a healthy way. I moved into a new apartment that I loved. I was able to quit a job that made me deeply unhappy and move on to a new position that offered more money. I accepted and celebrated my writing talent and began to actually aspire to hone it and share it with others. I am not exaggerating when I say that it felt like good thing after good thing just kept falling into my lap.

This shift was so uplifting and life changing that it prompted me to continue to seek out things, people, places, and whatever else affected me on a spiritual level. This practice of daily soul searching stuck with me, and I still, to this day, seek out experiences that touch my soul and leave a lasting impression. External things and possessions can be great and fun, but when you are impacted on an internal level, when you feel something in the core of your very being, those are the types of things that can change your life. Those are the moments that inspire you to be better, do more, and share your experiences with others who need inspiration or motivation.

Every single day, I find something that lights me up. It’s often something small and inconsequential – reconnecting with a friend, seeing a quote on social media that moves me, having some time to write and just getting absolutely lost in the flow of creativity. Daily soul searching has just become a part of who I am. I enjoy learning and personal development, and more so, conversation about all of the above. I enjoy sharing my experiences, and–hardly shocking, I’m sure–sharing my story and seeking the stories of others. I think that to some, soul searching may seem like an overwhelming, complicated (or never-ending?), or spiritually froo froo task, but I believe that at its core, soul searching is rather simple – it’s about connection. Connection with yourself, connection with others, and connection with new ideas that light you up from the inside out.