So, you’ve got some anxiety about a big project. You feel nervous at a large conference. Your heart is beating as an intense meeting approaches. Wouldn’t it be great to feel calm and happy even in these understandably intense times? How do you find that moment of peace within a hectic world and a busy job? Lucky for you– it’s as simple as focusing on your breath. We’ll walk you through the scientific basis of mindful breathing and a simple process on how to try it.
The notion that breath is the answer to calming our minds was recently emphasized by evolutionary psychologist Robert Wright in a interview on NPR’s Fresh Air:
“I had written a book in 1994 about evolutionary psychology, and that had convinced me that human nature is just not optimal. I mean, we’re not designed by natural selection to always see the world clearly. We’re not designed by natural selection to be happy. And it turns out that meditation – and in particular, I’d say Buddhist meditation grounded in Buddhist philosophy – is very well-equipped to address that problem. In fact, at the heart of Buddhism is the claim that the reason we suffer and the reason we make other people suffer is that we don’t see the world clearly. So in a certain sense, thinking about how the brain evolved had led me to get a sense for the diagnosis of the human predicament. But then it turned out that Buddhism had actually diagnosed it long ago and come up with a prescription.”
That “prescription” is to reconnect with your body by focusing on one of its most basic needs: pumping oxygen through your lungs into your cells via your blood supply. It seems counterintuitive that paying attention to an automatic process of your body would help your thought; but, the scientific evidence points unequivocally towards the value of mindful breathing.
A recent study on military veterans struggling with PTSD found that “breathing‐based meditation intervention resulted in improvements on psychophysiological and symptom measures.” Since this website is dedicated to the effects of mindfulness on careers, I am so pleased to hear that research is specifically being conducted (and scientifically reproduced) on military careers which carry undeniable workplace risks. And yet, all jobs have stress. All people can benefit from breathing, which was made clear by another study which stated that, “respiration and emotion are tightly coupled processes.”
But how do you actually do it? If it’s that easy, then just tell me.
“I take care of my breath as if it were my tender little baby. I breathe in, and I let my in-breath proceed naturally. I rejoice in the fact that my breathing is there. Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out. I smile at my out-breath. This is how you can practice. You will get a great deal of joy out of it right away, and if you continue for a minute, you will see that your breathing is already different. After a minute of practicing breathing mindfully, without discrimination, the quality of your breathing improves. It becomes calmer and longer, and the gentleness and harmony generated by your breathing penetrates into your body and into your mental formations.”
Okay, but you’re still thinking about things (it’s okay), and you’re feeling like you’re not doing it well (you’re do fine). But don’t worry, Thich Nhat Hanh has you covered again:
“‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.’ It’s simple. When the in-breath is short, you take note of the fact that it is short. That’s all. You don’t need to judge. Just note very simply: my in-breath is short and I know that it is short. Do not try to make it longer. Let it be short. And when your in-breath is long, you simply say to yourself, ‘My in-breath is long.'”
It’s okay if your breathing feels shaky.
Try not to feel bad about yourself. Buddhists call this practice “non-judgment.” However you’re doing it, you’re doing it right– because you’re choosing to take care of yourself.
Remember that science is backing you up. Millions of people are using breathing techniques to keep calm at work. Instead of giving into the panic and pressure of an upcoming meeting, I use mindful breathing to lower my heart rate and calm my mind. All it takes is 30 seconds before the start of the meeting. I find that the outcome of a meeting is much more successful if I start the meeting in a healthy place.
Your next moment of relaxation is ready for you whenever and wherever you choose to take it.
So, what's your favorite trick to calm down at work? Have you tried breathing the techniques above? If so, what challenges did you face in quieting your mind?