Yielding to the Breath With Your Whole Body

Check your breathing in this moment. As you inhale or exhale what parts of your torso move with the breath, and what parts remains still? Does it feel like your muscles, and ribs yield to an incoming breath, or resist it? When you exhale do you relax? How long does it take to complete a full breath?

If you’re practiced in breathing you’ll be able to take a breath that almost instantly calms, refocuses, and energizes you. While it’s true that even unpracticed people can interrupt angry states by simply taking a breath, breathing practice develops a more profound capacity to shift states and attention.

From meditative arts to martial arts, singing, and athletic performance – breathing enhances performance. Looking at the sheer variety of techniques these arts employ you might wonder if there’s any “right way” to breathe?

For nearly half a century I’ve practiced techniques from a wide variety of disciplines, and I now prefer to teach the gentle Taoist methods that produce profound responses quickly.

We dwell in the realm between sky and earth. In the Chinese internal energy arts you’ll find practices designed to deepen our awareness or our human condition called the Marriage of Heaven and Earth. Their purpose is to draw in and integrate the sublime qualities above and below us.

Imagine that, like a tree, your roots extend deeply into the earth while your leaves draw in the heavenly energy of our star, the Sun. And imagine as you inhale, your rib cage and torso make more and more room for the sky inside your belly and chest. You do this by becoming soft and yielding to the breath, so there is no place in you that cannot accommodate and melt to an inspiration of breath.

On your exhale, continue to relax. Become still and alert, so the next breath enters an even more receptive body. If you stay in the moment each incoming breath will feel new and fresh with each inhale. You feel innocent.

If you learn how to integrate not only your torso but your limbs, hands, and feet into your breath you’ll breathe with your whole body.

The A.L.I.V.E. system that Michele teaches Dan will get you started on whole body breathing. In an upcoming post my friend and colleague Anat Baniel will also teach you how to make your body responsive to a complete breath.

Here are some audio instructions that will help you yield to the breath:

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Please share your experiences with the breathing audio in the comments section.


CHAPTER 14 – Work Place Stress: Can You Breathe in This Joint?

Dragons At Work Work Place StressDan’s wardrobe reflected his preference for simplicity and comfort. He could reach into his closet in the dark and pull out a shirt and chinos which almost always matched. He often chose his clothes this way to keep the closet light from waking Janice. Today’s blind selection paired a light blue polo shirt with khakis. His brown Italian loafers could be mistaken as a nod to style, but for Dan, they were simply the most comfortable shoes he owned. When they inevitably wore out, Janice replaced them with an identical pair purchased through an online discount retailer. In Silicon Valley, where pricy wristwatches conveyed wealth or taste, Dan’s $19.00 Casio made a different kind of statement. It answered the question: “What time is it?”

10:00 a.m. on Monday. As Michele and Dan settled into their swivel chairs in the Thoreau room, Dan asked, “What do we do today, Coach?”

“We’ll explore the use of feedback in our coaching. Without third party observations, you and I would only be guessing which changes in your leadership style may matter most to the people around you. So the next step is for me to interview your boss, your peers, and your direct reports.”

“Sounds scary,” he said.

“Compared to what?”

“Blissful ignorance,” he said.

“Ah, yes, the choice many of us prefer.”

“Explain how this works,” he said.

“You and I decide whose feedback would be useful,” said Michele. “We generate a list of about a dozen people who have worked with you closely. Then, I interview them, compile the data, and together we work with the report I generate.”

Dan took a deep breath and let it out with an audible sigh.

“What are your reservations?”

“You’re in for an earful from them, Michele. I hope they talk about my results, not just my shortcomings in the niceties of management.”

“You may be surprised at what we’ll get,” said Michele. “Whatever comes back, will be helpful. If you genuinely respond to people’s concerns, it can have a tremendous positive effect. This is not charm school. The interviews can reveal where precise changes will yield more effective leadership.”

“I think I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Dan.

“Spoken like a true empiricist,” said Michele. “The interviews also encourage people to be invested in your change process and more willing to participate in it. Often people are oblivious to changes in their coworkers. The interview process will sensitize your peers, direct reports, and superiors to the positive changes you make. Rather than avoid difficult people, include everyone who can make a difference for you.”

They compiled a list of thirteen key players: Dan’s boss, three senior executives, four peers, and five direct reports.

“If we have any luck with scheduling, I’ll have the report written in two weeks, three at the outside,” she said. “Meanwhile, there are other things we can work on, including stress reduction. By the way, did you like the breathing and ease of movement practices I showed you the other day?”

“I felt relaxed as you walked me through it, and I was able to recapture some of the feeling listening to the recording you made for me.”

“Excellent! You tried it on your own,” she said.

“I listened to the breathing instructions on my way home after our last session. By the time I got home I actually felt less stressed. I even listened to your recording in bed, and I think it helped me get to sleep. Then I just forgot about it. I haven’t done it since.”

“You don’t need to practice a lot. Still, if that little bit I showed you had an effect, it’s a good sign. We may move toward your health goals more quickly than I thought. Are you ready to learn your next skill?”

“I am ready,” he said.

“Let’s start with what you’ve learned so far. Show me your breathing.”

With his hands on his thighs, Dan began breathing into his belly. He coordinated the movement of his torso and the joints of his hands with the rhythm of his breath.

“Nicely done! Now, we’ll add the shoulders, elbows and wrists into the mix so every part of your body from the belly up will move with the breath. Breathing that way will increase your vitality significantly. This completes the first two skills of A-L-I-V-E – the “V” stands for vitality, and the “E” for ease. The next skills will change your experience exponentially. For now, let’s stay with the breathing.”

Michele demonstrated how to involve the upper torso, shoulders, arms, and wrists. By the end of the lesson Dan could move his body in synchrony with full, relaxed inhales and exhales.

She encouraged him to continue to relax and focus on his movement. “Let the breath move you,” she urged.

When they stopped, Dan reported he felt energized and relaxed.

“Good,” she said. “Most people only use the opening and closing of the joints at the start of each session to integrate their whole body into their breathing practice. But you can use it anytime to revitalize you. You’re picking this up very quickly. Were you an athlete?”

“I swam in high school and the first two years of college. Then I got too busy.”

“Maybe that’s where you developed a good sense of your body and how to breathe,” Michele said. “I think it’s helping you now. It’s best to practice with concentration in short sessions. The trick is not to turn this into an obligation. Let it be easy and enjoyable – something you can play with. Try it before and during meetings when you want your head clear.”

“Lucky me. Today I’m booked solid with opportunities to practice.”

Of the people in your network, whose feedback would you be most reluctant to hear? Do you avoid asking them for feedback? Me too! Give me a break. We’re all human. Leave comments.


Click here to read Chapter 15.


Dragons at Work
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