Are you Breathing? Pause for a Moment to Start Anew
I've been back to work in the corporate world now for almost 4 months. I am beginning to focus, build relationships and accomplish some goals. Like most agencies, the agency I work for is home to constant changes in direction from clients, imminent deadlines and creative tension. People are stressed out most of the time, but unlike most agencies, the agency leadership recognizes this is happening and is interested in doing something about it. Knowing my background as a yoga teacher and practitioner, they asked me to lead a breathing exercise during a company-wide meeting. Of course, I jumped at the chance to talk about mindfulness in the workplace. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep their attention for long and I knew that not everyone would embrace this “opportunity”. I knew I had to keep it simple and accessible.
Naturally, they asked me to create a few Power Point slides as part of the presentation even though I knew that it would not be possible for 150 people to close their eyes, breath, and read slides! However, to accommodate the corporate environment, I set the scene with a a few slides. First, I talked about how we don’t have to do anything to breathe and that indeed we are constantly “being breathed” by the breath. However, when we're under stress, this natural breathing process is impeded, causing tension and constriction in our bodies and anxiety and even anger in our minds. Luckily, conscious breathing can impact and diffuse the effects of stress. The audience seemed to buy into that simple concept. Next, I listed about 8 benefits of mindful breathing, including the release of tension, finding clarity, boosting energy and elevating mood.
Then it was time to demonstrate and practice this conscious breathing technique. With microphone in hand (yes, that was a bit weird), I invited everyone to plant their feet firmly on the floor, sitting tall in their chairs and slightly tucking the chin to extend the crown of the head upward and lengthen the back of the neck. I watched as everyone straightened up a little and appeared to grow taller. I invited them to close their eyes if they were comfortable with that and about 90% did. We began with a few deep inhalations through the nose followed by soft sighing exhalations through the mouth. The sighs were inhibited at first, then a little more releasing. It was so interesting to watch such a large group in an office environment begin to tune in. I see it all the time in my yoga classes, this change that takes place when one begins to breathe mindfully. But in an office it felt somewhat ground-breaking as we continued with the simplest of awareness exercises—feeling the breath come into the body on the inhale, and leave on the exhale. People were becoming consciously aware of the expansion of the body on the inhale, and the release on the exhale. As they were inhaling and exhaling to a count of 5, I felt the energy shift, even just a bit. We finished with a few Lion’s breaths (exhaling loudly while sticking out the tongue) and by the third one some people really were “roaring” and laughing.
When we finished, many in the group expressed how they felt different from when they started this process. Some felt energized and others felt relaxed or even sleepy. Likely the sleepy response is due to the fact that a lot of hard-working people are sleep-deprived and when they begin to breathe mindfully they actually realize this. I also noticed that as the other presentations went on during this business meeting there was an overall energy of engagement that usually dissipates after the first or second speaker—that seemed quite powerful.
The exercise was a great reminder to me that a “breath break”, even one that only lasts about 5 minutes, can create a shift in energy, bring people back to themselves, and allow them to re-engage. I encourage you to try this in your workplace—by yourself in your office, with your lunch mates, or even, if you dare, at the start of a business meeting. You might find that everyone pays a little more attention after that…happy breathing!
Lisa Feder is a Yoga Instructor, Personal Trainer and Corporate Wellness Consultant. Read more