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PROJECT BEST LIFE: Meditation and Mindful Breathing

We live in a world that is in constant motion.

Our attention spans are more strained than ever, being constantly pulled in multiple directions. Concentration easily drifts away from tasks at hand, as we catch ourselves scrolling mindlessly through social media. One helpful tool you can use to train yourself to “return to the moment” is the practice of mindful breathing, or meditation.

By bringing your attention inward and focusing on taking full deep breaths you can decrease stress, detoxify and oxygenate the body, lower blood pressure, and calm the nervous system.

Let’s try it.

Sit or stand up as straight as possible, take a deep breath in through your nose for 1…2…3…4…5… HOLD 1…2…3…4…5 AND now breathe out slowly through your mouth, 1…2…3…4…5.

Feel better? Less stressed, more focused? Great! The best thing about that short exercise is that you can practice it anywhere and at any time. It’s a great way to center and ground yourself, especially in high stress situations.

Breath work is the hallmark of any meditation practice, which can range from simple breathing exercises to ritualistic and spiritual experiences. Some people can get started using a mindfulness app, while others seek out a dedicated teacher to learn a specific practice.

Regardless of how you choose to practice, the benefits of meditation are immense.

The #ProjectBestLife team met with a few local practitioners of meditation and mindful breathing. Below are just a few ways in which they use breathwork and meditation in their daily practice.

Himalayan Institute of Buffalo

The Himalayan Institute of Buffalo is a not-for-profit organization that promotes health, self-awareness, and spiritual well-being through the practice and teachings of yoga.  We sat down with Julia Kress, administrative director of teacher training at the Himalayan Institute on Delaware Avenue to talk about the relationship between breath and mindfulness.

“Mindfulness is being aware of your physical body in space,” Julia told us “and when you link it up with breathing, it connects you to an internal felt sense of being alive. Breathing in itself changes the state of the nervous system and it can bring you into a greater level of responsiveness.”

The Himalayan Institute offers a variety of classes, and in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many classes on Zoom. “I teach yoga based wellness, and that involves a contemplative experience through a body of philosophy that has been written about and taught in the oral tradition for thousands of years.” Julie added, “I also teach, what we might say are Mind Body Connection therapies that involve movement, breathing, and relaxation techniques as well as meditation and certain practices that lead toward greater levels of mindfulness and awareness.”

The benefits of practicing yoga and mindfulness at the Himalayan institute go beyond exercise, and relaxation and promote positive change for the practitioner.  Julia stated, “much of what yoga is based around is recognizing our behavior and how our behavior can either be responsive or reactionary. It allows one to recognize where their habits may be, and how they can also start to change their habits.  Yoga has the umbrella of non-violence around it, so whatever we’re noticing, we’re looking to not judge or criticize, we’re looking to work compassionately and in a kind gentle way so that we can get to a place of greater equilibrium and balance.”

Location: 841 Delaware Ave, Buffalo, NY 14209

Phone: (716) 883-2223

Website: https://www.hibuffalo.org/

Instagram: @himalayan_institute_buffalo 

716 Zen Vibes

Jennifer Fenner had a significant experience that prompted her to start her own business.  When first getting involved in a yoga practice, she attended a class where a practitioner played large crystal singing bowls, and she became inspired. “I went to an immersion class and heard the crystal bowls and I was like, what is that? It was a combination of bowls and bells that was such a peaceful sound that made me really want to immerse myself more.”

After getting certified on the West Coast, Jennifer came back to the Buffalo area to provide sound healings through her business, 716 Zen Vibes. Each session is, “a healing event through vibrational and sound healing, it’s considered a sound bath, which is a 45-minute sound and vibration immersion, where you let the sound and vibrations move within your body to allow trapped energy to be released.”

Sound Baths promote deep relaxation. Events are offered in various locations across the 716 area code of Greater Buffalo, from the Northtowns of Niagara and Lewiston to the Southtowns of Orchard Park and Fredonia, and everywhere in between (Amherst, Williamsville, Clarence, Lockport).  People can also schedule a private session if they so desire. Jennifer stated that people should, “Have no reservations. Give it a chance. If you can spare the 45 minutes of your day to immerse yourself in the sound healing, take that 45 minutes. There’s so many different modalities out there that help people find mindfulness and bring peace and calm and this is such a gentle way to relax and feel supported.”

Phone: 716-775-7343

Email: 716vibes@gmail.com

Website: https://716zenvibes.com/

Instagram: @716zenvibes

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra 

Jaman Dunn is the Assistant Conductor with the Buffalo Philharmonic, and Interim Music Director of the Buffalo Master Chorale.  Listening to Classical music, either at home or in person has proven to produce many of the same benefits as more individual breath work and traditional meditation.

Attending a concert, or listening in to the BPOnDemand performance series could be a restorative and meditative practice. https://bpo.org/events/

“In orchestral music, very often there are no lyrics, and there are no words. We have to use our imagination to figure out what we think is being said, and this process of listening and introspection actually takes us to somewhat of a meditative state, where your imagination is active but the rest of your body can relax. You can just enjoy the moment, which is something that, in this wonderful fast world we live in, is not something we do enough.”

Jaman shared with us his use of the Alexander Technique, “this was something that I learned about when I was in graduate school. The technique is not necessarily to change, or say something’s bad and to break bad habits, it’s to be aware. It’s just to be aware of how you hold yourself, and maybe find a different way to hold yourself, and allow you to be aware of what your body is doing.”

The Alexander Technique is a way of learning to move mindfully through life.  A certified teacher must lead you through the technique, but Jaman feels the practice is invaluable.

“Conducting is a very intense activity. [There is] a lot of upper body movement, there is a lot of concentration, and nervousness, and knowing that you are responsible for several different sections of the orchestra, knowing that you are pretty much the barrier between the orchestra and the audience, and a lot of that can cause you to clench at the most inopportune times, and so being aware of how you do things can allow you to find moments of respite in the middle of what’s going on.”

Jaman, as a musician and a mindful person, knows the importance of having a practice.  He says, “The importance of practice can’t really be understated. Regardless of where you are, regardless of what you are applying it to… Because, the one big thing that I have learned, is that the second you think you might know it and you sort of lapse in your practice, it starts to go away. Sometimes practice will conjure up images of tenseness. Practicing can cause the calm that you are seeking.  It is not in and of itself a stressful activity.  It sometimes is considered that, depending on what we attach it to, but if you attach [practice] to something better such as meditation, such as breathing, then maybe our concept of the word ‘practice’ will actually cease to be this tense thing that we think about it, and more of just something that we do as a part of our day.”

Location: Kleinhans Music Hall | 3 Symphony Cir, Buffalo, NY 14201

Phone: (716) 885-5000

Website: https://bpo.org/

Instagram: @buffalophilharmonicorchestra

Project Best Life Instagram: @projectbestlife716

View other videos in the Project Best Life series

Written by Daniel Lendzian

Daniel Lendzian

Dan is a working artist and author trained in classical and contemporary theatre techniques. An adaptive and empathetic educator, Dan helps people discover their own unique voice. Having mentored more than 1,200+ students across the U.S. and in Florence, Italy, as well as performed in hundreds of individual shows on international, national, and regional stages. Currently, Dan is a lecturer at SUNY Fredonia, and now a storyteller + host for Buffalo Rising's (soon to launch) #stilltalking series podcast.

As an author, Dan writes micro-fiction and has devised dozens of original works of theatre. He is currently working on a collaborative interview project. Dan is a certified Pilates Instructor and completed his Masters of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin.

View All Articles by Daniel Lendzian
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