A few years ago, I felt mentally and physically defeated. Because of my psychological inconsistencies, I had lost a lot of money in trading, and I dug myself a pit from which I couldn’t find any possible exit.
I was at a very vulnerable place. I started contemplating death.
But then, I discovered meditation. It literally saved my life.
People who really understand the importance of mindset in trading, first understand stress and its repercussions. And it’s usually by way of experience.
Stress was wired into our bodies thousands of years ago for survival reasons. But, in this day and age where man-eating tigers have been replaced by traffic jams, work and money related issues, and other inventions of modern culture, the same stress that saved my ancestors, and yours, does everything to undermine us.
From being a useful tool for survival, stress is now chronic and, in the U.S alone, it is becoming a public health crisis.
Meditation is to stress what water is to fire.
The meditation-and-the-brain research has been rolling in steadily for a number of years now. Science is now confirming the claims made by thousands of meditators around the world and across time: Meditation alleviates chronic stress.
It creates the space in our minds to think better. When stressful situations arise, because of this training, we develop the skills to work with our emotions to deal with stress in a more peaceful and constructive way.
Not only that, meditation:
- Improves concentration
- Encourages a healthy lifestyle
- Increases acceptance, openness, and flexibility
- Improves emotional intelligence (emotional maturity)
- Slows brain aging
- Improves the decision-making process leading to better outcomes in life
- Increases overall happiness
Research on the processes and effects of meditation is a growing subfield of neuroscience, so new studies and meta-analyses are coming out just about every week to illustrate, confirm (or disconfirm) the above benefits. But, so far, the consensus is clear: Meditation does work! It’s not some woo-woo nonsense that hippies and nutcases do.
On these grounds alone, beginner traders and pro traders alike should adopt the practice. Meditation is the most important self-improvement practice you can have. And I’m not saying this lightly.
It has made such a difference in my life, in my ability to trade and to cope with difficult times, that I can’t recommend it enough.
Now, meditation aside,
Here’s something else that I practice that has made a big impact on my life:
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word.
“Prana” is often translated as “life force”, which, in some sense, the breath is since it is an essential part of being alive.
“Yama” stands for “mastery” or “control.”
So Pranayama breathing is a practice that helps you take control of your breath to produce specific results. It’s characterized by inhalation, exhalation, and retention of breaths.
Difference between mindfulness meditation and Pranayama breathing.
In meditation (mindfulness), you’re paying attention to breathing without controlling it. Your body’s autonomic system takes care of your breathing for you. All you’re doing is observing that process like you would observe anything else. And you do it in a curious, open, yet focused and non-judgmental manner.
When you do Pranayama breathing, you’re manipulating your breathing, holding it for some time, changing its pattern…
Although both practices can offer the same benefits, there are some notable differences.
Why practice Pranayama breathing?
Let’s say a tiger jumps at you from nowhere. Your sympathetic nervous system would kick into fight or flight mode. Your heart rate and blood pressure would rise. In a matter of seconds, blood would flow to your extremities like hands and feet.
This is all designed for physical exertion, and when it happens, non-emergency organs like stomach, kidneys, and reproductive organs get deprived of critical blood flow.
In our modern culture, this unhealthy state gets activated in our bodies about 10x a day – in traffic, at work, when trading, etc.
A regular Pranayama breathing practice can have multiple positive effects in that it relaxes the heart rate. It also helps blood circulation go back to non-emergency organs for better function and health.
And our lungs – we usually use 15-20% of our lung capacity, but Pranayama breathing can dramatically increase that, pushing oxygen through to better permeate all deprived cells.
- Bodily function is improved
- Stress goes down
- Cardiovascular and immune health goes up
- Clarity of thought improves
How to practice Pranayama breathing.
There are approximately 50 known Pranayama techniques, and all have their own benefits.
For simplicity’s sake, I won’t list all of them, just two.
1. Wim Hof’s breathing technique.
If you don’t know who Wim Hof is, he is basically a holder of 26 world records, including one for the longest ice bath. He’s also known for having climbed to 6.7 kilometers (22,000 ft) altitude at Mount Everest wearing nothing but shorts and shoes, and reaching the top of Mount Kilimanjaro within two days wearing only shorts.
Hof also completed a full marathon (42.195 kilometers) above the arctic circle in Finland, in temperatures close to −20 °C (−4 °F), and, you’ve guessed it, dressed in nothing but shorts.
Needless to say, Wim Hoff is a super inspiring individual. What’s even more inspiring about him is that he’s on a mission to spread the potential benefits of this wonderful breathing technique that has allowed him to take on those different challenges.
Hof claims that his breathing technique can help alleviate symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, clinical depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, cancer, and so on, and he’s been working with scientists all around the world to prove that.
The technique is very simple.
Sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight, or lay down on your bed or on the floor.
Then, follow his instructions…
2. Alternating nostril breathing technique.
The second technique, known as Anulom vilom, consists of breathing through each nostril alternately.
How to do it:
Anulom vilom can also be done seated or lying down.
To start, empty all the air from your lungs.
Using the thumb of your dominant hand, block your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril only.
Be sure to inhale into your belly, not your chest.
Once you are full of breath, seal your left nostril with the ring finger of the same hand, keeping your right nostril closed, and hold the breath for a moment.
Then release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril only.
Be sure to exhale all the breath out of the right side and pause before inhaling again through the same side.
Seal both nostrils once you’ve inhaled on the right side and exhaled through the left side.
A complete cycle of breath includes an inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils.
If you’re just starting out, you can do a four-count inhale, holding your breath for four to eight counts, then exhale for four counts.
Perform up to ten cycles and notice how your body responds.
When to do it:
I usually practice 30 minutes of meditation in the morning and 30 minutes at night. I will do my Pranayama practice right before my morning meditation and I do 10 rounds of it. I feel it helps me focus better during meditation.
But that’s just me. Anulom vilom can be done at any time of the day.
Last few words.
For the Anulom vilom practice, when you feel you can confidently do four counts inhales, holding your breath for four to eight counts, then exhaling for four counts, and ten cycles of that, then maybe increase to six counts inhales, holding breath for six to ten counts, then exhaling for six counts.
But in general, because of its simplicity yet difficulty, Pranayama breathing is a practice that keeps you humble. You can’t just jump the gun. It doesn’t work like that. To progress at the practice, you have to work with patience, making it a slow progression.
All in all, it takes a tranquil and untroubled mind to navigate the market effortlessly and profitably. On that path, a meditation practice can make a big difference – the difference between kicking and screaming because of a loss, and taking it lightly; between wanting to break your rules, and letting that urge pass through and over you.
But then, if you add a Pranayama practice on top of that (the Wim Hof technique or otherwise), we’re now talking about ridiculous amounts of progress in your ability to self-regulate and alleviate stress.