Mindfulness and Asthma: Meditate?! Seriously?
I think, unless we just about grow up exposed to meditation, our brains are almost pre-programmed to meet the word “meditate” with a mental image of a person sitting in lotus pose (aka that whole cross legged “criss cross applesauce” bit), maybe in the middle of a pure white room or a forest or field if we’re talking the magazine or stock-photo variant. Some place silent looking. (In my case, it usually makes me think of the song The Sanctity of Dreams by Live—so, shaved heads and sidewalk meditating (no more or less obscure than many of my often music-linked contemplations).
Except meditating doesn’t have to look like that… At all!
Essentially, meditation is any activity that encourages a focus on a single point of reference.1 This is a core concept of mindfulness, as I wrote about previously. Meditation is meant to “recharge” you: relax your body and mind, re-energize you, and—as the team at Smiling Mind put it—“Place a comma in your day.” Often that single point of reference that it’s recommended to refer to is your breathing, because it’s something that you have to do, but have control over—the only other similar thing our bodies do automatically but that we can control is blinking… and, I don’t know, “focus on your blinking” doesn’t seem to seem as restful (…feel free to try a blinking meditation and get back to me?).
However, we all know that sometimes (or often) with asthma, focusing on your breathing sucks—while it’s more about focusing on a specific point where the air is moving in or out of your body, sometimes, it’s just not realistic to be like “Yeah, I’m going to focus on my cruddy breathing right now!” Just this morning, I did a guided Smiling Mind meditation where I was supposed to breathe in and out of my nose—HAH, Smiling Mind. (Okay, well, maybe some sinus treatments on my end could be a good idea, but the only reason my attention was even called to my congestion was because of this activity… And THEN I was, per the meditation guy, to “acknowledge and label my thought, and let it float away like a cloud,” (Or something. And oh, dude, I just scared you all away. Come baaaack.) My point is, when doing a guided meditation, focusing on your breathing can come in many forms: you can focus on the sensation of the air at your nose or mouth, the back of your throat (a tougher exercise in my opinion!), or by placing a hand on your abdomen and feeling your belly rise and fall.
Here’s another thing, though.
You don’t even have to focus on your breathing.
You can meditate while walking, focusing on the feeling of your feet hitting the ground.You can meditate while listening to music, focusing on listening for parts of the song that you haven’t heard before.You can simply take a few moments to—without judgement or interrupting your own thoughts!—just observe what you are thinking.
You can set a timer, sit somewhere like a park, and simply notice all of the things going on around you—and tune back into them when your mind wanders away.
You can do a quick check-in with your body a few times a day, tied to an activity you do regularly. Pick an activity with a frequency that works for you—some examples from Smiling Mind include: standing up or sitting down, getting into a car or bus, turning a light off or on, when you take a bathroom break, or before you get out of bed and before you fall asleep. A simple check-in activity found in the Smiling Mind app is the “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” check in—it’s even got a nursery rhyme to help you out.2 Simply take a moment to think of how each of those four parts of your body feel at a given moment, and go on with your day.
If you’re creative, and really would like to incorporate meditation into your life—which will, in turn, likely improve creativity, mental clarity, focus, and self-control… as well as the other benefits we discussed in the previous post on mindfulness and asthma—there are dozens if not hundreds (if not more) ways to try meditating.
Of course, they you’ll get the best effects when practicing meditation, in any form, regularly… Since my Smiling Mind app history maxes out at a streak of maybe 12 days (with a few days gap at some places, a few weeks in others)… Let me know how it works for you. Do you already practice (or have you tried after reading this) and feel that mindfulness helps you feel more in control of your asthma (even if that does not necessarily mean you have fewer symptoms!)? Lets discuss in the comments.