The Power of a Single Breath
“Everything you or I or any other breathing thing has ever put in its mouth, or in its nose, or soaked in through its skin, is hand-me-down space dust that’s been around for 13.8 billion years. This wayward matter has been split apart by sunlight, spread throughout the universe, and come back together again. To breathe is to absorb ourselves in what surrounds us, to take in little bits of life, understand them, and give pieces of ourselves back out. Respiration is, at its core, reciprocation.”
– James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
As a yoga teacher and mindfulness facilitator, I have always been interested in the power of breath to transform a moment.
Something extraordinary happens when you invite people to breathe together. More than an individual action, there is something you can sense: the softening of the air in the room, the quiet sound of the wave-like breaths, the vanishing furrow in the brow. When people breathe together, there is a palpable shift in the energy around them.
I’ve watched this transformation happen in small and airy yoga studios, executive conference rooms and crowded hotel ballrooms, and just one year ago, I would have said that you needed to be in-person to feel that transformation in a space.
As the pandemic wound its way through our lives, we all made shifts. We began working and connecting virtually. At Nebo, we figured out how to effectively provide our leadership development programs online. The fundamental nature of our work at Nebo didn’t radically change, but the needs that we saw in our clients did. This year, instead of requests from clients for workshops on team dynamics and building credibility, we saw more requests for workshops on resilience, wellbeing and sustaining during difficult times.
In March of this year, I facilitated my first virtual workshop on resilience for a Senior Team. Just as I would have done in-person, I led them through a short breathing exercise. I was nervous about how it would translate over Zoom. I worried that people wouldn’t connect in the way they once did. Even still, I invited the group to close their eyes and turn off their cameras. I suggested that they get comfortable in their seats – to sit up tall and relax their shoulders. I asked them to take three deep breaths with me.
A slow inhale through the nose, followed by a soft sigh out the mouth. And just like that, there we were, breathing together, miles apart.
Even through the computer screen, I could sense people relax. When they came back on-screen their faces looked calmer, their eyes clear. It was as if this moment was the first time they had consciously taken a deep breath since the pandemic began. I thought that perhaps through the simple reminder to take a moment, pause and take a deep breath, they were also reminded that they were okay. They were still there. The breath was still flowing.
It has been a year of intensity: of tragic losses, constant virtual connection, days spent juggling the demands of work with the demands of a family-filled household or the isolation of an empty space. There is a stress, a weight, and a heaviness that wasn’t there before. It is visible to those who look for it – in the tired eyes of colleagues and the half-smile of friends.
I have never doubted the power of the breath. In fact, countless studies have emerged over the past decade showing the correlation between mindful deep breathing and stress reduction.
But this year, I have watched people lean into breathing in a way I have never seen before.
In the rush of tasks and whir of experiences, it can be all too easy to let entire days, even weeks rush by without even acknowledging or noticing the breath. When you are able to pause and bring your attention to the quality of your breathing, you might notice that there is room for improvement. There is a greater depth that you can bring to your breathing, and with that depth, you find more space – more space for your emotions, more space for whatever task is at hand, more room in your head for quiet, instead of the crowded thoughts that usually live there.
In fact, if you might even choose to reflect on your experience right now, ask yourself:
- Is my breath shallow?
- Is my jaw clenched?
- Is my brow furrowed?
- Is my mind frazzled?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes” then you might need one deep breath.
Let’s do it together.
Go ahead and close your eyes.
Sit up tall.
Take a big, full deep inhale in through your nose. Allow your rib cage to expand.
Exhale that breath out of your mouth with a sigh.
Repeat as needed.
How do you feel now? A little clearer? Hopefully a touch more peaceful. The longer you sit and breathe, the more space you create.
In hard times, we often reach for solutions. We want to change something, solve problems, and make plans. If 2020 has shown us anything, it’s shown us that there are some things that we simply can’t control. But at Nebo we’ve always taught that the only thing you really can control is yourself. And, if you look within, you might discover that the most essential tool you have is your ability to breathe.
To breathe alone. Or to breathe together, even while apart.
A conscious breath is a simple solution, but a powerful one.
It’s just one deep breath.
If you’d like to talk to Nebo about bringing mindfulness, resilience or wellbeing workshops to your organization, please contact us.