Written by Zahara Almira Ramadhan, Content Writer Intern at Project Child Indonesia
Would you agree if I say human emotions are hard to be figured out? Ever since we are young, we are rarely given lessons about our emotional well-being. Sure, schools commonly provide “counsellors” who can help when students are in trouble (or when they are the trouble). But what about those who seem perfectly fine? Do they not need lessons about human emotions that are yet to come? No wonder why we have such little understanding about our own emotions: nobody has ever taught us about them.
This lack of understanding about emotional well-being resulted in an increased stress level without knowing how to deal with it. When this keeps going on without help, our lives become an emotional rollercoaster as we experience such unstable emotions. This shouldn’t be the case. We have to create a solution where people can manage their emotions in much, much better ways.
That’s why Project Child Indonesia conducted mindfulness training for our volunteers. Mindfulness is “the practice of becoming fully aware of the present moment rather than dwelling in the past or projecting into the future” (Scott, 2020). This mindfulness training is one of the mandatory trainings for volunteers of the Online Learning Assistance Program supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Alumni Grant Scheme and administered by Australia Awards in Indonesia. Not only to stimulate volunteers’ emotional intelligence and positive well-being, but this training also provides a space where they can gather and engage in mindful activities together. As they will be the facilitators for our newborn Mindfulness Program, we arranged this training so that they will be more knowledgeable and equipped to act as mindful facilitators. Improving their mental awareness and positive well-being will not only be beneficial for them as individuals, but also for children in Yogyakarta who will participate in lessons and activities carried by them.
Mindful breathing is key
In the training, we mostly focused on mindful breathing as the key to managing emotions. Our training took place at a very peaceful setting in Bantul, Yogyakarta; being close to nature is a great kick-off for achieving mindfulness. Rolling my mat out on the ground, I could feel the grass tickling beneath me as I sat down. The air was as clear and fresh as ever. My view was rice fields looking bright green. It was such a peaceful space to breathe in, to begin with.
We practiced several breathing techniques to be mindful. The first one is one-sided breathing. One side of our nostrils is intentionally closed so that we are breathing only from one way: left or right. After a few rounds of one-sided breathing, we worked on an alternate breathing technique; we took a breath through the left and breathed out through the right, and vice versa. We worked with our hands and fingers to help with the alternation, as you can see from the picture above. If you notice two fingers are placed at the centre of the forehead, that’s because it is where our third eye chakra takes place. The third eye is commonly known as the gate towards our inner, higher consciousness. Thus, these breathing techniques do not only bring us to work on our breathing, but also to connect with our higher consciousness.
The participants then gathered around in groups for a reflection. How do we feel after working on our breathing? Do we feel something different in our bodies? Were there any thoughts going on when we focused on breathing? Do we notice any changes at all? The answers vary depending on the individuals. Even for those who didn’t notice anything different at all, they still learned something by listening to how others were feeling (more peaceful, for example). We were given the chance to understand our own and other people’s minds and bodies during this reflection session.
The next breathing technique we worked on was belly breathing. Would you believe it if I say belly breathing is actually hard? I’d never know until the day I tried it myself.
This technique comes from our common bad habit of breathing, which is shallow breathing. Do you notice that when you are stressed or anxious, you tend to breathe so uncontrollably fast? In other words, you are breathing shallowly through the chest without even reaching the diaphragm. Humans’ normal way of breathing is to reach the diaphragm until it is expanded. However, with shallow breathing, our diaphragm becomes stiff from the lack of movement that it’s supposed to get through our breathing. Thus, in this technique, we had to push the air we inhaled to the belly. We had to make sure our belly expands as we inhale and deflate as we exhale. If our belly does not move at all, that means we are still breathing directly to the lungs without working the diaphragm.
How does breathing make you mindful?
This is the question that I asked myself at the end of our training. Before we finished the training, we were given one minute of silence to reflect as individuals. We were alone with our mind, body, and breath, grounded in the nature surrounding us. Being able to finally breathe mindfully has given me a whole new perspective on this self-reflection. I realized that I had never breathed mindfully—not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t know how.
I have always realised that it’s difficult for me to breathe when I’m anxious. My mind was loud, my heartbeat racing, and my breathing shallow. Yet I couldn’t slow down any of them. Having practised mindful breathing allowed me to at least sort out one of those problems: difficulty breathing. Now, every time I get anxious, I keep remembering to inhale until my belly expands. Working on this helps me slow down my breathing, and then my heartbeat, and eventually my thoughts. Oftentimes, the key to processing your own emotions is as simple as breathing, mindfully.
Feeling like you might burst out of anger? Breathe. Extremely disappointed at someone or something? Breathe. Feeling excited, happy, and energized? Still, don’t forget to breathe. Breathing lets you be present in the moment. Not in the past or in the future. We might get angry, disappointed, or remorseful over the past and worry or excited over the future. But we cannot forget that we have to be present for the moment. For our mind, our body, our present moments, and everyone else around us. When we start to become mindful of our well-being, we’ll become mindful of other people too. Just like Project Child Indonesia’s volunteer, who will share this mindfulness knowledge and practices with children in Yogyakarta.
Scott, E. (2020, June 11). What Is Mindfulness?. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/mindfulness-the-health-and-stress-relief-benefits-3145189