I’ve been doing breathing exercises to manage my nerves my whole life. My mom started me early with a mantra of, “in with the good air…out with the bad air” most notably on first days of school, field trips, new after-school activities, or any other event that seemed to trigger my nervous stomach. That strategy did me well right into my career before interviews, new business pitches, and meetings where I just knew we were walking into a buzz saw. Now a-days, while my young daughter thankfully seems to have a stronger stomach than I did, I find myself repeating that to her as well just to calm her very active mind before bed. Of course, the formal (and original) name for a somewhat expanded version of this practice is meditation.
For me, meditation is hard. When you’re anxiety-prone and crazy-busy, it can seem like a grueling task – I often didn’t have time to go to the bathroom let alone sit peacefully and deep breathe for any number of minutes – but the experts pretty ubiquitously say it’s good for your brain among other things. Based on the fact that I’ve been trying to herd the cats in my brain my whole life, I feel pretty confident that they’re on to something. Perhaps the most annoying part of a guided meditation for me is when the instructor inevitably says in a super relaxed and flowing voice, “if any negative thoughts come into your mind, just observe them and come back to the present.” Ha! Really? Clearly they don’t experience a scene like spazzy-cats performing Cirque du Soleil with a collegiate marching band to accompany them that goes on in my head at any given moment. I mean, it’s total chaos in there.
Here’s what I offer in defense, some tangible and achievable beginner practice ideas if you can relate:
- Find 5 minutes to have a cup of coffee or tea in peace – no phone, no TV, no other inputs – just sip, smell, breathe and enjoy.
- Sit, close your eyes, and put your hands on your heart and count how many beats you feel, having a sense of gratitude for the gift of life.
- Use something like an iWatch or a simple alarm on your phone that reminds you to stop and breathe for just a minute every few hours throughout the day. It really works.
- Use a hot steamy shower as an opportunity to close your eyes, breathe deep and relax.
And if all else fails, just go with breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth repeating, “in with the good air…out with the bad air.” I know my mom would be proud.