Working as a freelance stylist and art director in the high-pressure world of the film industry during my twenties and thirties, I was continually pushed to my physical and emotional limits. Shooting back-to-back TV commercials, I had to fulfil the demands of producers and directors on tight deadlines - remaining unruffled and even-tempered regardless of their extreme requests. To stay on top of my job, I learned two important survival techniques, which remain with me to this day – live in the moment and stop regularly to take slow, deep breaths.
Staying calm when you’re challenged is crucial to your well-being and vital to your health.
Your ability to breathe through an experience rather than resist it creates space for you to process things effectively. The simple act of focusing on your breath naturally calms your mind, body and emotions and expands your awareness. When you breathe slowly and deeply, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which reverses the stress response in your body. The simple act of taking deep breaths slows down your heart rate, stabilizes blood pressure, reduces anxiety and increases your overall energy levels. It’s an easy way to recharge your batteries and reboot your system.
By taking a few deep breaths and emptying your mind for a few minutes, you create an opportunity to get centred and stay grounded. It means you have a reference point or a place to come back to when your racing thoughts or taxing emotions push you off balance. Rather than over-thinking things, it gives you a chance to see things more clearly and be more perceptive. If you’re only half-present or stuck in your head, you can easily miss some of the significant things that life presents to you.
Among a variety of different meditation techniques, micro-meditation is one of the most practical solutions to staying fully present. It can be done for several seconds, or a few short minutes whenever you need to still your mind and consciously direct your focus. Following your breath, and becoming one with your breathing, brings you into the moment. Because it doesn’t require, closing your eyes or sitting in the lotus position, it is a mindfulness exercise that can be done at any time, in any place – even on the go.
Traditionally, Zen Buddhist monks make walking meditation an essential part of their daily practice. They aim to bring their mind and body together in harmony by combining breathing with their steps. It helps them remain mindful as they perform their daily tasks. Instead of analyzing and judging, it requires allowing and accepting – living each moment as it unfolds.
Active mindfulness practised regularly, acts as a gentle reminder that you weren’t born to work: You were born to live and enjoy a full life.
To breathe is to live: Breath is our link with life.
It’s important to savour life in the moment instead of rushing through it.
Being present allows you to connect more deeply with life and be nourished through the experience. To quote 92-year-old Zen master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh,
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.”
So the next time you feel anxious, stressed or depleted of energy, try following these three easy steps:
1. Take a deep breath in and exhale slowly. Repeat three times: Deep breath in – slow breath out.
2. Allow yourself to be fully present as you focus on the rise and fall of your breath.
3. Remind yourself you are not your thoughts and bring your attention to the centre of your being. Empty your mind and rest in the moment.
If thoughts emerge that are unsettling or distracting, simply let them go and bring your attention back to the centre of your being.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” Thich Nhat Hanh