Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stop and Breathe

Stop. For just a moment, stop. Before you read any further, stop and take a breath.

Now take another one.

Now take a slightly deeper breath.

Ok, keep reading.

Regular readers of this blog will know the breath makes an appearance fairly frequently.  The first act we take as independent human beings is to breathe in (and usually start screaming), and the last act we take is to exhale. In between, we inhale and exhale billions of times.

So, if the breath is such a natural occurrence, and one that happens whether we think about it or not, why should we stop and notice? Why should we care?

The breath can serve two main functions besides simply bringing oxygen physically into our lungs. First, it can indicate how we are feeling and coping. Second, it can change our physiology and help us create more calm. And the best part about bringing awareness to the breath is that you can do it anywhere and anytime. Sitting at your desk slumped over a computer? Notice your breath. In a tense meeting? Notice your breath. Out walking on a beautiful spring afternoon? Notice your breath.

But this post is part of the series At The Desk because it is at a desk where so many of us spend so much of our time today. But no matter what we are wearing, who is around, or how much time we have, we can use the breath to tell us how we are doing and use it to calm us, release pain, and give us strength to move forward.

Practically speaking, here are some questions you can ask yourself about your breath at any time:

  • Is my breath deep or shallow?
  • Is the breath slow or quick?
  • Am I breathing into my shoulders? My lungs? My abdomen?
  • Is it easier to breathe in or out?
  • It is easier to breathe through my left or right nostril?

There is no right or wrong answers to these questions. It is just an opportunity to notice the breath, to notice the state of your greatest teacher. From there, you may notice that you are holding tension in one part of your body, or that your breath is shallow because you are stressed or worried. You may notice that you are breathing deeply and fully and loving life at that moment. The important thing is just to notice.

If you notice that the breath is shallow and quick, and you also have a worried and fast-paced mind, you can modify the breath to help bring you calm. The greatest part is that this practice is incredibly simple. In our hurried lives, it may be easy to relearn how to bring conscious awareness and modification to the breath, but it absolutely can be done . . . by anyone.

The steps are simple. Slow down. Breathe into the abdomen. Exhale fully. Repeat.

Even taking five conscious breaths will help calm the mind and body and bring focus back to your work or wherever you are. I encourage you to start with 5 deep, conscious breaths every other hour. Discover what works for you, and before you know it, you may be bringing conscious awareness to your breath throughout the day.

Do you take time for the breath during the day?


Stop and Breathe is part of the series At the Desk, which focuses on practical tips from the yoga world (and other interesting finds) to help those of us stuck at the desk all day long. If you are interested in other tips, click the label “At the Desk,” and if you have any specific questions you would like to see discussed, send them my way.

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved


  1. What do you think of Yoga BikRam? Is it more effective? I'm a beginner.

  2. For beginners, I think that Bikram yoga is probably not a good idea unless you already know your body incredibly well and know that you can withstand the heat and humidity. I have been practicing yoga for almost 10 years, and I have never taken a Bikram class, but that is because I know it would not be good for my body. I know some people love it. I personally believe it is unsafe for all people, but others certainly disagree with me, especially those who teach Bikram.