At Les Sources Sacrées, our retreat centre here in the sun-blessed south of France, during the mindfulness meditation workshops that we host, we introduce our guests to a variety of meditation methods to help them cope with stress more efficiently. One of these meditation methods in Breathing Meditation.
I first came across breathing meditation as an aid to becoming a better horse rider. At the time, the work I was doing with my horses was all about breathing, and how a rider can influence the mental state of the horse, positively or negatively, by her breathing. If she breathes fast and agitatedly, the horse quickly picks up on this and reflects her distress in his actions. The opposite is also true, an agitated horse can become more settled if its rider purposefully breathes slowly and deeply. Since my thoughts often behaved like runaway horses, rushing through my mind at neck-braking speed and completely out of my control, I thought breathing meditation may be a good place to start.
Breathing meditation sounded like something I could do. I came across a little poem that inspired me :
These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
– David Whyte –
I did some research on-line and found out that breathing meditation is a very simple technique, if not exactly easy. All you have to do is to sit somewhere quiet where one can be undisturbed for a while and then you start breathing. You just sit comfortably, with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight and then you direct your attention to your breathing. You can try short breathing, fast breathing, slow breathing, deep breathing, shallow breathing — whatever feels most comfortable to you. The trick is to tame your thoughts while you are doing this. Even though you might have a million thoughts trying to distract you, you need to bring your awareness back to your breath whenever a thought clamours for attention. When you notice that your attention has drifted off, you don’t have to worry about, because it happens all the time to everyone, you just bring your attention back to your breathing.
This sounds very easy, but it is not. Especially in the beginning.
I started by setting 10 minutes out of every day apart to do mindful breathing and as there are very few days in my life as the owner of 6 horses that have 10 minutes to spare, I often did it while I was with one/more of our horses. I might sit down in the barn, on the floor, with the horses munching away at their hay nearby and do my mindful breathing right there. I closed my eyes and started to concentrate on my breath. Breathing in and out. My thoughts initially continued to go haywire and time and again I had to remind myself to concentrate on my breathing. This did get easier as time went by. In the first few weeks, the horses paid me no attention whatsoever, and this is perfectly normal, for our horses to be distracted from eating would need an earthquake off the Richter scale.
The strange thing is, after a few weeks, I would open my eyes and find a horse nearby, a few feet away, just dozing with its head down and its eyes closed. And not always the same horse – sometimes a mare, sometimes a gelding even on occasion the stallion. More and more often I would open my eyes and find a horse, closer and closer, until one morning, with my eyes closed I felt a gentle breath on my cheek and when I opened my eyes, Belle was standing in front of me, with her head nearly in my lap, and her daughter Aurore, the wild one, by her shoulder.
As with every new skill one wants to master, you have to commit to regular meditation practice and you have to keep it up to get the benefits. That is why I chose 10 minutes of breathing meditation – it is only 10 minutes (although it feels MUCH longer when you are just starting), I can do it anytime I have a few moments free, I don’t need any special equipment – candles or bells or whatever – and I can do it anywhere I can find a quiet spot where I won’t be disturbed for 10 minutes. I figured it is the type of meditation I am most likely to keep up in the long run. For days, weeks, years, I can do 10 minutes of this.
At the end of each meditation, when I open my eyes and I see our absolutely gorgeous, deeply contented and totally relaxed horses before me, I always spend a few moments just feeling intensely grateful – I can’t help it really, it happens automatically. I think bringing gratitude to the practice of meditation makes it extra valuable, so I spend a couple of moments thanking God for all the blessings in my life.
Some people prefer to listen to a guided meditation, to help them understand what it is all about initially. Some people like guided breathing meditations because they feel they can relax more, they only have to concentrate on the voice telling them what to do. I like them too, sometimes I feel less motivated to meditate, and then a guided meditation comes in very useful. I play it on my laptop if I am inside, on my phone if I am outside.
I have added a guided breathing meditation here for you to try : Breathing Meditation Exercise – Mindfulness
If you are a beginner and you want to learn mindfulness meditation or if you think you might learn quicker and with more ease in the presence of horses, we would like to invite you to one of our Mindfulness Meditation Workshops in the south of France. For more information contact us on welcome2gascony[at]gmail.com or fill in the form at the bottom of this page.
I have written a book about the mindfulness and meditation techniques we introduce our workshop participants to here at Les Sources Sacrées. In this book, I discuss breathing meditation in more depth. Each chapter starts with a letter or an email from someone who would like to attend a workshop here, explaining why they are interested in our workshops. The book is called Mindfulness and Meditation in the South Of France: Staying focused in a fast-paced World. It differs from other books about mindfulness and meditation in five unique ways:
1. This book proposes a technique, in the form of a questionnaire, to help you choose the meditation method will work the best for you. Meditation is not a one-size-fits-all exercise. We are all different, we each have to find a meditation method that suits us, mentally and physically.
2. This book will help readers solve real-life problems. In each chapter, an everyday person with everyday challenges explains his/her problem. Each chapter demonstrates how each of these people can solve their problem with mindfulness and meditation.
3. This book helps people who do not enjoy traditional sitting meditation to find a realistic alternative. Not everyone can sit still for 60, 30, 20 or even 10 minutes at a time.
4. This book is an interactive and practical aid – each chapter contains a selection of links to further resources, carefully chosen to help the reader discover and experience the various meditation methods presented. There are also links to scientific studies that back up the effectiveness of the methods described in the book.
5. This book exclusively contains a chapter about equine-guided meditation, one of the meditation methods we introduce our mindfulness meditation workshop participants to. This chapter includes instructions on how to practice equine-guided meditation in the absence of horses.
I have written this book because I believe that mindfulness and meditation are effective stress management strategies that can help practitioners avoid the physical and mental damage that stress can cause. That is why it is of primordial importance to me to help my readers find a meditation method that suits them, personally. A method that they will be able to incorporate into their daily lives without having to sacrifice too much of their precious time and that they will be able to continue practising daily, for the rest of their lives.
If you would like to find out more about mindfulness and meditation and how it can benefit you in a practical and sustainable way, this could be the book for you.
It is currently available on Amazon. Click Here to find out more.