Why Leaders Need to Exhale – A Lot
I am curious about ways to help leaders with more effective performance and joyful living. As such, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to an area with a proven ability to impact both: the breath.
Did you know that your state of mind is a direct reflection of your breathing patterns? If you want to change your current experience, change your breath!
Think about a baby. A baby breathes from the abdomen. Long, slow exhalations, and inhalations that “just happen.” The baby’s breathing is relaxed. We all used to breathe in such a way. Somewhere in our early childhood, as our minds developed, we began to alter our breathing patterns; more breathing from the top of the lungs, with our mouths open. This type of breathing pattern promotes fear and anxiety. Breathing from the top of the lungs drives the sympathetic nervous system. We rush, feel hurried, have difficulty focusing, etc.
The good news is that there’s an easy fix. Simply notice how you breathe. Put your hand on your belly. If your lungs expand at the same time as your belly, chances are your breath is originating from the lungs. Change your breathing pattern to inhale from the nose, pulling the breath in through the belly and moving it up slowly through the lungs until it reaches the top. Release the breath taking an even longer time to do so than on the inhalation. When the lungs are fully emptied, be sure to notice the feeling just prior to the next inhalation.
I work with all my clients to educate and train them in effective breathing practices. Many have told me that this has changed their lives. They report better concentration, better rest, and better self-regulation. One client told me he lost 30 pounds and was able to stop blood pressure medication as a result of our work together!
Slowing down the breath is one of the most important areas in which leaders can be in control.
Although the external environment may be chaotic and pressured, the leader whose breathing pattern is “belly-oriented,” will retain calm and equanimity. This is the moment of choice; it’s like having your car in neutral—you can go fast, forward, or in reverse from neutral, depending on what the situation calls for. The same thing holds true for your leadership choices.
Breathing is a basic function of all living creatures. The fewer breaths we take, the more we will enjoy each moment. Some even say that this correlates with longevity!
For a deeper dive on the science of breath, I recommend an excellent book: Breath, by James Nestor.
Breathe deeply, lead well, and live long!