“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
On average, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 breaths an hour, and 23,040 breaths a day.
Thousands of opportunities per day to focus on our breathing, if even for just a few minutes, but how often do we actually spend any time at all paying attention to the breath?
There are countless breath techniques out there that can be put into practice in our lives. We will be sharing a number of these techniques and strategies on this blog over the next few weeks. However, as a basic starting point, a great breath awareness practice that you can put into action right away is this:
The act of creating a longer exhale than inhale allows us to tap into a more relaxed state. It won’t necessarily take away anxiety or stress, but it can help to lessen the intensity of an anxious and stressed state in that moment. The purpose isn’t to completely eliminate anxiety and stress or emotions that may be negatively impacting us, but drawing more attention to the breath and consciously investing even 1-2 minutes into some type of breath work is a healthy practice for all of us.
At minimum, try this out at least once a day for the next week and note whether or not it has any impact at all on how you feel and/or think. Just 1-2 minutes! That’s all it takes.
A thing intended; an aim or plan.
The act or power of carefully thinking about, listening to, or watching someone or something.
Drawing more awareness to our habitual thought patterns allows us to become more familiar with how we operate in different environments throughout the day. Instead of randomly letting our day-to-day actions (and interactions) pass blindly before us or not being fully present in these moments, we can choose to act and think differently.
Gary Nicol and Karl Morris, authors of the book, The Lost Art of Putting, share a simple, yet profoundly important piece of advice when working with their clients and it has to do with intention and attention.
Although this is a golf book and most of the work that Gary and Karl do falls within the capacity of coaching golfers, there is much greater meaning attached to the advice that they offer that is applicable across a wide range of contexts, not just in golf, but in life.
Asking ourselves two simple, but important questions can create a new kind of momentum for us that can shift our thinking. The two questions are:
What is my intention?
Where will I place my attention?
Having a specific intention allows us to focus on what we want to happen. For example, my intention is to genuinely connect with my children today or my intention is to be more patient with my students. Whatever your intention is doesn’t matter, the most important thing is being specific with what this intention actually is.
The second question, “Where will I place my attention.”, is an important reminder to be present with our intention and wholeheartedly place our attention on what it is we set out to do. Being present requires us to tune into the sensations, feelings, thoughts, and words we use in the moment. If we set specific intentions and then let our minds wander and lose attention, our focus is shot and chances are very high that we will not succeed in meeting the intention we had set forth.
As Gary and Karl state on pg. 37 in their book:
“You will either have your attention on something useful to you, or you will allow your attention to drift off in the direction of something useless. Attention on something useful to the task you want to perform or useless to that task.”
Gary and Karl emphasize the need to become aware of where our attention is.
Whether you play golf or not, paying very close attention to where our actual attention is requires a great degree of presence and self-awareness. Two essential skills that can be developed with daily practice.
However, we must first begin by setting meaningful intentions in order to practice the art of paying attention more closely.
A great, go-to podcast that promotes deep learning about mindfulness is 10% Happier with Dan Harris. Dan's list of interviewees includes well-known meditation teachers, neuroscientists, psychologists, and mental health experts from around the world.
A recent Dan Harris interview with Frank Ostaseski, a Buddhist teacher, dives into the importance of creating space and time to reflect at the end of each day. Frank and his wife always ask each other 4 questions before they go to bed:
What or who inspired you today?
What a great way to train your brain to reflect on the outstanding and creative moments in our day. This question will keep you scanning for the exceptional moments in your day
What challenged you today?
Growth and learning requires us to be challenged and knocked out of our comfort zone if we are to deepen our understanding of the things that we need to focus on.
What surprised you today?
Looking at life through a different lens and identifying ‘wow’ moments or times that we were surprised keeps us on point and more aware of those moment-to-moment life experiences throughout the day.
What did you learn about love?
Love comes in many forms. Drawing awareness to these many forms expands our ability to learn something new about love every day.
Daily routines and rituals can and should look differently for each person. The most important things about developing a unique mindfulness practice that addresses your own personal needs is that you take the time to try different things out. See what sticks, analyze what you need to get rid of, and lastly, commit to creating a mindfulness practice that helps to cultivate habits that serve you well each and every day you are blessed to be on this earth. Why not give the above 4 questions a try for just one week. You never know the impact it may have on your life.
There are times that there is an unexplainable heaviness that can descend on us that leaves us feeling confused and unable to figure out why we are wrestling with such emotions. At a gut level, we can totally detect that we are off track and something needs fixing, but cannot figure out exactly what it is that needs to be worked on.
When something is feeling off, chances are high that we may be experiencing some form of being emotionally scrambled. The tendency can be that we just try to disregard these moments and fight through the confusion, but we don’t have to let this be our default setting when dealing with being emotionally scrambled.
Tara Brach, an American psychologist and proponent of Buddhist meditation, believes that a key strategy for dealing with difficult emotions is to, as she says, “Invite these emotions in to have tea with you”.
She clearly means that we need to sit with these emotions, in silence, and to genuinely reflect on them. The act of not pushing them away or ignoring them, can help us sort through our scrambled emotions in an effort to better understand them.
So, what can you do when you might be feeling ‘emotionally scrambled’?
Take 5, 10 or 15
It is so worth it to take 5, 10, or 15 minutes of complete solitude to reflect on the feelings you are having. Sitting with them or, as Tara Brach says, inviting them in to have tea with you, allows you to begin to separate and untangle these emotions so that you can better identify each one.
As these emotions are individually revealed, you can begin the process of prioritizing them in order of the impact they are having on you.
For example, during your 5, 10 or 15 minutes of reflection time, the emotions of frustration, anger, and jealousy might pop up for you. Now, you are in a perfect position to ask yourself these 3 questions:
Which of these three emotions stands out the most? Jealousy
Which of these emotions falls second and third on the list? Anger, Frustration
Chances are the the number one ranking emotion is what you need to get to the bottom of, so a final couple of questions you might reflect on are:
What is it within myself that is causing the jealousy I am experiencing?
What actions do I need to take in order to better understand myself and the steps needed to lessen the impact that jealousy is having on me?
Taking just 5, 10 or 15 minutes to reflect on our scrambled emotions is not only worth the effort and the time, we can also create actionable steps to better deal with these emotions and move forward in much more empowering ways. Better yet, take a few extra minutes to journal out some of these thoughts and the action steps you came up with. Journalling is an excellent way to hold yourself more accountable and to get things out of your head and on paper.
Emotional regulation requires us to put self-awareness into practice in our lives. Trying out the 5, 10 or 15-minute exercise is a great way to better regulate our emotions and learn from them rather than divert, deflect, or push them away.
How aligned were you today?
Imagine a time, either recently or in the past, when you were functioning and performing at your optimal best. Take a few minutes to reflect on this moment. As you reflect back on that time, what are the first thoughts that come to your mind? What exactly was it that you were doing? Was it an individual pursuit or were you surrounded by others? What time of day was it? What emotions were you experiencing at the time? How did it feel to be performing at such a high level? Where were you? What preparation may have gone into you being able to perform in this way?
As you think about these questions and sort through the answers that come to mind, you are tapping into some neurological hardwiring that allows you to re-experience what it felt like to be in that moment and recalling these events is a healthy exercise to remind us that it is moments such as this that we want to create with more consistency in our lives.
Performing at our best is not a chance happening. It is a direct result of connecting with our strengths and the specific states of mind or dispositions that allow us to thrive in ways that lead to more personal and professional satisfaction.
What words come to mind when you think of a specific time that you were functioning at your optimal best? Here are some words below that may resonate with you.
It’s important to align ourselves in a way that allows us to tap into our strengths and create the conditions that help us to experience more optimal states of performance. The challenge of aligning ourselves requires us to do a daily reflection of where we are at with accessing and putting into action our strengths. It’s imperative that we don’t let our strengths go to waste.
For example, let’s say your 3 words were Empathetic, Inspired, and Intentional. Reflective questions you might ask yourself at the end of the day are:
How empathetic was I today?
How inspired did I feel today?
How intentional were my actions today?
What do I need to do tomorrow in order to be more empathetic, more inspired, and more intentional?
Investing the time in identifying your 3-5 words that describe you when you are at your best and reflecting at the end of each day can be the constant reminder you need to stay on track in order to be the very best version of yourself possible. Keep at it!
Am I going to practice peace of go to war?
What a great question to consider as you go about your daily business. With certainty we can expect that on most days we will come up against struggles and obstacles when dealing with certain people who cross our path.
Our pre-programmed default setting can cause us to respond to these situations with much higher levels of stress and aggression that are often triggered by our autonomic nervous system. However, when building greater self-awareness of our habitual response patterns, we can choose to tap into the breath and literally breathe our way to a calmer state when being in these situations.
As the passage states, when things get edgy, we have the ability to ask ourselves this question, “Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?”
The question alone is not enough though as specific mindfulness strategies such as focused breath work can and will help us remain more present and calm in these edgy situations allowing us to choose to practice peace with more regularity, especially when stakes are high.
In a world plagued by spiking levels of depression, addiction, and other forms of mental illness, it is more important than ever to deepen the art or practicing peace with others rather than going to war with them.
BREATHE + GRATITUDE + INTENTION + ACTION
The alarm goes off snapping us out of a deep sleep. Groggily, we reach for our device in the darkness of the early morning only to hit snooze, trying to grasp on to any final minutes of sleep we can manage. It’s so incredibly easy to repeat this pattern of mindlessly hitting snooze and literally wasting away precious moments of the early morning.
Beginning each morning with specific rituals or routines allows us to start off each day with purpose and intention which will more often than not inspire us to be productive and take action on living our purpose, whatever that purpose may be.
Michael Gervais, a well-known American performance psychologist recommends beginning each day with a 90-second ritual that can help us begin the day with a specific focus and intention. It’s simple to think about but harder to put into practice. As soon as you open your eyes first thing in the morning, you go through 4 quick and easy steps:
Neila Steele & Andy Vasily