Sunday, July 25, 2010

More on Breath Counting Meditation

In a previous essay, I described the concept of relaxing and energizing breaths. In another one, I described a simple breath counting meditation. In the breath counting meditation, you take long slow breaths and count up to 10 starting with 1 on the inhale, 2 on the exhale, etc. When reaching 10, start over at 1.

A variation that combines these two ideas is to count the inhale and the exhale as 1 and only count up to a smaller number, such as 3 or 4. Say the number to yourself as you finish the exhale. In other words,
inhale, exhale – 1
inhale, exhale – 2
inhale, exhale – 3
inhale, exhale – 4

After practicing this meditation for several days or weeks, modify it by counting before the breaths. In other words, say the number to yourself before you begin the inhale.
1 – inhale, exhale
2 – inhale, exhale
3 – inhale, exhale
4 – inhale, exhale

It’s a subtle difference, but it is noticeable. In the first stage, your mind links the counting with the exhale. Long slow exhales are relaxing. This emphasis tells your body to let go of tension and relax. This is a good start to a meditation to allow yourself to relax and learn to enjoy the other benefits of meditation.

In the second state, your mind links the counting with the inhale. Inhales are expanding and energizing. This emphasis tells your body to wake up and get energized. This is where you can begin to increase your awareness.

Some of this information was adapted from

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meditations for Relaxing and Energizing

The mind commands the body and the body obeys. The mind commands itself and finds resistance. —Saint Augustine (354-430)

We spend years training our body to do what we want it to. We learn to crawl, then to walk, then to run. We learn sports, or climbing skills, or tai chi, or many other physical skills. It’s not necessarily easy, but we put in the effort because we see the value in it.

Somehow, we never are taught to train our minds in the same way. Breath counting meditation is one way to develop focus. It’s not easy. Our mind resists and wanders all over the place like a monkey jumping from one limb to another in a tree. The counting helps us focus.

In general, quick inhalations and long slow exhalations are very relaxing. Combine them with a long hold after exhaling for an even more relaxing meditation. Moderate inhales and exhales are balanced and energizing. Inhales with a long hold are energizing.

For example, inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 1, exhale for a count of 8, and hold for a count of 4. This is relaxing.

Inhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 6, and hold for a count of 1. This is energizing.

Inhale hold exhale hold effect
4 1 8 4 relaxing
6 2 6 2 balanced
6 4 6 2 energizing

Depending on the type of meditation that you want to do, you can vary your breathing to get the desired effect.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Elderly's Restless Nights Helped By Ancient Martial Art

I recently found an online article that described how tai chi chih has been shown to help with sleeping difficulties. Over half of older adults report occasional or frequent problems sleeping. See for the full article.

People with sleep difficulties often turn to medication, which leads to side effects or other health problems. A study, published in the journal Sleep, describes how tai chi chih has been tested and shown to help improve sleep. The lead study author was Dr. Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and director of the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology.

Exercise has been shown to improve sleep. However, older adults may not be able or willing to participate in active exercise programs. Therefore, tai chi chih was selected for a test study. In the study, two groups were compared. One group practiced 20 simple tai chi chih moves. The other group received classes on stress management, diet, and sleep habits.

The study found that the tai chi chih group showed improved sleep quality and a remission of clinical impairments, such as drowsiness during the day and inability to concentrate, compared with those receiving health education. The tai chi chih participants showed improvements in their own self-rating of sleep quality, sleep duration and sleep disturbance.

Dr. Irwin led a previous study that showed that tai chi chih strengthened the immune system of elderly people suffering from shingles. Other studies done at UCLA have shown improvement in control of headaches and that tai chi chih may help in reducing blood pressure.

© 2010 Eric Borreson

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Tai Chi Family

I just finished my first week-long tai chi workshop. It was hosted by Dr. Paul Lam in Tacoma. I took one class that lasted the week. It was called Exploring the Depths of the 24 Form. All of the students had roughly similar experience with tai chi so we could really help each other.

This workshop was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I have new calluses on my feet. My legs hurt in places I didn’t know I had. In the mornings, I woke up so stiff that I could hardly walk. But that doesn’t matter because I learned more, smiled more, and laughed more than at any time I can remember.

I was the only man in a group of 10 of the most beautiful women I have ever met. Beauty is smiles and happiness and grace. It is openness and sharing and it is learning and growing together. Beauty is also the courage to face the doubt and anxiety created by that little voice inside our heads that tells us we aren’t good enough.

At the end of the first day of class, I shared an observation with the group. I saw in them the smoothness and gracefulness and beauty of experienced tai chi players, while I “felt like a klutz.” Every single one of my classmates disagreed with me. They all said they were the ones who were stumbling around and I looked graceful.

Where does this self-doubt come from? We all have it. How do we quiet that little voice and recognize the goodness within ourselves? I would like to quote something Caroline Demoise wrote in a recent newsletter.

What you believe is frequently the most important predictor of the outcome in both medicine and in learning tai chi. When you expect that you will learn a form, you do. When you believe that you can improve with practice, you will.
My simple interpretation of Caroline’s words is that “my thoughts create my attitude and my outcomes.”

Imagine a bathroom scale. How many of us consider that scale to be our friend? It’s a way we measure our imperfections. What if there were a scale that weighed our worth instead of our weight? What if that scale weighed our worth based on what other people think of us instead of what we think of ourselves? I can tell you the results. All of you, my tai chi family, are worth your weight in gold. Use that thought to quiet that little voice so you can appreciate beauty as you should.

It may seem a little strange to tell everyone about spending a week with such a wonderful group of beautiful women without my wife being there. But they are my tai chi sisters that I didn’t know I had.

PS: I haven’t told my wife yet about next year's workshop in Terre Haute.

© 2010 Eric Borreson