Happiness At Work #123 ~ Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Take the next step…

This post collects together some different ideas about why pausing and making time for quietness and simply to breathe is essential to our happiness at work, along with some practical approaches and techniques for doing this.

When did you last think about your breathing?

For as long as we are alive, we are guaranteed to keep breathing whether we think about it much or not: no matter what we do or do not do, think or do not think, we will keep right on breathing. But just as with any other aspect related to our normal body function, most of us are likely to only really think about what is happening to us when we notice a problem or difficulty: we are out of breath or having to breathe extra hard or feel our breath racing away on us or need to stop and catch our breath or to get our breath back.

Perhaps normal breathing is a bit like the way we tend to think about silence and not talking, a kind of nothing, or, at best, a neutral state that is primarily inactive and passive. But, just as silence and not saying anything can be one of the most potent, active and consciously vital actions we can bring to our encounters and the people we engage with, so, too, can breathing be one of the most enlivening, empowering, sustaining, and rebalancing actions we can take.

Rather than an absence of action, our ability to be silent effectively and productively demands that we learn how to be skilled, alert and attentive listeners.

We also need to learn how to become expert at breathing.

And If we become more conscious, deliberate, flexible and skilled at breathing we will get from this to . . .

  •  …feel more confident and more truly ourselves;
  • …grow and continually renew our sense of capability and influence over the world we inhabit;
  • …quiet, calm and control feelings of anxiety, stress or terror in times of panic or unsureness;
  • …fire our inspiration into life and trust our unconscious minds to bring us the ideas and solutions we need;
  • …radiate an animated, dynamic and receptive presence and come across to people as bright, charismatic and attractive;
  • …and take us across a creative leap from our personal breathing practices into something more profound and collective that can affect the vibrations and creative possibilities of our encounters in groups.

Simply by becoming better at breathing opens up for us a myriad of fresh possibilities around us. If we practice even very simple breathing exercises over time, we will build a stronger, more resilient sense of confidence, ease and energy that can lead us to feel more intensely open, enlivened by and connected into the world and its people.

And better breathing not only makes us feel more alive and vital, it significantly adds to our overall and long-term health and well-being.

As the mainstream scientific community begins to assimilate the growing body of research that points to our ability to re-wire our brains, breath practices are emerging as one important methodological family from which we can draw in order to actively co-create ourselves and influence the flavour of our life experience.  So breathe, breathe, breathe!  Whether it’s a slow change in a habitual thinking pattern or an ecstatic experience of divine union that you are seeking, the breath can take you there.  (Rev. James Reho)

As well as the articles that follow, you can also find practical ways to develop your breathing awareness and expertsie in our toolkit: Six Ways Of Breathing, which link breathing practice to:

  • Breathing to Feel More Alive, Whole & Connected ~ Everyday Breathing Exercises
  • Breathing for Renewal ~ Exercises for Taking Time Out to Breathe
  • Breathing for Recovery ~ Building Resilience and Regaining Balance
  • Breathing Ideas Into Life ~ Exercises to Ignite New Ideas and Trust Unconscious Thinking
  • Breathing for Presence ~ Exercises to help Build Confidence and Presence
  • Breathing for Creative Collaborations ~ Exercises to Help Unleash and Harness your Creativity in Groups

10 Places To Find Time To Think

by Time Management Ninja

Once your day gets going, it never seems to stop.

Busyness. Interruptions. Noise.

You feel like you can’t get a moment to think, time to plan, or even a moment to collect your thoughts.

If only you could find a place to stop and think about your day.

Finding Time to Think

It’s just run, run, run… all day long.

In the hurried pace of your day, you find it difficult to stop and think.

Wouldn’t things be easier if you could stop for a moment to plan what you are doing? Prioritise your work? And even decide what you shouldn’t be doing?

With noise and interruptions in the workplace, it can be hard to get time to think. Even harder to find a place to get some peace and quiet.

You need to ask, “Where can I find a place to think?”

Even in the busiest environments there are locations to get away and plan for a few minutes.

Here are 10 Places to Find Time to Think:

  1. In Your Car – The next time you are driving in your car, try the following experiment: Turn off your radio. Put your cellphone out of reach. (You shouldn’t be using it in the car anyway.) Then, listen to the silence. I bet you won’t be able to drive more than a quarter of a mile before you start to hear the thoughts in your head.
  2. Before Everyone Wakes Up – OK, this is a time, not a place, but the early morning before the world gets up is a great time to think for yourself. Whether it is just you, or you are getting up before the morning kid chaos, find time for yourself before the day begins.
  3. In Your Office – If you are fortunate enough to have an office for your job, shut the door and get some planning done. (Yes, you can shut the door.) Then when you are done, you can open the door and re-engage your team.
  4. Go Outdoors – Going for a walk outside is a great way to get some peace. You don’t have to go deep into nature. (Although that can be great, too). Many workplaces have walking paths or simply sidewalks where you can go for a quick walk and recoup your thoughts.
  5. At the Coffee Shop – Personally, I am not the Starbucks type. However, many people find isolation in the public noise of coffee shops. Find a table in a secluded corner and get some work done. (Or bring the coffee shop to you with an app like Coffitivity.)
  6. In Your HeadphonesUse your headphones to create your own privacy. Shut out the noise. Play your favourite music. Even silent headphones can bring privacy and the expectation that you are not to be disturbed.
  7. In the Library – There is a reason why libraries have a “quiet rule.” Go there to find a silent place to think and plan. And if someone is making noise, you are justified in saying, “Shhhhh!”
  8. The Unused Conference Room – If your workplace has unused meeting space, make a meeting with yourself. Take advantage of empty meeting space to get work done.
  9. At Lunch – It’s nice to go out to lunch with the gang, but sometimes it’s helpful to book lunch with yourself.  Feed your body and your mind with a lunch date alone to think and plan the rest of your day or week.
  10. The Secret Place – Every workplace has one. The secret room, hidden nook, or unknown alcove that only a few people know. Find your own secret corner to hide away and get some quiet time

A Place for Your Thoughts

You can find a place to take the time to think about and plan your day.

Depending on your circumstances or work place, you might need to get creative. However, getting some “think time” for even a few minutes can boost your productivity in a big way.

Today, go find your quiet place and take time to gather your thoughts and ideas.

read the original article here

12 Totally Unexpected Ways to De-stress

by Aja Frost for The Muse

Have you ever heard exercise helps you de-stress? What about meditation or deep breathing? We don’t know about you, but we’re a little tired of being told the same de-stressing techniques over and over. So here you go: 12 relaxation suggestions that (we hope) you haven’t seen before.

  1. Go on: Drop an F-bomb or 10. Just not where your boss can hear.(Scientific American)
  2. Make a beeline to the office kitchen and sniff an apple. Not only will the scent ward off headaches, it can make you less stressed. (Eating Well)
  3. Massage your ears. No, seriously: The action releases endorphins! (Zen Habits)
  4. Start pacing. That’s what one super successful entrepreneur does when he’s deep in thought. (Tech Co.)
  5. If you’re at your computer, try shutting it down and working on a task that doesn’t involve a screen. (Psych Central)
  6. There are actually foods that calm you down. We suggest eating them.(NPR)
  7. Green is the new black! Turns out having a plant on your desk relaxes you.(Forbes)
  8. You might want to close your office door for this one, but listening to head-banging music and rocking out will help you release all that nervous energy.(Inc.)
  9. If you’ve got 20 minutes to spare, looking at fractals (like a picture of snowflakes or ocean waves) will make your brain happy. (Everyday Health)
  10. What have you accomplished today? Whether it’s big or small, tell yourself—out loud—what an awesome job you did. (Reader’s Digest)
  11. Blowing up a balloon forces you to practice deep breathing, so make a run to the drug store. Or just take a deep breath. (U.S. News & World Report)
  12. conceptualise stress as a good thing. It’s your body’s way of preparing your for a challenge. (The Muse)

read the original article here

Letting Your Mind Wander Can Make You More Productive

It’s estimated that we spend nearly 50 percent of our waking lives in a state of daydreaming.

For something we do so often, mind-wandering sure has a bad reputation. It’s often described as a mindless activity – one that makes us more lazy, unproductive and dissatisfied with our lives. A Harvard study even concluded, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

But why would we so readily spend half of our lives engaged in a fundamentally purposeless activity? The answer is that we don’t – a wealth of new research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that daydreaming is anything but purposeless.

In fact, these self-generated thoughts might make us more creative and productive, and may even bring meaning to our lives.

“We (and others) have been arguing that daydreaming serves a function — evolution would have not let so much metabolic energy go to waste,” Dr. Moshe Bar, cognitive neuroscientist and author of a new, surprising study on the subject, told The Huffington Post. “It helps us prepare for the future, plan, think about self and others, and generally engage in mental simulations that facilitate our interaction with the environment.”

But in addition to staving off boredom and giving us the opportunity to reflect, Bar’s research suggests that daydreaming might make us more productive at the task at hand – even as it offers us an opportunity to allow our minds to run wild.

Bar and his colleagues were able, for the first time, to induce mind-wandering in study participants… Participants reported daydreaming most when stimulation was focused on the frontal lobe of the brain. While daydreaming and control might seem antithetical – mind-wandering seems to involve a lack of attention, while executive function plays a role in regulating attention — the researchers hypothesised that there might be a connection between the two. Both brain regions are involved in organising and planning for the future, for example.

But the researchers made another, more surprising finding: Rather than distracting the participants from the task at hand, when researchers induced mind-wandering in the participants, it actually improved performance on the number-tracking task. Mind-wandering seems to enhance the participants’ cognitive ability, helping them to succeed at the task while also allowing them to enjoy some pleasurable mental diversions.

Bar suggested that this improvement is due to the fact that mind-wandering combines the thought-controlling activity of the executive network, and the thought-freeing activity of spontaneous daydreaming, which occurs across the brain’s broad default mode network. The activation of multiple brain regions during mind-wandering, Bar says, “may… contribute to the ability to stay successfully on-task while the mind goes off on its merry mental way.”

“What I think is cool about this study is that it’s possible that the stimulation simultaneously increased activation of working memory (allowing for greater focused attention) and increased mind-wandering,” psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who specialises in daydreaming and creativity but was not involved in this study, told The Huffington Post. “If true, this would suggest that attention and mind-wandering need not be at odds with each other and can even facilitate each other.”

As Kaufman suggested, the study points to a harmony between mind-wandering and mindful mental states, which we tend to think of as being at odds with each other. In fact, mind-wandering may not be defined by the inability to pay attention so much as the ability to draw attention inward – to our own thoughts, reflections and dreams.

read the original article

What Mindfulness and Daydreaming Have to Do with Getting Things Done

“You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing.” (David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.)

This podcast on productivity tips for the 21st century conditions we are now working in includes:

  • Why it’s increasingly important to find ways to keep your head clear and stay productive
  • The addictions that constant updates via smartphones are causing
  • The myth of multi-tasking (it doesn’t work when trying to be productive)
  • The 2 Minute Rule – any email you can answer in 2 minutes or less, you should reply to right away
  • How to focus on only what you are doing instead of being distracted by all your other to-dos
  • The importance of day dreaming after doing something productive
  • How to have a “mind like water” and how that helps you react properly to situations
  • The difference between having direction and having discipline

read the original article here

Making happiness count at the workplace

An organisation that proactively creates and spreads happiness at work is better off

adapted from an article by Carole SpiersBBC Guest-Broadcaster and CEO of a business management consultancy based in London.
March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, now celebrated throughout the world and confirmed as such by the UN in 2012. The day recognises that ‘happiness is a fundamental human goal’ and calls upon countries ‘to approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all people’.

Being happy at work is one of the keys to being truly happy in life as most people spend 20 to 30 years working, which is about 30 per cent of the average human lifespan.

There are, of course, many factors that impact professional happiness, including business relationships, professional development, work-life balance, environment and organisational culture. Obviously, you have no control over whether your employees are happy at home, but you do have some control as to how happy they are at work.

And if you don’t know if your employees are happy, then why not ask them? If your team is working in a positive atmosphere, this will be reflected in their performance levels, and while the additional cost to you is zero, gains can be substantial.

So let’s look at small actions that can make big differences:

Value and Appreciate

This is top of my list. Make sure that the company’s culture values its human resource and that employees don’t feel as if they are just an insignificant part of an impersonal system. Bosses and team leaders should tell their team that they are appreciated. A simple ‘thank you’ Post-It note left on someone’s computer will probably be kept for many years.

Celebrate

Strengths-based leadership is proven to bring huge increases in productivity, creativity, engagement, commitment, confidence and risk-taking.  Focus on what is already working especially well – successes and achievements – at least three and even five times as much as any negatives and performance weaknesses.  Celebrate team triumphs, employee of the month, as well as birthdays, births, etc. There are always reasons for a celebration … so why not share in someone else’s joy? And doing with this something special to eat helps to make it even more of a shared experience.

Quiet room

Sometimes people need to speak in confidence with someone else. A small room with comfortable chairs and a coffee table could provide this staff amenity.  But even more than this, a lovely space where it is legitimate and valued for people to go and ‘just think’ for a bit can add miracles to what people then go on to do.

Smiling co-workers

A smile costs nothing but has immense value. Any day seems to go better when you are surrounded by colleagues who smile and are willing to help you.  All emotions are contagious and spread from person to person – so you may as well increase the spread of happiness across your team.

Welcome

Care about people’s experience in activities you lead as much you care about the results they need to achieve.  Be a friendly host. Welcome visitors or staff members to your department with a smile. It is sometimes difficult to summon up the courage to go and see someone in a large department, but if each office had a list of names of people and their pictures on the wall outside, then this could encourage people to come in.

Getting to know you

You may have worked with your colleague for many years but I wonder if you know what they do when they go home? Once a month, individuals could give a talk, at lunchtime, about their favourite hobby or interest.

Brainstorming sessions

Set time aside each week to get your team together to have brainstorming sessions. You will be amazed by the mountain of ideas of hidden creativity, just waiting to be unleashed. Have a suggestion board where employees’ ideas would be considered and constructive feedback given. Appoint an ‘ideas champion’ to follow through accepted ideas.

Meet the Management

Maybe once a month, managers could attend a lunch arranged by different members of their team. One month it could be Asian style, another month Indian or Iranian, etc. Whoever is responsible for the meal could give a few minutes of presentation on their individual culture and the food that has been prepared.

A unique benefits package

This could include staff discounts or free gym membership, or free parking.

Flexible schedule/hours

Being able to leave the office by arrangement when you have personal business to take care of, is something that makes any company position, extra special.

In the current economic climate, many companies struggle to gain market share. Fortunately, leaders are beginning to realise that the smartest way to gain competitive advantage is through employee engagement — that means ensuring an environment where it is pleasurable to work.

read the original article here

3 Reasons Why Today’s Leader Needs Mindfulness Meditation

Marketing and business development expert, Deborah Holstein, highlights just three of the benefits of mindfulness for business…

Many people hear the term mindfulness meditation and instantly their eyes narrow with alarm or roll back into their heads. I think I can see the thought bubble over their head flashing “Yes, I know, I know…but I’m trying to build a career here! I don’t have the time!” Because in the busy life of today’s leader (or rising leader) there never seems to be enough time for anything, much less 15 minutes a day for mindfulness meditation. That’s a mistake.

If you do not practice mindfulness, you may be short shrifting your career because you are neglecting to develop critical skills you need to grow and thrive in your career — and in the rest of your life.

Here are 3 reasons why cultivating mindfulness through meditation is necessary for your success.

Mindfulness changes your brain – for the better

You may already be aware of the many health benefits of meditation: lower blood pressure, less inflammation, pain management, to name a few. You may not yet have heard that research has also shown that mindfulness meditation also benefits your brain.

In fact, with a regular meditation practice, the source of your “lizard brain” (the amygdala) actually begins to shrink. And as this primal region of your brain shrinks, the area of your brain associated with higher order thinking (the prefrontal cortex) — awareness, concentration and decision making — becomes thicker. These brain benefits were visible within just 8 weeks and correlate with the amount of time devoted to meditation.

Leaders need take on bigger and ever more complex business challenges, so you need every edge. Starting your regular mindfulness meditation practice now — whether you’re already an executive or plan to be one someday — is like money in bank because the brain benefits will be there when you need it.

Your stress hurts your team

A leader’s stress is contagious. Your team members who see you under stress – tired, frazzled and unfocused – will experience empathic stress responses including increased cortisol. And if you allow your stress to progress into full fledged burnout your team is far more likely to mirror your negative attitudes. This is especially dangerous in today’s open workspace environments because there isn’t an office door to shut to prevent your team from “catching” your stress or burnout.

For all leaders, a big portion of your day-to-day is about motivating and inspiring your team. You don’t want to increase your team’s stress or hurt their health or productivity so you need to be in control of your emotions and proactively managing your stress – all things that stem from a practice of mindful meditation.

Leaders need more soft skills

As a leader, your role – and your value to the organisation – changes from being the one “doing” the work, to being the one ensuring the “right” work gets done. And all the work gets done by and with other people. This means that as you rise in an organisation more and more of your success depends upon your ability to effectively communicate, motivate and mediate.

A mindfulness meditation practice teaches you to be present and more aware of the meta messages inherent in any interpersonal exchange. Truly listening to your team and colleagues and staying aware of their emotional responses — both expressed and not — will help you to most effectively adapt your communications and responses for the best result.

read the original article here

Work hard, work harder: How we’re screwing up the pursuit of happiness.

by GLAIN for The Executive Roundtable

Once upon a time, in a work galaxy far, far away, there was a mantra that companies used to use. It went like this: work hard, play hard. Over the past decade (or possibly more), the mantra has changed to work hard, work harder as companies move their focus from why they do what they do, to a single minded drive to make money and increase shareholder value. Sure, there are a few bright sparks on the horizon. A handful of companies are bringing back the drive for purpose – Zappos, G Adventures, Whole Foods to name a few – but they are overwhelmingly few and far between. In my observation, this quest for the almighty dollar is wreaking a boatload of misery into our work lives… and our homelives…

If you’re feeling like you’re in a never ending numbers grind at work, try changing the focus. Here are a few very simple ways I do this at The Executive Roundtable:

  1. I open our weekly team meetings asking people to share something great that happened to them the week before – personal or work related. Whatever makes you feel good.
  2. We celebrate progress… even when we’re behind on budget. We look at what we’ve accomplished.
  3. We take time to appreciate each other’s contributions by sharing peer feedback.
  4. I make a list of 5 of our members that I haven’t spoken to in a while and reach out to see how they’re doing and share a laugh.
  5. I get inspired by reading an inspiring book, watching a TED Talk or writing a blog post like this one that I think might help others.

As many of you head into the March Break week with your families, think about how you can bring more happiness and balance into your life by taking the emphasis off money and material objects and putting it onto the things that ultimately matter most: love, relationships and community.

read the original article here

Nine Steps To Work-Place Happiness

To achieve greater happiness at work, you don’t need your boss to stop calling you at night. You don’t need to make more money. You don’t need to follow your dream of being a sommelier, or running a B&B in the Cotswolds. The biggest obstacle to happiness is simply your belief that you’re the prisoner of circumstance, powerless before the things that happen to you. We create our own experience. Here are nine steps to happiness at work:

1. Avoid “good” and “bad” labels: When something bad happens, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, when you make an error, be aware of it without passing judgment. Do what you have to do, but don’t surrender your calmness and sense of peace.

2. Practice “extreme resilience: Extreme resilience is the ability to recover fast from adversity. You spend too much time in needless, fruitless self-recrimination and blaming others. You go on pointless guilt trips and make excuses that you know are fatuous. If you’re resilient, you recover and go on to do great things.

3. Let go of grudges: A key to being happy at work is to let go of grudges. Consciously drop the past. It’s hard, but with practice you will get the hang of it.

4. Don’t waste time being jealous: When you’re jealous you’re saying that the universe is limited and there’s not enough success in it for me. Instead, be happy, because whatever happened to him will happen to you in your current job or at another company.

5. Find passion in you, not in your job: Sure, you can fantasise about a dream job that pays you well and allows you to do some kind of social good, work with brilliant and likable colleagues and still be home in time for dinner. But be warned against searching for that perfect position, or even believing that it exists. Instead, change how you think about your current situation. For example, instead of thinking of yourself as a human resources manager at , identify yourself as someone who helps other bank employees provide for their families, take advantage of their benefits and save for the future.

6. Picture yourself 10 years ago and 10 years from now: Most problems that kept you awake ten years ago have disappeared. Much of what troubles you today will also vanish. Realising this truth will help you gain perspective.

7. Banish the “if/then” model of happiness: Many of us rely on a flawed “if/then” model for happiness. If we become CEO, then we’ll be happy. If we make a six-figure salary, then we’ll be happy. There is nothing that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy.

8. Invest in the process, not the outcome: Outcomes are totally beyond your control. You’ll set yourself up for disappointment if you focus too much on what you hope to achieve rather than how you plan to get there.

9. Think about other people: Even in Britain, where so much of work is every man for him or herself, it’s better to inhabit an centred universe. If the nice guy gets passed over for a promotion, he may still succeed in less tangible ways. He may rise later, and stronger. Challenge the assumption that you need to be a dog-eat-dog person to survive in a corporate environment.

read the original article here

Riding the Breath: Breath As A Spiritual Praxis

by The Rev. James Reho

Breathing is never really simple.  Our breath bears our emotional history and is a playing field for our flirtations with both Eros and Thanatos.  While our relationship with our breath is often barely conscious, the quality and form of our breathing enhances and communicates much about our emotional state.  As children, we hold our breath to get what we want; breath steels and expresses our will.  When we are frightened, we gasp for breath sharply with the upper chest; breath influences and expresses our anxiety level.  When we sleep, exercise, concentrate, make love, or meditate, our breath takes on again other patterns to support our activities…

Tradition as well as experience and research indicates that conscious work with the breath can help heal emotional and even physical pain and disease, and can vitalize our body/mind complex in ways that are so extraordinary that I hesitate to describe them… you simply wouldn’t be likely to believe me…

The words for “breath” and “spirit” in several scriptural languages are related:  ruach in Hebrew, ruh in Arabic, pneuma in Greek, and spiritus in Latin.  From this last, we have in English words like “inspire/inspiration” and “expire/expiration” that carry dual meanings relating both to breath and to spirit in various forms (creativity, vitality)…

Why breathe?

In the fifth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad (8th – 7th century BCE) the faculties of speech, hearing, seeing, thinking, and breathing have an argument concerning which of them is primary for the human person.  These bodily functions[xvii] ask Father Prajapati (the uber-person) which of them is the finest.  He answers that the one whose departure leaves the body in the worst case is the primary function.  Speech, hearing, seeing, and thinking each in their turn leave; upon their return, they all discover together that the body can still function, albeit with some deficit.  When breath determines to leave, however, all the other faculties find they are dragged along with it; indeed, breath is the most important of these.

Aside from its obvious necessity for physical life, the breath expresses and influences our emotional and mental states.   The various techniques of working with breath—from traditional pranayama and hesychastic breathing to more modern practices such as breathwalk[xviii] and holotropic breathwork—we can utilise this often-unconscious process to affect our lives physically, mentally, and energetically:

“Life is not under your control and the mind is not obedient, but there is something the mind does obey.  That is the rate of the breath…” [xix]

Yoga and the Transformational Power of Prānāyāma

Prānāyāma, the control of the breath (really, of the life essence which is carried upon the breath) is one of the eight traditional limbs of yoga.  There are hundreds of methods of prānāyāma, devised to enhance very particular aspects of one’s being and/or address very particular weaknesses in the physical, emotional, intellectual, or psychological being of the yogi.  Practitioners claim that directing the breath in particular ways can build and enhance cross-hemispheric functionality of the brain as well as optimise the function of glandular systems and mental and physical performance…

Mastery of various forms of prānāyāma is an endeavour requiring years of practice and study.  One learns to exercise precise control over inhalation (puraka), exhalation (rechaka), and breath retention (kumbhaka): through building stamina and extremely sensitive muscular control, one can “move” the breath with precision into various areas of the lung, retain the breath for extended periods with fine control over air pressure, and also finely tune the nature, rate, and form of the exhalation, creating a nearly infinite array of possible breath patterns.

The benefits and effects of prānāyāma are nearly unbelievable to those who have not experienced them. Directing the breath into various bodily energy centres can bring about experiences of expanded consciousness or incredible bliss; slow alternate nostril breathing can calm and balance the mind and emotional self; and strong, mouth-based prānāyāma such as is done in breathwork can open levels of experience and consciousness typically thought accessible only through hallucinogens or years in a snowy cave in the Himalayas or upon Mt. Athos.  Sound interesting?  Here are some starting points to begin gathering your own data on the power of breath…

Getting Started: Jumping into the Experience of Breath 

Here then are three entry-level prānāyāma exercises that can give you a first taste of what is eventually possible through the control of breath.  I am a certified yoga instructor, but am not a healthcare professional: please check in with your doctor or healthcare professional before beginning any of these practices, and if you become dizzy or ill… stop and rest.

Deergha Swasam (Three-part Yogic Breath):

Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, either cross-legged on a cushion (making sure knees are lower than the hips) or in a chair with feet on the floor.  Rest the hands in the lap.  Eyes are closed. Begin by inhaling slowly through the nose into the diaphragm/abdomen.  Once the abdomen is full, allow more breath to come into the chest, expanding it forward and outward (i.e., both the front and sides of the chest expand).  Finally, bring in even more breath so that the collarbones slightly rise.  Let this long inhalation be smooth and gentle-but-firm.  Now exhale the same way: let the air come out from the collarbones, from the thoracic cavity, and finally from the abdominal cavity.  Fully empty the lungs by bringing the navel in toward the spine.  Repeat for ten minutes.

This breath builds lung capacity in a pleasant way (there are really tough prānāyāmas that do so in a less-than-pleasant way!).  Our typical, unconscious breaths usually involve inhaling about 500 cubic centimeters of air; through a full deergha swasam breath, you will inhale (and expel) about 3000 cubic centerimeters of air.  Six times the air means offers six times the oxygen.  Aside from fuller oxygenation and removal of toxins, deergha swasam helps steady the emotional state and create a peaceful, alert focus of the mind.

Kapalabhati (Skull-shining Breath, or Breath of Fire):

Sit as above.  Here you focus on the exhale, which is sharp and brought about by quickly “snapping” the navel in toward the spine.  The inhalation will occur naturally as the abdomen relaxes.  Build this up so that you can accomplish two or three cycles per second.  Both exhalation and inhalation occur through the nose.  This breath can be practiced with arms raised to the side at 60 degrees, elbows straight, palms up.  Bring the focus of the closed eyes to the point between the eyebrows.  Practice for three minutes, then inhale and hold the breath.  Finally, exhale and rest for two minutes with hands sweeping down at the sides and coming to rest in the lap.  Let the breath return to normal.

According to practitioners of kundalini yoga, this breath builds the aura and cleanses the blood and the lungs.  It invigorates the whole body and is great to do as part of your wake-up routine.  Although in the early stages of learning this breath we focus our energy and concentration on the exhale, there should be a balance between the exhalation and inhalation so that you do not become breathless.

Nadi Sodhana (alternate nostril breathing):

Nadi sodhana is really a family of prānāyāma techniques that focus upon balance and opening of the nadis, energetic channels that are said to exist in the subtle (pranic) body.

To perform nadi sodhana, sit again as outlined above.  Allow the left hand to rest on the left thigh or lap.  The right hand forms a two-pronged pincer, with the index and middle fingers bent into the palm.  The extended thumb forms one end of the pincer and the ring finger and pinky, kept together as one finger, form the other.  Take a few preparatory deergha swasam breaths, and then after an inhalation, use the thumb to close off the right nostril.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Now use the ring finger-plus-pinky to close off the left nostril and remove the thumb to allow the exhalation to pass through the right nostril.  Inhale.  Now again block the right nostril and open the left.  Exhale and inhale.  Continue, gradually working to lengthen the inhalations and exhalations.  Once you are comfortable, you can work on having the exhalations last for twice as long as the inhalations.  To complete a cycle (let’s say, ten minutes to start), let the right hand return to the lap and the breath return to normal after an exhalation through the right nostril.

This nadi sodhana practice calms the mind and the heart and balances the hemispheres of the brain.  It builds strength in the lungs as well, especially when one pauses to retain the inhaled breath and then pauses again when the lungs are fully evacuated as part of the practice.  Yoga teaches that we alternate which nostril is dominant roughly every 90 minutes (experiment with this; you’ll see it’s about right), corresponding to our natural “switching” between hemispheric brain dominance.  Through the practice of nadi sodhana, we simultaneously active both hemispheres of the brain, bringing both balance and deeper connectivity between the hemispheres.

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Happiness At Work #123

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