As some of you know, my usual way to begin my day in the summer is with yoga out on our pier. Except for the lapping water and occasional crabbing boat chugging by, it is so quiet. These precious times of just being in my body are times when I am reminded of the importance of my breath.
Years ago, I was working out at the gym, sweating and focusing on getting that last weight lift done in good form. Out of the blue, my trainer asked me if I was a singer. No one (especially my long-suffering children) has ever accused me of being a singer. No, I said….why do you ask? He told me that I had excellent breathing techniques, such that he usually only sees in singers who have been trained to use their breath in powerful ways while performing. I was intrigued to hear that he considered my breathing to be an important part of my ability to work out effectively, focus intently, and lift increasing amounts of weights.
I started thinking about breathing, and my lifelong journey through learning to breathe with purpose and control. As a child, I was plagued by very bad asthma. Breathing was not something I took for granted. I still remember teaching myself to focus on relaxing, breathing with intention, and paying attention to the slightest change in my breathing (which could signal the onslaught of an asthma attack). In my decades of doing yoga, I continue to learn about the importance and benefits of mindful breathing. My natural childbirth classes (many moons ago) also advocated their own particular breathing style to deal with the labor pains. Fourteen years ago, while going through chemotherapy, I learned anew to appreciate the powerful benefits of breathing as a tool to simultaneously relax, deal with pain, and keep my focus.
David Kundtz, in his book Stopping, advocates using what he calls “Still Points.” These are moments throughout the day when you stop to just breathe, remember, give thanks, and relax. He asserts that those moments, with breathing at the center, can bring us much peace. I completely agree. There are different breathing styles, such as Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 pattern (breathe in for four counts, hold for seven, exhale for eight counts). Whatever method you use, it is important to take the time to really focus on your breath.
I encourage you to use breathing techniques to center yourself at work. Stopping for even a few moments can bring you back to a place of calm, and help you to move forward with more clarity and purpose. If you want me to share some of my own favorite breathing practices, please ask. Meanwhile, pause and take a breath. It is easy, free, and one of the most important gifts you can give your mind and body.
Sharon Keys Seal