The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising

Wheel of Life – Dharmachakra

A central teaching in traditional Buddhism is the principle of dependent arising, which states that all things happen through cause and conditions and that they are interdependent. No phenomenon, whether outer or inner, occurs except as a reaction to a previous cause, and all phenomenon will, in turn, condition the following results. So, in a nutshell, because of one thing something else arises. Nothing in this world arises from its own power. Everything comes through causes and conditions.

By looking at things in this way it avoids the two extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Here, eternalism is the view that there is an external god that shapes our fate. Nihilism is the view that there is no relation between action and result, therefore our fate is predetermined.

The Buddhist view asserts that while there is no godlike figure that controls our fate, there are causes and conditions that effect our lives. We are able to change our lives because these causes and conditions can be known and changed.

There are twelve links that constitute the cycle of existence that makes up samsara. This is the endless circle of dissatisfaction that constitutes an unawakened life. We can escape this cycle of birth, old age, sickness, and death by breaking these links. 

The links are not regarded as a linear path, but a cyclical one in which all links are connected to all other links.

Being able to escape from samsara can be initiated at any link in the chain, once any link is broken, the chain is forever broken.

In Tibetan Buddhism, the twelve links are depicted in the wheel of life (called the Dharmachakra) which represents the cycle of birth, rebirth, and existence in samsara.

Link One – Unawareness

Being unaware is the basis of all the other links. It is a lack of awareness of how things really are. Our belief in a true ‘self’ and thinking phenomena are permanent leads us to project things which do not exist. We become deluded and confused. It is also about not understanding and implementing the four noble truths. The first truth states that life brings about suffering. When we misunderstand this truth, we fail to realise the true nature of our lives. We believe we are seeing the world as it is, but in reality, we are mistaken. This is where our first sense of a self is starting to form. In the wheel of life this link is depicted by a blind person.

Link Two – Action

When we misunderstand the way life is it causes our minds to become poisoned by greed, anger, and delusion, known as the three poisons. These cause us to act in certain unskilful and negative ways. It is not just because of the three poisons we perform unhelpful acts. There are numerous causes, but these are three of the main ones. We need to remember here that any act we carry out through our body, speech or mind will have consequences. This is depicted by a potter making a pot.

Link Three – Experience

Because of our unawareness, the first link, we perform an action, which is the second link, and this plants a seed in our mind. This seed is just a potential at this point and may or may not come to fruition. That will depend on if we do the same action again. In the future, because of the seed we planted, we will have an experience. This is depicted by a monkey because that is how our minds operate. We jump from one thing to another, just like the monkey jumps from tree to tree.

Link Four – Name and Form

Name and form mean the five aggregates. Name refers to the last four aggregates – feelings, perception, actions, and consciousness. Form refers to the first aggregate. The way we experience the world is through the five aggregates. Firstly, there is a form, this can be an object, sound, taste, etc. and this is picked up by your consciousness. At this point the form has not been labelled, it is just an awareness. It gets labelled by your perceptions and conceptions. Once it is labelled it causes a feeling to arise. This feeling can be pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. We then act on that feeling. You can read more about the aggregates by clicking on this link. This link is depicted by five people in a boat. The people represent the aggregates.

Link Five – Six Perceptual Entrances

All types of form – objects, sound, smell, taste, touch, mind – are pick up by our six sense faculties – eye, ear, nose, taste, touch, and mind (in Buddhism, the mind is also classed as a sense organ). These are all developed in the womb and will soon become our only means of perception of this world. Hence, they are called the six perceptual entrances. This link is depicted by a house with six windows.

Link Six – Contact

Link four is concerned with subject and link five is the object. This link is the contact between these two. It is the contact between the sense organs and the form, through the consciousness. Three things are happening here: the form, the faculties, and the linking consciousness. For example, an object, the eye faculty, and eye consciousness. There is a form, which is picked up by the faculty (eye, ear, nose, etc) and then linked to the corresponding consciousness, such as eye consciousness and so on. This is happening simultaneously. This link is depicted by a man and a woman embracing.

Link Seven – Feeling

When the sense organs encounter a form, they bring up feelings. These feelings can be pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. One of these feelings will be present in every experience we have. This is depicted by a man with an arrow in his eye.

Link Eight – Desire

Contact, link six, leads to feelings, link seven, which in turn leads to link eight, desire. So, first, we make contact with a form. This leads to feelings, and these lead us to have desires. These can be desiring for good feelings to last, which they obviously won’t, or bad ones to end, which, because of impermanence, they will. This is depicted by a drunken man.

Link Nine – Grasping

In the last link, we craved and desired for things. In this link, we hold onto them. We get attached and grasp at the things we like and want. This attachment to things brings us untold mental suffering. It must be noted that at this stage the process is still only mental. A man picking fruit is how this is depicted in the wheel of life.

Link Ten – Becoming

This is where patterns of behaviour are formed. Up to now the things we have craved for were just on a mental level. At this point, the actions now become physical and verbal, and so it is known as ‘becoming.’ This is depicted by a pregnant lady.

Link Eleven – Birth

Because of the imprints from your patterns of behaviour created in the last link, you have a certain rebirth. This is depicted by someone giving birth.

Link Twelve – Decay and Death

Once we are born it is inevitable that we will age, get sick and finally die. This link contains all the physical and mental suffering of the human existence. It is depicted by a dying man.

Let’s try to break this down. Because of our unawareness or ignorance of how the world really works, we act in negative and unhelpful ways. This leads us to have experiences. These experiences can be broken down into the five aggregates, form, feelings, perception, actions, and consciousness. Form is picked up by our six sense organs, eye, ear, nose, taste, touch, and mind. This contact leads us to have feelings and desires, which lead us to start grasping and becoming attached. This in turn leads us to act, and the imprints of these actions are what cause us to take rebirth. Because we are reborn, we start the cycle of old age, sickness, and death all over again.   

By understanding the 12 links, we can begin to appreciate that things do not happen on their own. There are always going to be causes and conditions. One thing is inevitably going to lead to another.  

One of the best ways to break this cycle of an unsatisfactory life is to truly understand the way the world is. Not how we want it to be or wish it was, but how it actually is. To do this we really need to imbibe Buddha’s key teachings. These are:

  • Understand and implement the four noble truths
  • Understand impermanence, and not just at an intellectual level
  • Understand the dangers of attachment and believing in a permanent and autonomous self
  • Understand that things happen through causes and conditions

If we can understand and implement these teachings, we will be able to break the first link in the chain, which in turn will break the whole chain forever.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

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Are We Born with Compassion?

It is widely believed these days that compassion is an innate phenomenon. We have a natural, automatic desire to help others who are suffering. We have a built-in urge to engage in compassionate behaviours to help fellow humans overcome obstacles without obtaining any reward. The act of helping is itself a reward.

When we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in us feeling like we want to care for other people.

It is my understanding that we are born with compassion as part of our survival instincts, which means compassion is essential to human relationships and to help humanity. The problem is these days we spend an awful lot of our day in the fight or flight mode, and this blocks our compassion. This is because we are stressed and under pressure for large parts of the day and the brain sees this as a threat. It is difficult for us to be compassionate if our brains are focused on survival. 

Compassion involves feeling another person’s pain and wanting to take steps to help relieve their suffering. The word compassion itself derives from Latin and means “to suffer together.” It is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. That means it’s not simply an emotion, it is accompanied by a strong desire to act and alleviate the suffering you witness, which makes it a verb.

If you break it down to its essential parts, it means we have a strong aspiration that all beings are happy and free from suffering. 

Though compassion is innate it does not always come easily. Here are seven ways to help build your compassion.

Self-Compassion
We can be hard on others, but usually the person who gets the brunt of our harshness, is ourselves. It is hard to offer compassion to others when you can’t even extend it to ourselves.

Self-compassion isn’t about loving ourselves, being self-indulgent or narcissistic. It’s about being kind and supportive to ourselves when we are facing difficulties or have made a mistake.  

We all know that life can be challenging, and it can be difficult to have compassion for ourselves when we must face suffering on a daily basis. But we have to understand that being human is a difficult thing and we are doing our best. We are not failing when we’re having a hard time, we are just being human.

Being compassionate to ourselves means offering support by empathising with ourselves. We can do this by talking positively with ourselves, take time out to reflect and regroup, giving ourselves a hug (I especially recommend doing this. It feels so supportive), give ourselves reassurance and be kind.

It’s important to understand that we are wired to feel, and these feelings are important. They give meaning to our lives. So, the first part of self-compassion involves accepting that it’s OK to feel. Don’t override or suppress feelings – just feel them.

Nobody knows us like we do. Nobody understands us like we do. Nobody knows just what we are going through. This is why we have to care for ourselves, have compassion for ourselves and become our own best-friend.

Similarities
Look for things we have in common with others, not differences. It can be easier to identify how you differ from another person, but we should at least try to find commonalities.

This will help you to relate to them and not see them as a different. In the end, this will help you create a bond with them enabling you to feel compassion.

Communication
When speaking to others we need to engage our brains before we open our mouths. Check that what you are about to say is helpful, kind, and compassionate. If it isn’t, I would suggest you stay quiet.

We all know that words are powerful tools which can empower or harm, uplift or drag someone down. So, in order to build compassion, we need to ensure our words do not bring about harm.

Perspective
We can get caught up in our own viewpoints. It can be a real challenge to step outside of ourselves and see another perspective. Try to consider how another person is influenced by a situation, and ask yourself some simple questions:

  • How would I be feeling if this happened to me?
  • How would my family and friends feel if it was me?
  • How would I respond?
  • What would I find helpful at a challenging time like this?

By considering the other person’s perspective, you are more likely to feel positive and connected to them.

Listening
When in conversation with another person, we don’t usually full listen to them. After a certain time, we start thinking about what we want to say next, and sometimes even interrupt them.

When trying to generate compassion for another, try to abandon your desire to give advice. Instead, actively listen. Suspend making any conclusions and simply offer the other person you full attention. It isn’t easy to do but with practice it is certainly achievable.

Present Moment
When we are distracted by our thoughts, emotions, memories, imagination, and perspectives, we cannot focus on what is right in front of us. That means we are unable to identify those in need of compassion. The only way we can do that is by being present in the moment.

You can help yourself to become more present by practicing mindfulness. By bringing yourself back to what is happening right at this moment you will be better able to concentrate and focus on the people around you who may need your time and attention.

A simple way to bring yourself back into the moment is to count your breaths. Count ten

in-breaths and then ten out-breaths. Ensure you focus your whole attention on the breath, and this will bring your awareness back to the here and now.

Giving
Generosity is a wonderful way to build compassion. Try contributing your time, unwanted possessions or make donations.

Compassion is contagious. Acts of generosity and thoughtfulness inspire more of the same, into a chain reaction of goodness.

Getting caught up in ourselves and our needs can kill compassion. But if you can look beyond yourself, cultivate compassion for yourself and others and truly engage with others, your life will be more fulfilling. Not only that, but you will also feel more connected and less stressed and anxious.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

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Building Your Emotional Strength

When we are faced with challenging obstacles, we all cope in different ways, some face them head on, whereas others buckle under the pressure. It’s important for us to find ways to build up our emotional strength. We spend a lot of time focusing on getting our bodies into shape or practicing healthy habits, but very little time working on improving our mental wellbeing. Building emotional strength requires daily exercise, just like building physical strength.

It’s perfectly normal for us to have moments of stress, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, but if you regularly feel like you’re drowning in your emotions, you need to improve your mental wellbeing.

What is emotional strength? It’s a type of response when reacting to emotional events in an open and vulnerable way, which allows us to find ways of dealing with the emotion and not getting all tangled up in it.

Do you have emotional strength? Here are four indicators:

  • You can respond in an open and vulnerable way.
  • You are emotionally responsive.
  • You use vulnerable language when describing your situation.
  • You engage in action and don’t shy away from it.

There are many situations that emotionally strong people avoid and actions they never take. Here are just a few:

  • They don’t seek attention or let others get them down.
  • They believe in themselves and don’t hold grudges.
  • They don’t shy away from saying ‘No.’
  • They don’t sit around dreading what may or may not happen in the future.
  • They prefer action, rather than words.

So, looking at these two lists, ask yourself, ‘Are you emotional strong?’

Don’t worry if you’re not because there are things you can do to change that. Here are a few tools that will help you build your emotional strength.

Setting Boundaries – We can start by setting yourself boundaries. Whether it’s with friends, family, your partner, or even your co-workers, boundary setting is extremely important. When you know what is tolerable or not, acceptable or not, reasonable or not, you will have a solid foundation of emotional strength. Boundaries should be based on your values, or the things that are important to you. Remember, they are your boundaries, and yours alone. So, spend some time on setting up your red lines and stick to them.

Many of your boundaries might align with those who are close to you, but others will be unique. It is important to let others know what your boundaries are, so they don’t inadvertently step over them.

Let’s Get Physical – Looking after our bodies is another good way to build emotional strength. The mind and body are inseparable, by taking good care of your body, your mind will reap the benefits. It could be as simple as a brisk walk around the block or going for a jog. It doesn’t have to be a full workout at the gym. What is important is you do it regularly and you get a sweat on.

We Are What We Eat – Eating a healthy diet can help reduce your stress levels, improve your self-confidence, combat depression, and alleviate anxiety.

To have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta, and try to reduce your meat and dairy intake – there are plenty of plant-based alternatives out there these days.

A Helping Hand – Reaching out to others is a great way to help build your emotional strength. Some may see this as a sign of weakness, I see it as a sign of strength. The person who doesn’t share their problems could eventually buckle under the weight of their own struggles or become isolated and resentful. It is well known that the people with quality relationships and strong social support systems show signs of greater happiness.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. People who open themselves up to others learn what real friendship, trust, and sincerity feels like. When your heart is closed, it leads to scepticism and insecurity, but when it is open, you have hope and clarity.

Alone, but not lonely – When you enjoy your own company, you help build your emotional strength. There are times when we inevitably are alone, and we need to be able to make the best of those moments. If you feel some resistance to spending time alone, you really need to work on that. Ask yourself, ‘Why do I hate to be alone, what am I afraid of, what do I think will happen?’ Start off slowly by spending a few minutes alone and then slowly start to build on that. Remember, when you are spending time by yourself, turn off all your devices, so you can limit any distractions. We can’t really claim to be alone if we are chatting on WhatsApp or sending photos on Instagram.

We also need to be careful how we talk to ourselves. Turning negative self-talk into positive thinking can help reduce your risk of depression, lower levels of distress, and improving your coping skills. If you are a person that tends to be critical of yourself, it’s important you change that inner dialogue. Counter your critical inner voice by speaking to yourself in a positive way that is kind, caring and, above all else, supportive, as this is a pillar of emotional strength.

Bring Awareness to Your Day – Practicing mindfulness is another way to build your emotional strength.  Knowing yourself, paying attention to your responses, and practicing settling your body down when feeling overwhelmed is going to make you emotionally stronger. By bringing yourself back into the present moment you will have a full awareness of your thought process, your emotions, body sensations and your immediate environment. When you are armed with this full awareness, you will be able to consciously face up to any challenges you may be facing.

When faced with difficulties, take a moment to watch your breath. No need to change the way you are breathing, just become aware of it. Leave your full awareness of the breath flowing in and out of your nostril. This will give you the space to calm down. Once you are calm, you will be much better placed to deal with your present situation, and you will be strengthening yourself emotionally.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Eliminate What is Holding You Back

The more we get caught up in negative patterns of behaviour and mental states, the more they become engrained. This means they become stored in our subconscious, and we act in certain ways without consciously thinking and we become overwhelmed by our mental states, such as anger, jealousy, pride, without noticing it.

It is said that most people spend 70% of their lives living in the survival mode, the fight or flight mode, which means they are living in stress. They are always anticipating the worst-case scenario, based on a past experience, selecting the worst possible outcome and beginning to emotionally embrace it with fear and conditioning their mind into a state of fear.

This conditioning becomes a pattern of behaviour, a habit, which is a set of automatic unconscious thoughts, behaviours and emotions that’s acquired through repetition. A habit is when you’ve done something so many times your mind now knows how to do it unconsciously.

If these habits, behaviours, and mental states are positive and helpful, there’s no problem. But if they are negative and counterproductive, they can cause us untold problems. We need to be aware of our actions and mental states, so we can make changes, and become the best version of ourselves. It will also ensure we have a peaceful state of mind and find true inner happiness.  

We can start to change by following the process I have called ‘Eliminate what is holding you back.’ This consists of seven steps, which are realisation, study, conviction, determination, action, effort, and time.

Realisation: we first need to realise our actions and mental states are causing us, and others, to suffer. This is a key point because if we don’t know we are sick, we won’t go to the doctor. So, if we are unaware of negative behaviours and mental states, we will not try to find a solution.

Buddha’s very first teaching was the four noble truths, and the first truth is life brings about suffering. He then talked about the causes and the path out of suffering. So, to be able to make changes in our life we need to first understand that things do not have to be like they are. There is a better way to live our lives. That is the realisation we are looking for here.

We have to become aware if we are living in the survival mode or the creation mode. The survival mode is the fight or flight mode, and the creation mode is the rest and digest mode.

Living in stress is living in survival. Now, all of us can tolerate short term stress but when we turn on the stress response and we can’t turn it off, we are headed for disease because no organism in nature can live in emergency mode for an extended period of time.

living in creation is when we are conscious of our actions, behaviours, and mental states. It is when we can make changes and become the best possible version of ourselves. We begin to utilise our huge frontal lobe, which is 40% of our entire brain and it’s where we plan, organise, become productive and creative. So, living in creation means using our frontal lobe to make conscious choices to change. 

Firstly, we need to understand when we are in survival and when we are in creation mode. Once we understand the damage we are doing to ourselves and people around us by following old patterns of behaviour, we can start the process of change.

To bring awareness to our lives it is important we remain with a calm mind. Here are 10 ways we can easily do that.

Study: now we need to learn about how we can change, such as learning about impermanence to stop our attachment to people and things or learn antidotes to our anger. Studying is going to show us that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is going to help us move on to the next stage of this process. It will also help us to keep our goals and aspirations realistic. So, I would suggest you study Buddha’s foundation teachings, especially the four noble truths.

Do not over study, as that will make the process of change an intellectual one, which it certainly is not. We need to study so we can practice and not just to make ourselves more intelligent. So, we need to strike the right balance between study and practice.

Conviction: we then need to be convinced that what we have studied will work. This will give us hope that the change will help us become the best possible version of ourselves. If we have doubt, it will stop our conviction. So, doubt needs to be cleared up during the study stage. There is nothing wrong with doubt but left unattended it will sit in our minds like a poison. It will hold us back. So, clearing up any doubts will give us the conviction to move on.

It is at this stage we have some type of expectations. We need to be careful here. If our expectations are too high, we are going to set ourselves up to fail, and none of us like failure. If our expectations are too low, we will not be challenged and will not work hard to achieve our true potential.  

Determination: we need to be determined to carry on no matter what obstacles appear.  We will probably come up against these five at sometime during our journey on the path.

  1. Sensory desire: seeking pleasures through our five senses. This

means we would become distracted, and our focus will be disturbed.

  • Resentment: feelings of hatred and bitterness.
  • Laziness: our actions will be half-hearted and lack focus.
  • Worry: our energy will not be focused, and our minds will not be calm.
  • Doubt: if we didn’t clear up our doubts at an earlier stage or new doubts appear, we will lack conviction.

This is why we require determination, as that will motivate us.

Psychologists talk about three types of motivation, namely biological needs that must be met for survival; stimulation and information; need for success, power, and status. But I am talking about a spiritual motivation, which is not based on worldly pursuits but in pursuit of higher goals, such as compassion, inner happiness, peace of mind, kindness, and spiritual development.

Action: Before we can learn new patterns of behaviour, we must unlearn the old patterns, which means, before we relearn, we have to break the habit of the old self, so we can reinvent the new self.

The best way to start this process is during meditation. We need to sit down, close our eyes, focus on the breath, and disconnect from our outer environment. This means we will be having less sensory information going to the brain, so there’s less stimulation. We have to inform the brain that we will answer the emails, post on social media, eat lunch, watch Netflix after the meditation, but for now, we are just sitting.

During this time our mind will want to go back to its emotional past, it’s old way of thinking, and we will become aware that our attention is on those emotions and thoughts. Our minds are taking us out of the present moment and back into the past. Every time we become aware that we’re doing that, and our minds are craving those thoughts and emotions, we bring our awareness back to the breath and settle it back down into the present moment.

If we keep doing this repeatedly, just like we are training a dog to sit, the mind will eventually surrender and just sit.  

We can then mentally isolate different aspects of our negative behaviour or mental states and engage in a dialogue between the person you are and the person you wish to be. The negative behaviour is rooted in our subconscious mind, so actually the dialogue is between our conscience and subconscious mind. The more we bring our subconscious into the conscious, the more we will change.

For example, we may be a person that becomes angry very easily. So, during meditation, we look at what triggers our anger, what it feels like when we are angry, imagine what others feel like when we are angry towards them and so on. That is our old pattern of behaviour. Now, look at the person we want to become. A person that does not react to the triggers, that feels good because they are not constantly angry and a person that does not harm others with their anger. This will, after some time, become our new way of acting and feeling.

Our lives are not going to change very much if we keep having the same thought process, as that just leads to the same choice, the same choice leads to the same behaviour, the same behaviour creates the same experience, and the same experience produces the same results. So, the act of becoming more aware of how we think, how we act, and how we feel is called metacognition. That is important because the more conscious we become of those unconscious states of mind, the less likely we’re going to go unconscious during the day and those old thought patterns are not going to slip by our awareness unchecked.

So, the more we become familiar with the thoughts, the behaviours, and the emotions of the old self we’re retiring, the more we wire new thoughts and condition the mind into a new emotional state.

Effort: we need effort and commitment to keep moving forward, no matter how difficult or frustrating the process becomes. We all know change is not easy.

Once we start to make a different choice, we don’t feel the same way. Our mind is telling us we have been doing this for so many years and it’s going into the unknown, and that’s scary. It will try it’s hardest to return to familiar territory. It starts to try and influence us by telling us we can start tomorrow. If we give in and listen to the mind we will never change, as the same thought will lead to the same choice, and we slip back into old patterns of behaviour.

This is why we need to put in great effort, so we can override the old way of being and build a new, more beneficial way of being.

Time: this is an extremely slow process, and we shouldn’t expect quick results. Change is never going to come easy, so we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are in this for the long-haul.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and our patterns of behaviour and mental states will not miraculously change overnight.

So, in a nutshell, if we want to change, we first need to realise there is a better way to live our lives. This will then encourage us to study and find out what that change looks like and how we can make that change a realisation. We then need to have conviction and determination, so we do not get side-tracked. After that, we need to put what we have learned into action, and we do this through meditation. Finally, we need to put in an enormous amount of effort and time, so we get the results we desire.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

The Power of the Breath

During the pandemic, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had something that will improve our sleep, digestion, immune and respiratory functions, while reducing our blood pressure and anxiety? The good news is there is something and it is called ‘breathworks.’

These days people seem to be in a constant state of stress and anxiety, and this is caused by an over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which puts us into the fight or flight mode. This can be caused by not breathing properly, especially breathing too fast.

When we breathe properly, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest mode, which promotes inner calm and physical relaxation. Proper breathing provides a healthy means of reducing anxiety, restlessness, and stress, and this can be achieved by breathing from the diaphragm.

By breathing properly, you increase the oxygen in your bloodstream, making more oxygen available to your brain. The brain uses up to three times as much oxygen as your other muscles do, and this translates to more physical energy, mental clarity, and greater productivity and creativity.

By learning to direct your attention to your breath, you can condition yourself to shift out of the fight or flight mode and into the rest and digest mode. So, from stress and anxiety and into calm and relaxation.

Do this test a moment, put your left hand on your chest and your right hand on your stomach. Now, breathe normally and notice which hand rises higher when you breath in. If it is your lefthand on the chest that rises more, you are breathing incorrectly or you are stressed.

Now, do this test. Take some slow, deep breathes in through the nose and notice if your shoulders rise up. If they do, then again, you are breathing incorrectly.

You may be thinking that your breath is involuntarily, and you have no control, but breathing is both a voluntary and involuntary function.

Involuntary breathing is an automatic bodily process. Voluntary breathing occurs when you bring your awareness to the process of breathing. Here are a few breathing exercises you can do.

Diaphragm Breathing

The proper way for us to breath is with the diaphragm. There are several diaphragm breathing exercises and techniques that you can do that will help you to use your diaphragm correctly.

The following diaphragm exercise can be a little tiring at first but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes.

  1. Sit in a comfortable position with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Relax your shoulders, head, and neck.
  3. Put your left hand on your upper chest and the right hand on your stomach, so you can feel the movement of your diaphragm.
  4. Inhale slowly through your nose for the count of 3 and notice your stomach rise.
  5. Keep the hand on your chest as still as possible.
  6. Hold your breath for the count of 2
  7. Exhale through pursed lips – like you’re blowing a candle out – for the count of 6, keeping your left hand on your chest still.
  8. Continue breathing like this for 5 to 10 minutes and repeat 3 times a day.

Breathing for Relaxation

Alternate Nostril Breathing has been shown to enhance cardiovascular function and to lower heart rate. It’s a simple yet powerful technique that settles the mind and relaxes the body. It is especially helpful to slowdown your racing thoughts if you are experiencing anxiety, stress, or having trouble sleeping.

  1. Choose a comfortable seated position with your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Gently close your left nostril and breath in slowly and fully through your right nostril.
  3. Hold the breath for a moment.
  4. Close your right nostril and open the left nostril. Exhale slowly and gently through the left nostril.
  5. Keeping your right nostril closed, breathe in through your left nostril.
  6. Pause for a moment.
  7. Release your fingers to open your right nostril and close your left nostril. Exhale through right nostril.
  8. This is one cycle.
  9. Continue this breathing pattern for 3 minutes to begin with and then slowly build it up to 5 minutes.
  10. Finish your session with an exhale on the right side.

Breathing to Increase Energy

The Three Part Breathing focuses first on the diaphragm, then the abdomen, and lastly the chest to increase oxygen in the blood and stimulate the body. Sit up straight and place your feet flat on the ground.

  1. Relax your shoulders, neck, and head.
  2. Place one hand over your stomach and inhale deeply, feeling your stomach rise as it inflates.
  3. Exhale and feel your stomach deflate.
  4. Repeat five times.
  5. Now move your hand higher to your rib cage.
  6. Inhale and feel your rib cage expand. Then exhale, and feel it deflate.
  7. Repeat five times.
  8. Finally place your hand on your chest and inhale feeling it rise.
  9. Exhale and feel your chest lowering.
  10. Repeat five times.

Breathing to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

This four-square breathing exercise is an effective way to reduce stress or anxiety and increase feelings of calm and peacefulness. When you become anxious, your breathing becomes fast and shallow because you start to chest breathe. This can cause you to inhale too much oxygen and may cause you to become light-headed. Instead, you need to breathe slowly and deeply, which turns off your ‘fight or flight response’ and switches on your ‘rest and digest response.’

As you breathe slowly, deeply, and evenly, in and out through your nose, you should naturally feel your stomach rising on the in-breath and falling on the out-breath.

  1. Take a deep breath through your nose and slowly count to four.
  2. Pause and slowly count to four.
  3. Exhale through your nose to a slow count of four.
  4. Pause and again slowly count to four.
  5. Inhale – one, two, three, four
  6. Pause – one, two, three, four
  7. Exhale – one, two, three, four
  8. Pause – one, two, three, four
  9. Repeat this cycle for 3 to 5 minutes.

There are so many different breathing exercises these days, so test them out and find the ones that work for you. But remember, there is only one correct way to breath and that is diaphragm breathing. This needs to be practiced daily, so it becomes your involuntary way of breathing.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Appreciating What We Have

We human beings tend to focus on what we want or what we don’t want, but very rarely take time to appreciate what we have. Conscious gratitude is a simple way for us to count our blessings, build relationships and help strengthen our mental and physical wellbeing.

Gratitude is an attitude. Gratitude is a choice. And gratitude is a habit. When we consciously practice being grateful for what we have we begin to strengthen our mental wellbeing.

Stopping from time to time and thinking of what we are grateful for rewires our brain to recognise positive aspects of life more easily and frequently and feel positive emotions more often. Daily feelings of gratitude are associated with life satisfaction, optimism, subjective well-being, positive affect, and happiness. Essentially, grateful people are happier.

Gratitude is about cultivating a sense of being thankful for the little and large things in our lives. We can be thankful for people, situations and even our possessions. It’s also about a willingness to show this appreciation. It is a habit, a skill, and it takes practice.

Gratitude is a great first step towards reframing unhelpful thoughts, particularly if you have a tendency towards negativity. But don’t think it will stop you feeling any negative emotions or experiencing negative thoughts, it won’t, because these are an important part of being human.

Gratitude helps with stress management and overall mental wellbeing. It can help build emotional resilience, so can even be an extra support during challenging times. There’s even evidence that gratitude behaviours can change areas of the brain and fire up reward pathways, releasing serotonin and dopamine, which are our feel-good drugs. It can also help build a connection with other people, through showing and telling people that you are grateful for them.

Here are some ways that gratitude helps us:

Protects Against Depression and Boosts Happiness

Studies show that practicing gratitude curbs the use of words expressing negative emotions and shifts inner attention away from such negative emotions such as resentment and envy, minimising the possibility of ruminating.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

People who make an effort to be more appreciative seem to do better at dealing with adversity and facing tough decisions or situations because they focus on the positives and see challenges as useful lessons and even gifts, rather than as curses.

Research suggests a gratitude practice can increase psychological resilience against chronic stress, anxiety, , post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and unhappiness. When reflecting on the positive elements of the past and present, people are more prone to being hopeful and optimistic.

Improves Relationships

Expressing gratitude often makes people feel more connected to something bigger than themselves. Being thankful for your life also makes it less likely that you’ll experience envy, cynicism and narcissism, which can all damage relationships and decrease happiness.

Helps Encourage Healthier Choices/Self-Care

There’s evidence suggesting that gratitude can have long-lasting positive effects when it comes to promoting healthy choices — such as eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, staying on top of work-related tasks, and so on. When you feel grateful for your life and the relationships in it, you’re more likely to take better care of yourself.

Can Help Improve Sleep and Physical Health

In studies, gratitude has been shown to foster both physical and psychological health, meaning it may help decrease chronic pain, tension, fatigue, sleep issues like insomnia and other symptoms tied to stress and anxiety.

Overall, research suggests that grateful people are less prone to experiencing sleep troubles tied to stress and may also benefit from having stronger immune systems.

I think it is clear, gratitude is good for us in so many ways. So, how can we go about practicing them? You could use a gratitude journal, think of one thing you are grateful for when you wake up in the morning or the last thing at night, stop several times during the day to reflect on what you are grateful for right at that moment or you could do a gratitude meditation, such as the one below.

Experiencing Gratitude

Sit quietly with your back straight and body relaxed.

Do the following breathing exercise Breath in as deeply as you can – hold the breath – and now push all the air out – breath in deeply – hold – push the air out – breath in deeply – hold – push all the air out.

Now breath normally.

Gently place your awareness on your breath entering and leaving your body. Don’t force it – just relax into it. Become aware of your breath becoming slower, smoother, and more comfortable.

(30 seconds)

 Now I want you to think of a person you are grateful for. Whoever it is, bring them into the forefront of your mind.

(30 seconds)

How does this gratitude make you feel?

(30 seconds)

What body sensations are you experiencing?

 (30 seconds)

Sit with this experience for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings, emotions and body sensations. Don’t just think about it, fully experience it.

(30 seconds)

Now I want you to think of a situation you are grateful for. Whatever it is, bring the situation into your mind.

(30 seconds)

How does this gratitude make you feel?

(30 seconds)

What body sensations are you experiencing?

(30 seconds)

Sit with this experience for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings, emotions and body sensations. Don’t just think about it, fully experience it.

(30 seconds)

Now I want you to think of a possession you are grateful for. Whatever it is, bring that possession into the forefront of your mind.

(30 seconds)

How does this gratitude make you feel?

 (30 seconds)

What body sensations are you experiencing?

(30 seconds)

Sit with this experience for a moment. Let yourself be engulfed by your feelings, emotions and body sensations. Don’t just think about it, fully experience it.

(30 seconds)

Now, slowly open your eyes and gently introduce yourself back into the world.

As you can see there are many ways to express and practise gratitude, so pick the one that resonates the most with you.

Before we finish, I want to ask you, ‘What one thing are you grateful for today?’

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

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