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  • Donna Richards Muriel

Do You Own Your Breath?


When you own your breath nobody can steal your peace

-Author unknown


It’s easy to overlook breathing as a practice to regain your center of gravity and increase clarity. It’s too simple, too obvious, too “new age”. But, study after study points to conscious breathing as a way to regulate emotions and move our attention back into the pre-frontal cortex (executive functioning center) of our brain. It goes without saying that access to the part of the brain responsible for complex thinking, decision making and moderating social behavior is crucial as a leader, but when we’re hijacked emotionally we lose access to this part of the brain.


One practice we teach leaders is based on the “box breathing” technique taught to Navy Seals for reducing stress and staying calm.


I’ve practiced box breathing in three ways. My first go at it was when I initially learned the technique. I practiced it several times and then promptly forgot about it. My second approach came several months later when someone reminded me of the technique. I decided I would use the technique when I was in stressful situations to help me calm down and get focused quickly (just like the ad promised). The problem was that since I had no practice in using the technique, it was almost impossible for me to remember it in the heat of the moment. Most recently, I made a commitment to practice box breathing several times a day. I chose to do it while I was driving because it was a tangible way to remember. What I found was that because I was consistently practicing the technique, I slipped into it during more stressful situations. When that happened, it did work as promised, helping me to calm down and re-engage my pre-frontal cortex.


Here’s how it works:


Imagine a box with equal sides.

Starting on the lower-left corner and moving up, breathe in to the count of four,

Hold for a count of four across the top from left to the right,

Back down as you exhale to the count of four and

Hold at the bottom for a count of four as you move from the right corner back to the left.


Go around the square four times.


Pause Practice


Every time you sit down to watch, read or listen to any news outlet of any kind this week practice box breathing.


See what you notice.


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