• Bob Ewing

#39: A quick way to calm your mind


One Idea. One Challenge. Once a Week.


“In a calm sea, everyone is a pilot.”

~ English Proverb



We spent Tuesday night sleeping under Nevill’s Arch.


My friends Jeff and Price joined me in disappearing deep inside Owl Creek Canyon. We relaxed among the silent and stunning sandstone cliffs. We saw no other people for two days.


I recommend everyone make time to unplug in nature.


Of course, carving out large blocks on our calendar is difficult. But even the busiest people can find a few minutes during stressful days to recharge and prime their minds for success.


By priming I mean putting ourselves into a mental state we desire. Especially to prepare for a challenging task.


For public speakers, the goal may be calming an anxious mind.


Thankfully there is a simple technique for this. It’s free. It’s easy to learn. And diverse cultures worldwide have been doing it for several thousand years.


Slow breathing.


Specifically, taking about six seconds for each inhale. And the same for each exhale. It can be done in silence. Or while singing, reciting, or chanting.


To get a feel for the pacing, listen to the call and response of Buddhist monks in their classic mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. Slowly inhale to the deep baritone and exhale with the chorus.


Or consider Kundalini Yoga’s Sa Ta Na Ma chant. Or Jainism’s Om Shri Gurave Namaha.


Remarkably, six-second breathing rituals have been developed independently by Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jainists, and Taoists -- as well as tribes throughout Africa, the Americas, Hawaii, and Japan.


I think of my mom’s ancestors in Slovakia, gathered together praying the rosary to Ave Maria. Listen to the Catholic prayer for a moment in its original Latin. Notice that same calming rhythm: six second cycles.


The beloved monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers this poem to recite with slow breathing and smiling:


Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is a wonderful moment.

We all understand that emotions affect our body. When we are stressed, our muscles can tighten to the point of causing knots.


The reverse is equally true: our body affects our emotions.


Slow breathing -- called resonant breathing today because it syncs our heart rate to our breath -- is a “stress reset button” that releases happy juices into our brains: the feel-good hormones serotonin and oxytocin.


Scientific American explains that resonant breathing:


has a special power over the mind. . . . calmness pervades the body: the heart rate slows and becomes regular; blood pressure decreases; muscles relax. . . . the brain . . . too, relaxes, increasing feelings of peacefulness. . . . [The] stabilization of the heartbeat can dampen anxiety powerfully.

James Nester writes in his bestselling book Breath that “there is no more essential technique, and none more basic.”


Venture capitalist Scott Amyx speaks to crowds of thousands. He always does a quick session of resonant breathing before stepping on stage: “I’m able to manage my anxiety and turn that nervous energy into a powerful presentation.”


To practice resonant breathing, follow along to one of the links above. Or simply do this:


  • RELAX. Sit comfortable and straight. Exhale.

  • INHALE. Slow & soft for about six seconds. Use your nose if you can. Fill your lungs from the bottom, so your belly expands first instead of your chest.

  • EXHALE. Without pausing, exhale softly (through nose or mouth) for the same time: about six seconds. Bring your belly in as you empty your lungs.

  • REPEAT. Without pausing, continue the process.


That’s it!


Each breath cycle should feel like a circle. You’ll have about five circles per minute.


Perhaps the easiest way to get started is with The Breathing App. Designed in part by musical icon Moby, it gives visual and audio guides to help learn. The app is free on iTunes and Google Play.


Every day, we can prime our minds. And with enough practice, before every speech we can walk on stage calm and focused.


***


IDEA

Resonant breathing is a timeless and universal path to a calm mind.


CHALLENGE

Download The Breathing App. Try resonant breathing for five minutes.


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Cheers,

Bob



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