Time to Breathe… Your Most Overlooked Skill

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Breathing is a pretty phenomenal feat.

Yet we pretty much take it for granted.

Breathe

So I’d like to invite you to pause, breathe, and pay homage to this humble yet essential function, and its four major benefits.

Breathe for respiration

Let’s face it – at its most basic, breathing keeps you alive. Bringing oxygen in and taking carbon monoxide out, in an artful orchestration of muscle contractions and relaxations – for most people, most of the time, breathing is effortless.

Nobody taught you how to do it.

Yet there it is… several times a minute, every minute of the day. Even when you’re asleep!

Breathe for projection

Anyone who speaks or sings in a serious way will vouch for how much the breath matters for projecting your voice.

Breathe for Projection

Breathing correctly for voice work means being about to take deep breaths quickly (you haven’t got time to muck around!) and without gasping. It also means exhaling in a carefully controlled and managed way. This requires exceptional muscle conditioning – and excellent posture. When I was having professional singing lessons, my teacher encouraged me to do sit-ups, press-ups and crunchees. Core strength is vital for good posture and breath control.

Breathe for stress relief

I’ve written before about the power of a few long slow breaths when you are feeling stressed. This is because your body’s response to stressful situations is to channel energy to the parts of the body needed for an immediate fight or flight response – your heart rate increases, and your breathing gets more shallow, and more rapid. An easy way to trick your body into believing it’s a good sort of stress (that is, the one that doesn’t involve a sabre-tooth tiger around the next bend) is to override this short shallow breathing with a few long deep breaths.

Breathe for Stress Relief

Just breathe in while counting slowly to five… and out again by counting slowly to five. Make sure you feel your tummy rise and fall, rather than your chest.

Breathe for mindfulness

I’ve written often about the importance of mindfulness for leaders…

One of the simplest and most commonly taught methods of building your mindfulness is to spend time focusing on your breath. Inhale. Exhale. When you realise your mind has wandered off (I like to say wondered off… it seems appropriate) simply bring your attention back to your breath.

Simple.

Effective.

So maybe the next time you find yourself stuck in a queue with nothing to do… or caught in traffic during your commute… pay attention – just for a little while – to this essential and often overlooked skill.

Your life depends on it.



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