Stephen Comments On The Relaxed Coach – The Relaxed Client

Dragons-At-Work-Author-Stephen-JosephsChapter 7 covers a lot of territory. Michele and Dan design their coaching relationship, select the important goals, and begin working to improve Dan’s health and vitality.

Michele and Dan agree that 1) the goals of coaching will be his goals, 2) Dan will be open to try new things if they seem promising, 3) he will speak up if he doesn’t like how the coaching is going.

Guided by a series of questions from Michele, Dan chooses to take advantage of Michele’s expertise in Qigong.

It may seem odd to some readers that Michele begins working with Dan’s body so early in the coaching relationship. For that matter, it may seem strange that she includes any attention to Dan’s physical experience at all. Many approach leadership as if it were an entirely cerebral activity, but as a martial arts master, Michele is aware of what a superbly functioning mind-body contributes to excellent performance. She is experienced enough to be surefooted in guiding Dan’s learning process.

She gives Dan a quick and compelling experience of relaxation that he can use at work. He’s interested in pursuing that skill, perhaps because his fear of dying has opened him to trying new things. There is nothing more bracing than an encounter with death. In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, Steve Jobs said,

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]

For those of you who are drawn to experience some of what Dan learns, I have provided an audio that guides you through a brief exercise in breathing and attention. I use this in the morning to smooth out and gather my energy and set my intention for the day. It’s best done lying on your back in bed.

Listen to audio: Introduction to Energizing the Lower Center

Listen to audio: Practice Energizing the Lower Center

For coaches who are drawn to use this A-L-I-V-E system in your work, I suggest you begin learning it by yourself. When you are experienced and confident enough, you’ll find it easy to incorporate it into your coaching. I will keep adding A-L-I-V-E instructions to the Dragons at Work website, so you can learn it along with Dan.

In his interview on this chapter, Bill Ryan gives us background on the method of opening and closing the joints that Michele uses. It comes from an ancient Chinese system of healing and martial arts that I began studying with Bill and his teacher, Bruce Frantzis, in 1992. Bruce’s system is vast, and I realized I needed private instruction to guide me. Bill did a great job of filling in the details. If you’re interested in private Skype sessions with him, I recommend you give it a try. Bruce Frantzis’s recent DVD home study courses are excellent, and I recommend them, as well.

Questions for Reflection:

Which brings more to you, you or your renown?
Which brings more to you, you or what you own?
And which would cost you more if it were gone?

Lao Tzu Witter Bynner translation

Tips:

For Executives: When you coach direct reports to develop them…

  1. Remember that you are their boss as well as someone who occasionally coaches them. Because of these overlapping roles, it is important that you are clear about the boundaries and scope of what’s included in coaching.
  2. Get agreements about the purpose and focus of the coaching.
  3. Agree on how you will both know when progress is achieved.
  4. Collaboratively define how you can both address and get the coaching back on track, if it deviates from what you’ve agreed to.

For Human Resource Executives: When you coach employees at any level of the organization…

  1. Same as above. Considering the many ways you support your organization, your overlapping role relationships can be quite complex. Clarity of boundaries, purpose, and process are essential.
  2. The clearer you are on the point above, the safer your employee/client will feel and the more successful your coaching will be.

For Coaches: In your coaching…

  1. Are there areas that may be specialties of yours or even natural gifts?
  2. Are you comfortable about offering these to clients where appropriate?
  3. Would you like these areas to be part of your brand (what you are known for)?
  4. If so, have you designed your marketing materials and interview processes to let clients know how you may uniquely serve their needs?

In the next week’s chapters Michele observes Dan at a meeting with his team. He gets irritated at a direct report and a pall falls over the meeting. We’ll see how Michele debriefs the meeting and coaches Dan.

Stay tuned.

PS – We’ll cover the 7 Powers Profile as the story unfolds.

Share/Bookmark

Bill Ryan’s Interview on Chapter 7



Dragons-at-work-chapter-7-Bill-RyanBill Ryan, co-director of Toward Harmony Tai Chi & Qigong in Northampton, Massachusetts, has been practicing, teaching and learning Chinese movement and healing arts for over thirty years. He specializes in the healing aspects of the arts. In addition to teaching, he has an active private practice seeing clients and using “qigong tuina bodywork” to help people regain their health. Tuina means push-pull, qigong means energy development.

SJ: In Chapter 7 of Dragons at Work, Michele teaches Dan about relaxation and ease. Bill, what are your thoughts about what Michele shows Dan?

BR: What’s most striking is that the coach (Michele) is actually giving Dan a method with which to relax. Too often we’re told, “Well, you should relax,” but the process of how we relax is not well understood, at least in our culture. In Chinese culture they’ve been studying the art of how to relax for many thousands of years and have developed those capacities to a very high degree.

SJ: How is she teaching Dan to relax?

BR: She’s primarily working with what we call “pulsing” the body. Pulsing is one of the most fundamental phenomena of life, right? Everything pulses, from the stars to amoebas, and we’re no different than everything else in nature. By directly influencing Dan’s hand to begin to stimulate and regain its natural pulsing capacities, that influences the whole body through the nervous system. The hands have a lot of nerves in them, so the signals or pulsing that you establish in the hands are translated back through the whole body through the nervous system, as well as through the fluids of the body. In qigong tuina the fluids of the body are considered to be key building blocks that influence our ability to relax and be healthy.

SJ: Could you say more about that?

BR: We often use young children as an example. We say, “Oh, if you learn to move in waves like a young child, you’ll move in a very relaxed way.” Or, “If you move fluidly like a natural athlete…” but most of us don’t have that experience. And we’ve forgotten what it was like to move like a child.

So Michele is giving her client (Dan) an opportunity to experience what fluid wave movement feels like in the body. Rather than a muscular contraction and holding it’s more of an effortless pulsation. The truth is, we knew this as children. We’re really reintroducing ease into the nervous system, and for that reason, it’s quite easy to assimilate. Given a choice, we adopt what feels natural and healthful.

SJ: How is that used in healing?

BR: Well, one of the things that happens to people, particularly in our culture where we sit a lot of the time or when we suffer from injuries, is that the body becomes stagnant or stiff and frozen in some way. The natural pulsations of the body are forgotten or diminished. So this practice gently stimulates the natural pulsing in the body. A central principle of Chinese medicine is: if you stimulate the body to regain its capacities to move naturally, both physically and energetically, then health follows. So Michele’s working with the joints of Dan’s fingers is a primary practice within our tradition of qigong tuina.

If you can get your hands and feet to pulse that way, and then join that with your breathing, all the body systems kick in. You’re then on your way towards health and relaxation again. The main focus, at this point, is getting him to relax, and she’s picked a wonderful place to start that process with him.

SJ: There are many breathing techniques and some of them are rather forceful. In my experience, the more forceful they are, the less they will help you relax. Michele wants Dan to use the experience of ease in his hand as a model of how it feels to take an effortless breath.

BR:Yes. One of the things the Chinese found is that if you want to relax, you move rhythmically, moderately, and continuously, so that you’re never holding the breath or anything else. Holding creates tension. As one my teacher’s teachers used to say, “You become what you practice.” For me, that says it all. If you practice tension, you’ll get tension. If you practice relaxation, you’ll get relaxation.

SJ: Another thing that she’s teaching him is not to go to extremes. He’s not inhaling or exhaling to his full capacity.

BR: Exactly. If you go all the way to the point of strain, you build tension into your system. Always stay within what we call the “70 percent” range of motion. This means that you’re fully engaged but never exerting past your point of comfort and ease. In this way, your capacity, your range of motion, naturally increases. It’s the opposite of “No pain, no gain,” and it brings home what we often hear in Chinese philosophy: “Less is more.”

SJ: The idea of pain in pursuit of gain is counter-productive for another reason. It’s inefficient.

BR: Exactly. If you go to that extreme position, you have to actually put in energy just to maintain it. Whereas, if you can create in a system a wave pattern that is in constant rhythmic motion, it just continues, efficiently and unimpeded. This natural pulsing capacity creates a soft and sustaining energy without strain. As we’ll see in a later chapter it can also generate tremendous power in the martial arts.

SJ: I’d like to talk about the work that you do with people. Once you’ve awakened this capacity in someone what else can you do with them that moves them to further heal or revitalize?

BR: Well, one of the things that you do with the pulsing… For example, where she started with just the hand, if you do that enough, then because of the way the fluids in the body are connected to each other, you’ll naturally start to cause the wrist to start to pulse; the elbow to start to pulse; to work back into the internal organs and gently massage and pulse them; to release places in the neck or shoulders or spine that have become bound because they just relax and start to let go.

So from the hand you can actually (if you’re a skilled practitioner) awaken every single other part of the body. And that’s something that from a health standpoint or healing standpoint can be extremely valuable in allowing you to gently wake up parts of the body that have become traumatized or just have stopped working because they’ve not been used enough.

SJ: I imagine that if someone has trouble in their shoulder or neck, that not going directly to the shoulder or neck is actually a better way to get that to release.

BR: It’s often the key, because this pulsing is also designed to stimulate what the Chinese call the “chi” of the body. The chi is just the energy that we wake up with everyday and say, “Oh, I have a lot of energy,” or “I don’t have much energy today.” But it’s this energy that gives the body the information on how to organize itself. And to be healthy your chi has to flow all the way through your whole system; all the way out through your hands, feet and head, and all the way back deep inside your organs, spine and brain.

So if you only work on the shoulder, but you don’t open up all the associated other areas and pathways of the body through a technique like pulsing (there are many other related techniques that you can use), then that spot will open for a while … but then it will close back down.

So this ability to get the whole body awakened and connected in order to allow one place to heal or to open is a very important principal in qigong exercise and qigong tuina. You go from the small to the big and the big to the small. You’re always going back and forth between the whole system and then the particular place.

SJ: I understand that you teach Dragon and Tiger qigong, and opening and closing is a part of that.

BR: In our tradition, Dragon & Tiger is our introductory qigong set that can help prepare one for learning pulsing and it’s a wonderful introduction to learning how to relax. In Dragon & Tiger we primarily teach a practice that we call bending and releasing. You can begin that process (anyone can) by just gently curling your fingers and then extending them a little bit, just curling and then extending. It stops shy of actually being able to get your mind’s feeling awareness inside your hand to directly open and close your finger joints but it’s a bit easier to start with.

A major practice within Dragon and Tiger qigong is to have the hands and the feet come alive. And that eventually enables you to open and close the joints yourself. In this chapter Michele works with Dan to get him started.

SJ: I understand it also moves energy along various energy lines or meridians in the body…

BR: Yes. As you bend and release your hands in this way (letting your hands flow in and out) you’re actually pulling energy in and out of your hands naturally. It’s happening all the time when you move that way. And as you do that you also move your hands in certain patterns across your body in your energetic field to stimulate the acupuncture meridians and other energy channels in the body. So through doing the seven movements of Dragon and Tiger, you can basically give yourself the equivalent of an acupuncture treatment in ten or fifteen minutes of exercise a day; or even as little as five minutes, if that’s all you have.

The nice thing about Dragon and Tiger as an introductory qigong set is that you learn all these important principles of movement and relaxation and continuity and rhythm; but you can learn it and do the movements really badly and still get great results. So you can be relaxed while you’re learning, because you don’t have to care about getting something really well from the start.

SJ: That’s great. Tai chi, in contrast, requires a lot of precision in getting the angles and the postures just right.

BR: Exactly. In tai chi there are a fair number of complex movements and if you don’t do them pretty well, you don’t get much of the benefit. My teacher is Bruce Frantzis and his company is called Energy Arts. After he learned this particular Dragon and Tiger set he said, “This is the best introductory qigong set I’ve ever found because it provides the largest immediate return on investment of time spent learning and practicing.”

SJ: You referred to “return on investment,” and Dan, the hero in our story, works in the business world. I know from your background that you also worked in that realm and that it was quite stressful. How can qigong help with the stress of the workplace?

BR: I initially worked as an environmental consultant to corporations and then after doing my graduate work at MIT I worked for a decade for environmental groups as a technical and legal expert. Throughout those years I was working seventy to eighty hours a week, just like many people do these days. I’d be dead, I think, today, if I hadn’t learned these practices.

When I first started taking classes to learn the practices, they used to call me the “man of steel.” And fellow students would beat on my shoulders to try to get me to let them go. At the beginning I wore shirts with 34-inch sleeves, but as I practiced and relaxed over the years (even while working those crazy hours) I got to the point where I had 38-inch sleeves…

SJ: Wow…(Laughing)

BR: …My shoulders had relaxed and dropped so much that I had to have custom-made shirts to wear with my suits. So even with the stressful workload, I learned to not only be relaxed but also to transform my body from one of being extremely tight to one of being very flexible. I started when I was twenty-six. I’m fifty-six now and I’m much more flexible and have far greater capacities, even athletically, than I did when I was twenty-six. That’s a good thing to be able to say.

SJ: And you also used to be a swimmer, right?

BR: Swimmer, runner, and basketball player. I wasn’t a great athlete, but I was a good athlete. And when I got to be twenty-six, I found that I couldn’t improve at those sports. Then, when I found tai chi and eventually qigong, I discovered Oh, I can just keep getting better at this. And that’s continued throughout the thirty years. Every day when I get up and practice, I know that I can do it better than I did the day before. My body is more relaxed, more comfortable. It hasn’t allowed me to become an immortal. Something will get me eventually, but I’m in far better shape than I was all those years ago when I started.

SJ: That’s an amazing thing to be able to say; that thirty years later you actually have better range of motion and more fluidity in your body than you did when you were twenty-six.

BR: Oh, far more, far more. Like I said, I was very tight. But I’ve seen this happen with many people who practice these arts. Most of the people that I teach have come in injured in some way. And if they resonate with the arts, the practices of this particular approach to relaxation and health, you often see them transform themselves.

I have one client who had been partially paralyzed from a roofing accident. They told him he’d always be limited in what he could do, but somehow he got started in another qigong system and began to redevelop his capacities. Then he came to us and now you wouldn’t believe what he’s able to do. He looks like a totally functional human being and is in much better shape than most people who are fifty-five years old like he is now.

Of course, our system isn’t for everybody, but there are many tai chi and qigong systems out there. The key is you’ve got to find the system and the teachers that work really well for you.

SJ: So if people want to know more they can go to your website. Do you have Dragon and Tiger instructional material that people can use at home?

BR: From our website, TowardHarmony.com, you can link to my teacher, Bruce Frantzis’, website, EnergyArts.com. At EnergyArts.com Bruce sells a lot of home study materials. He has a good package on Dragon and Tiger qigong, as well as an excellent DVD on breathing. The Dragon & Tiger package includes the book, the DVD and a poster of the movements of Dragon and Tiger. It’s a great set of introductory materials to these practices.

SJ: Thanks, Bill. It’s great to get your insight from your many years of teaching people how to deeply relax and build their vitality.


Did you miss the previous chapter?

CHAPTER 7 – A Helping Hand

Drangons-At-Work-Chapter-7-A-Helping-HandArriving on time for their first meeting, he dived right in and told her the whole story – the love seat showdown, his trembling hands, shortness of breath, the emergency room, and the doctor’s warnings.

“Sounds like you had a bit of a scare,” said Michele.

“I did.”

“And that’s why you agreed to coaching?”

“Yes. Who said fear isn’t a great motivator?” he said.

“I can’t deny that it moves people,” Michele laughed.

“So, are you going to ask me to surrender my secret weapon – fear?”

Michele leaned forward, looked side to side and whispered, “I don’t think it’s that much of a secret, Dan.”

“True enough,” he said, “but it works.”

“It certainly got you here. So, let’s talk about what you want to get from coaching. If our coaching were successful,” she continued, “what would be different for you at the end?”

“Everything would magically get done by itself; I’d be a senior vice president, and spend a lot of time by the ocean under palm trees, sipping drinks with little umbrellas in them.”

“Excellent,” she said. “What else?”

“I’d be fully in control of this project. I’d be healthier. And I’d have a life.”

“All worthwhile goals,” she said. “Choose one to work on first.”

“I’ll take health for $400.”

“Good choice. First, let’s talk about how we’ll approach any goal. Whatever you decide to work on must be your choice; it can’t be my prescription. If it starts to feel like I’m directing you, tell me immediately. I’ll help you brainstorm ideas and clarify your thinking. I will not withhold my opinions, but the goals have to be yours. Otherwise, coaching won’t work. Does that make sense?”

“It does,” he said.

“What are your health goals?” she asked.

“I’m overweight and my blood pressure and cholesterol are too high. My doctor says I’m a heart attack or a stroke waiting to happen…or diabetes. None of these are pleasant prospects. My doctor referred me to a nutritionist and a personal trainer. He thinks I can turn it around that way, and I’m willing to give it a go.”

“If you can do it, that’s the best way” said Michele. “You and I are meeting in a week, what do you want to have done by then?”

“I will have made appointments and seen them both. We’ll see how that goes. There’s a reason why I don’t look like a tri-athlete.”

“I think I can help you with your health goals,” she said. “More on that later. Next topic: Having a life, or control of your project?”

“Well,” said Dan, “I can’t really have a life until I get the project under control.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I’m totally committed to it. If it fails, I fail. And failure has never been an option for me. I will not let this project fail.”

“And you’ll do whatever it takes to make it succeed,” said Michele.

“Yes.”

“Good. I assume that includes experimenting with new ways of operating, if they seem worthwhile to you.”

“Provided they work,” he said.

“Often, you won’t know if they work until you put them into action. You don’t have to believe what I say at the outset. But I do need you to be empirical about our work. Otherwise, you won’t learn anything new and you won’t progress. Can I count on you to keep an open mind? Will you actively experiment?”

“Yeah, if the experiments seem reasonable,” said Dan.

“You sound skeptical.”

“Just wary.”

“You should be. You have a lot at stake. Will you tell me when you have misgivings, and that you’ll only try things you believe have a chance of working?”

“Agreed.”

“That’s all we need. Another thing: I read a lot about business, health, and psychology. Given your demanding project, I imagine you have little time to read.”

“You got that right,” said Dan.

“What I can do is give you brief summaries of current books and articles that I think pertain to you. New ideas may stimulate our thinking or offer direction for a course of action. But if you feel lectured at, let me know. I’m here to serve your needs, not to hold forth.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll let you know.”

“Also, I’d like you to take an assessment called the ‘7 Powers Profile.’ It will give us a comprehensive and detailed view into which of your capacities support your long term success and which ones need developing. You take it online. I’ll send you the link.”

“Finally,” she said, “I’ve studied the interconnection between the mind and the body. Because of your health concerns and because smoothing out your emotional responses could make you a much more effective leader, you would benefit from learning some simple mind-body techniques. Are you interested in exploring that, too?”

“Will I be chanting OM and sitting in strange, uncomfortable postures?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because that’s what my brother does, and I tease him mercilessly. The irony of doing it myself is a bit much.”

“All right. No chanting, no postures,” said Michele. “I’ll make a note of that.”

“I’m serious. I’m not into that stuff.”

“We don’t have to do any of it. You and I can stick to the business issues, and you can address your health concerns with the nutritionist and the personal trainer. Would you prefer that?”

Dan sat silently. “Michele, before I reject your offer, maybe I ought to know what I’m rejecting. What do you have in mind?”

“Just some things I learned from my grandfather. They’re ancient methods of relaxing.”

“Do they help with hypertension?”

“They do,” she said.

“As evidenced by what studies?”

“I could show you a stack of convincing published studies, but you don’t have time to read them. Besides, even if the studies conclude that these techniques work for 95% of its practitioners, we have no idea whether it will work for you, or whether you’d like it.”

“How can we test that?” Dan said.

“We experiment. You try it. If it works, you do more. If you don’t like it, we drop it. Given your initial objections, why don’t we save that for another time?”

“Actually, Michele, I’m curious now. What is this mysterious method your grandfather taught you?”

Michele looked at Dan. He seemed earnest enough, but she felt hesitant. Her breathing was shallow and her belly felt tight. Why should I have to prove to this ignorant skeptic what my grandfather and generations before him knew as invaluable truth? In China, students would beg for such teachings. She smiled at herself – at her own haughtiness and the cultural chasm between her and Dan. With an exhale, she dropped her resentment, relaxed her breathing, and refocused on Dan. Why not teach him? If he rejects it, I won’t have to mention it again. But if he takes to it, it would make our work together go much faster.

“The method comes from Chinese qigong (“chee gong”). It’s an exercise system which promotes health and vitality. It wakes up the body and makes you feel fully alive. In fact, the word “A-L-I-V-E” serves as an acronym to help remember the five building blocks of the system. I’d teach them to you, one at a time. As you master each skill, we add the next one. Eventually they become second nature, and you have access to optimal performance states whenever you need them. Do you want to try the first skill?”

“Strangely enough, I do. I’m still curious.”

“Our first experiment entails helping you feel at ease in your body – the “E” in “ALIVE.” What’s the opposite of ease for you?

“Tension.”

“Right. Our aim is to reverse your hyper-tension, your dis-ease. Ever watched a baby learn to walk? They fall hundreds of times, often in awkward positions that would send an adult to the hospital. Part of the reason babies fall without getting hurt is their relaxed state and their flexible joints. As we age, the elasticity of our joints diminishes. We’ll start by working with the joints of your hands to restore their ease of motion. Let me demonstrate something,” she said, standing up.

“This is the opening move of a tai chi form.”

Michele stood still and erect for a moment, arms at her sides. Then, her entire body sank in an unbroken motion as she bent at the knees, raising her arms in front of her, and extending her palms facing out.

“When I extend my hand like this,” she said, “I open it slightly; the fingers spread a bit. But it’s not just the fingers that open. My wrist opens, too, as do my elbow, shoulder, spine, hips, knees, and ankles – all the way down to my feet. When my hand opens, my feet open. When I draw my hand back, like this, simultaneously all the joints begin to close in one fluid motion. Then I open them again.”

She repeated the movement, and while Dan couldn’t perceive the motion of individual joints, he did see her body expand in one posture and smoothly draw inward in the next.

“There’s a saying in the Tai Chi Classics,” she said, continuing her tai chi. “‘One part moves, all parts move. One part stops, all parts stop.’ I realize you don’t have time to learn tai chi, but you can bring some of that same ease into your body, by simply sitting in a chair and working with the joints of your hands.”

“Ready to try the armchair version?”

“O.K, but remember, no chanting.”

“No chanting,” she said.

Michele sat down facing him and instructed, “Hold up both of your hands like this.” She raised both hands to shoulder level, palms facing toward Dan, and opened and closed her fingers. Dan mirrored her movement.

“Is there one hand that feels stiffer than the other?” she said.

“This one,” he said, motioning with his right hand.

“Fine. We’ll work with your right hand.”

She removed her jacket, folded it, and set it on the table between them.

“Are you comfortable resting your right hand here on my jacket and letting me work with the joints of your fingers?” she asked.

“If not, there’s another way to do it.”

“Go ahead,” he said, extending his hand.

She placed his hand, palm up on her jacket.

“Just relax, and as I begin to work with your hand, see if you can feel the sensations of movement in the joints of your fingers.”

She held his ring finger at the nail between her thumb and index finger and began to slowly, gently pull the finger outward; then she guided it back to its original relaxed position.

“I could extend your joints farther, but I’m staying within 70% of their range of movement. That way, we’re not creating stress by overextending the joints.”

She worked each finger in turn, instructing him to simply relax and let her initiate the movement. “In that way,” she said, “you’ll experience what it’s like to move with minimum effort.”

It took five minutes to work all the fingers of his right hand.

“Now pick up both hands,” she said. “Open and close them. What do you notice?”

“Now the left hand is the stiff one,” he said, his eyes widening. “The right hand feels as if someone oiled every joint; the fingers are swimming in hydraulic fluid.”

“Excellent,” she said, gesturing for his left hand.

As she finished working with his left hand, she said, “That’s part of the first skill. It’s the ‘E’ in ALIVE which stands for ‘ease.’ Your entire body-mind will feel that kind of ease when you finish learning these skills.

“That sounds good,” he said.

“To start spreading the ease in your hands into your entire body, you coordinate the movement of your joints with the breath. Now, as I lengthen the joints of your fingers, expand your belly with each inhalation. When you exhale, relax your belly as I return your finger to a resting position. I’ve noticed that when you’re relaxed, you naturally breathe into your belly. Keep doing that.”

After a few breaths, Dan found it easier to synchronize his inhalations and exhalations with the movement of his fingers.

Letting go of his hand, Michele said, “Rest your hands on your thighs. Keep breathing while you gently open and close the joints of your fingers. Let the movement of your belly and hands feel easy. Now, rest for a few moments. How do you feel?”

“Good, actually.”

“You’re getting it, Dan, and you’re ready for the next skill, the “V” in ALIVE. It stands for the ‘Vitality’ that comes from engaging the entire torso as you breathe. Sit near the edge of your chair, with your spine straight. By the way,” she said,

“I can record the next instructions, so you can listen to them later.”

“Great, I’ll put them on my iPod.”

“Again, rest your hands on your thighs, and as you breathe, transfer the ease you feel in your hands to your belly. With each breath, let your hands and belly relax. It’s as though both the belly and hands yield to the incoming breath…” she said as he inhaled, “and relax and become still as you exhale. Continue like this, yielding on the inhale…and relaxing on the exhale.”

Dan settled into the cadence of Michele’s instructions as she guided him for another few minutes. Then she began teaching him the technique of breathing into the back.

“Place one hand on your belly and the other on your lower back. As you inhale, feel your belly expand into the front hand. On the next inhale, also breathe into your lower back. Both front and back expand on the inhale, although the movement in the back is smaller.”

After a few breaths she said, “Can you feel your lower back expand into your hand?

“Barely.”

“In the beginning, the motion is slight; later, it will increase. The key is to strengthen the motion through relaxation, not by forcing breath into the body. It’s the ‘ease,’ the yielding to the breath that increases your capacity.”

“When someone breathes fully,” she explained, “with each inhalation the whole torso feels like an inflating cylinder that expands to the front, back and sides. You feel bigger and taller on the inhale, and return to stillness on the exhale. It takes time and practice to build this capacity, and it looks like you’ve done enough for today. How do you feel?”

“Relaxed, but a little sleepy.”

“That’s because you’ve become aware enough of your body to realize you need rest.”

“I thought you weren’t going to ruin me,” he said.

“When you run as close to the edge as you do, you’re vulnerable to breakdown. And if you break down, no deadlines will get met,” she said.

“Except maybe the ultimate deadline,” said Dan.

“When you reach it, what will they write on your tombstone?”

“He died on time and under budget,” Dan said.

Michele laughed.

“And what’s the benefit of a life lived like that?” she asked.

“I actually live for more than that. I have a life with Janice, my wife and with Maggie, our daughter. But, I see precious little of them these days.”

“How are they with that?” she said.

“They don’t like it, but they’ve adapted.”

Lao Tsu, the ancient Taoist master, wrote a little about this,” she said.

Which means more to you,
You or your renown?
Which brings more to you,
You or what you own?
And which would cost you more
If it were gone?

Click here to listen to the poem:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

“Very cool. When did he live?” he said.

“2,500 years ago,” she said.

“Did he have a mortgage?”

Michele laughed.

“Then, how could he possibly understand?” said Dan.

“Lao Tzu was the keeper of the royal archives at a time when scholars were executed if they were found wanting in the performance of their duties. It’s not as though we invented stress.”

Dan held up his hands and opened and closed his fingers. He asked Michele how long they would feel so relaxed.

“They’ll still feel that way tonight,” she said, “maybe longer.”

“Amazing,” he said.

She promised to send an audio file of the breathing instructions, and advised that progress can be achieved more quickly with relaxed short sessions – nothing longer than five or ten minutes.

“I think I can restrain myself,” said Dan.

 Click here to read Chapter 8.

Click here to read Bill Ryan’s Interview on Chapter 7.

Readers: Leave comments! Can you find Vitality and Ease when you need to? How do you do it?

Dragons at Work
Available on Amazon
Paperback or Kindle Version