By Janet Baird, a Bright Morning Senior Associate.
Years ago I took a yoga class that changed the way I approach life. I was at a point where I felt like I was just going through the motions, in life, and in my yoga practice. On this particular day, we had just finished a powerful, flowing sequence of poses and were transitioning to the part of the class where we hold poses for longer periods of time. The sweat dripped down my face and onto my yoga mat. My yoga instructor guided us into pigeon pose (a deep hip opener) and encouraged us to stay in the pose, even if we felt an itch on our face, or if our mind started to wander, or if our body got fidgety. Her voice reverberated through the quiet room:
Breathe through it. The way you show up on your mat is the way you show up in the world. What do you do when faced with a challenge or something uncomfortable in life? Do you back down at the first sign of discomfort or do you breathe through it?
Our breath is such a powerful tool.
Inhale. Exhale. Breathe in. Breathe out. Fill up. Empty out.
Our breath allows us to pause in the midst of life, to check in with ourselves, and to own the space between stimulus and response.
As I laid there in pigeon pose, I quickly realized the power of my breath to calm my mind. The urge to itch my face came up. So I acknowledged and noticed it, and then I tapped more deeply into my breath. Paying attention to the subtle differences between my inhales and exhales. Noticing the quality of my breath as I tried allowing it to take up space in my body. And then rather surprisingly, I noticed something else…the urge to itch had subsided.
I have taken this lesson off the mat and into my life. One of the greatest tools in my resilience toolbox is my breath. Try one minute of deep breathing now. If this seems like a challenge, use this video to guide you. As the shape expands, inhale and as the shape contacts, exhale. And if you feel an itch or your mind starts to wander, notice and acknowledge it, and return to the breath. What was that experience like? What changes do you notice in both your body and your mind?
This time of year, we tend to make intentions, or set goals, or choose resolutions. My intention this year is to be curious and hold some space around the connections in my life. I intend to do this by tapping into my breath more. A deep connection to your breath helps you in the following three ways:
- Focusing on our breath allows us to slow down. How often do we rush to decision or judgment? When we are faced with a prompting event, we need to tap into our breath, allowing us to slow down before we rush to our interpretation of the event. Even just three deep breaths are enough to help us. Try this activity Get to Know an Emotion Cycle from The Onward Workbook. As you work through the activity, pay close attention to the reflection questions. Your breath has so much power in that space between the prompting event and your interpretation.
- Focusing on our breath gives us the space needed for curiosity to be present. Curiosity is essential to the work we do here at Bright Morning, and along with compassion, it is a foundational disposition of a Transformational Coach. In order to look at dismantling the systems of oppression in our school systems, we need to get curious. As we learn to pause and breathe, we allow room for curiosity, for questions to come up. When you feel like you may be triggered during a conversation or a situation, allow yourself to breathe deeply and create some space for curiosity to enter.
- Focusing on our breath helps our overall health. So if you still need some convincing, here are some of the health benefits of deep breathing. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic system which in turn calms us down and lowers the production of stress hormones. Because of this, deep breathing also has a positive impact on your blood pressure. Need more proof? Read or listen to Just Breathe: Body Has a Built-in Stress Reliever.
So regardless of your intention, goal or resolution for 2020, see how you can tap into your breath more to keep you present and engaged in the work at hand.
And remember this takes practice. Inhale. Exhale. Breathe in. Breathe out. Fill up. Empty out.