Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Don't forget to breathe

"Take a deep breath."

I give this advice all the time.  In my work as a speaker trainer/communications consultant, my clients come to me to learn how to improve their speaking abilities. If I had a magic wand to wave over them, transforming them on the spot into genius orators, I would pull it out! But I don't, so I start with the magic I know: I start with the breath. Breath is the engine for all speech: you simply cannot produce vocal sound without it.

And breath is, of course, a necessity to – life itself! If we don’t breathe we die. But we forget. When we are stressed, we make matters worse by “holding our breath" – or we take quick, shallow panic breaths when we should do exactly the opposite.  The professional term for this is “getting in our own way.”  And it takes some people months, even years of practice to stop “trying” so hard to “do or “make” and just “be.” Be in the moment. Be aware. Be the breath.

Even Google recognizes that breathing is important! They have a Zen master at the Googleplex who teaches engineers how to breathe and practice mindfulness. Two Sundays ago on her radio show Interfaith Voices, Maureen Fiedler interviewed Chade-Meng Tan. He is a member of  Google’s Talent Team, and author of  Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). Tan’s course on mindfulness is one of the most popular classes Google offers its employees. His practices derive from Buddhism, but he has found that "The practice of calming the mind by focusing on breath is universal." He defines mindfulness as ''Just being present – without judgment."

Maureen Fieldler asked if this was hard for such high-achievers. Tan replied  "mindfulness is simple, but not easy . . . Googlers are already good at concentration & motivation . . . but they are very much in their heads and need to bring attention to the body. Sometimes their achievement drive interferes with the meditative mind." 

It is hard for any of us high achievers to let go, and stop trying so hard to control things. But as wise men and women throughout the ages tell us again and again, and as even Google knows, we have to stop doing and just be. Breathe. And let life unfold before you. It just may surprise you!

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