As marketers in the AEC industry, I don’t have to tell you that sometimes our jobs get stressful. The pressures of rapidly approaching deadlines and high stakes presentations can make us tense and overwhelmed. For me, my saving grace over the past few years has been unrolling my yoga mat and breathing through vigorous poses and transitions to find strength and a sense of calm. As a certified yoga instructor, I’ve led classes with my colleagues at PCL Construction, and I have seen firsthand how tension and anxieties melt right off our shoulders when taking a few moments to quiet the mind, come in to the present moment, and bring awareness to the breath.
There’s a reason we tell our kids to close their eyes, take a deep breath and count to ten when they get upset. Focused attention to our breathing immediately invites our bodies and minds to unwind and relax. While the popular perception of practicing yoga is balancing on one foot with your limbs wrapped in pretzel-like contortions, any yoga teacher will tell you that, more important than the twisting, turning, flexing, or stretching is the breath. Your breathing is the strongest tool at your ever-ready disposal to transform your feelings of anxiousness into peace and comfort, at the office, at home, or anywhere else. You don’t need to let your coworkers spot you in downward facing dog to benefit your work life with the practice of yoga – just breathe.
Next time you find yourself in the middle of the work day frazzled, stressed, and anticipating an approaching deadline, allow one to two minutes to center yourself, unwind, and return to a state of mind that encourages you to be productive and focused. Sitting at your desk, hands in your lap, make sure that both feet are grounded onto the floor, ankles under your knees, and sit up tall with a straight spine. Relax your shoulders away from your ears. If you feel comfortable, close your eyes. From here, take a big inhale through your nose to the count of three or four, then exhale through your nose to the same count. Feel your belly expand and the chest rise as you inhale, feel your shoulders loosen and chest fall as you exhale. Let your breath carry your mind through a half dozen or so cycles of inhales and exhales until you arrive in a more tranquil state, ready to take on your workflow. If you’re feeling a little stiff, you can bring some movement into the body starting with the arms down by your side (stand up tall if you prefer), then circle the arms out and up on your inhale until the hands meet overhead at the top of your breath. On your exhale, keep your palms connected and lower your hands to meet at your heart. Continue this motion with each inhale and exhale, or let your hands return to your lap when you’re ready.
Getting prepared to deliver a presentation may be a source of heightened anxiety you experience during the work day. For some, the fear of public speaking is more distressing than the fear of death. Rather than allow the dread of an impending presentation to run away with your confidence and serenity, use a breathing technique to dispel your anxiety. Again, sitting up tall in your chair, bring your left hand up so that you’re looking at your palm. Make peace fingers, and bring your peace fingers to your “third eye” (the space between your eyebrows). Use your thumb to plug your left nostril, and take a big inhale through your right nostril. Close your right nostril with your ring finger, remove your thumb from your left nostril, then exhale fully through your left nostril. Take a big inhale through the left side of your nose, then close off your left nostril with your thumb, lift your ring finger off your right nostril, and slowly exhale through the right side of your nose. Inhale through your right nostril before closing the nostril off with the ring finger and lifting the thumb off your left nostril to exhale through the left side of the nose. You see where I’m going with this – continue with this alternate nostril breathing, fully inhaling through one side of the nose, exhaling through the other side before closing the nostril off (ring finger for right nostril, thumb for left nostril) and switching to the other side of the nose. Just a few long, relaxing breaths will leave you feeling calmer and self-assured to deliver your presentation to the best of your ability.
Brief, focused attention to the breath is beneficial not only on an individual level, but also for group cohesion. Next time you find yourself leading a meeting – consider encouraging the group to take a few breaths together to create some shared energy and become centered. How familiar does this sound – you’ve just finished interviewing a colleague to craft a response to a proposal question, before rushing off to your 1 o’clock meeting. Another coworker just arrived in your meeting after fighting through afternoon traffic on the way back from lunch. The third meeting participant has been patiently waiting in the conference room for you both to arrive and has fallen into an iPhone trance while scrolling through social media. While you’re all physically together in the room – your minds could not be further apart. Bring the group together by telling everyone to close their eyes, exhale out all their air, and take a big inhale to the count of three. Once there – hold the breath for three seconds, then exhale to the count of three. Lead two to three cycles, and then tell the group to continue to breathe just like that on their own for a few more cycles while you breathe along with them. After a few more breaths, you can breathe naturally and sit quietly for a moment. From there, flutter the eyes open and notice how much more together you all feel with just a few simple breaths. This greater cohesion makes for a more focused and productive meeting, no caffeine required.
As a yogi, I know how transformative an hour on my yoga mat can be for my mind and body. While the balance, strength, and movement is important to yoga, the key element for positive change is dedicated awareness of the breath – which can be harnessed anywhere off the mat, whether in the car, at line at the grocery store, or sitting at your desk in the office. Bringing a few simple breathing techniques into the workplace can have a profound effect, not only for our own peace-of-mind and wellbeing, but to become more productive and to create cohesive energy with our colleagues. Wherever life challenges are thrown your way: on your yoga mat, at the office, or anyplace else, just remember the invaluable, transformative tool at your disposal – your breath.
– Michael Porter, Marketing Coordinator