How to manage stress is a common conversation in these times of uncertainty, isolation, and fear caused by COVID 19. Everyone has their mechanism to deal with stress The practices, that I find helpful are –

  1. Yoga
  2. Doing what is in my control, e.g., following the advice being given by health professionals, doing things that I earlier used to wish I had time for, e.g., writing, taking care of my plants, talking to friends and family, etc
  3. Meditation

I am tempted to dwell on meditation, as while I know many meditators, I also know many people are confounded by it who strongly profess that they cannot do it. The assertion I hear most often is – I cannot empty my mind and focus on nothing. 

I started meditating about 6 years ago. I think I got hooked, partly because I did not know anything about it when I started. In fact, I had no exposure to any breathing exercises also. I used to do yoga but somehow, I had managed to stay away from ‘pranayama’. My excuse is that my school did not teach any of those! When I saw people doing breathing exercises, I always thought why so much ado about something that is supposed to be a subconscious activity. In my head, I was doing yoga to exercise, and ‘pranayama’ did not fit the description. I would always convince my instructor to skip this part and jump straight into asanas.  

In 2013, I came across a follower of Sri Sri Ravishankar. I do not remember, how the conversation took this turn, but he mentioned that at any point in time, our breathing pattern reflects our state of mind. When we are at peace, we breathe deeper and when we are under stress our breathing becomes shallow. And, if we change our breathing pattern consciously, we can change how we feel.

This concept of altering the breathing to manage feelings intrigued me. As I thought more about it, it sounded like ‘fake it till you make it’. I knew that worked. I had also experienced that however, clouded the day if I smiled, the sun seemed to shine a little. So, I decided to explore it and enrolled to learn Sudarshan Kriya. It remains my favorite relaxing technique. But it was also the beginning of a new chapter for me – my initiation into what I call ‘breathwork’. I learned many pranayama techniques after this and eventually got introduced to meditation. I explored many types of it – mindfulness meditation, body scan, Reiki meditation, Osho’s dynamic meditations and, loved every one of it. You see, I had started enjoying silencing the brain chatter and be in the present moment. I was happy to find that there are multiple ways of doing it. No matter which technique I used, I emerged, more centered and fresh.

Slowly though, I started preferring just following my breath to meditate. I find it the easiest – I just need to close my eyes and follow my breath to meditate. Of course, there are times when the mind strays, but I gently pull it back to focus on my breath. I find that when I am not able to push a thought away, it needs me to look at it more closely and unearth the message. Meditation increased my self-awareness and compassion towards others and myself. It made me a better listener.

I am now a strong advocate of mediation. I start and end my day with 15 – 30 minutes of meditation sessions. I cannot imagine my day without the haven of meditation.