Every time I fly, I am struck by these instructions:
(is it me or does that child look like Sean Astin?)
This idea that we can’t help anyone if we can’t breathe ourselves is both true and completely counter to how we often behave.
Which brings me to my question.
How is your oxygen?
When you go through your day, helping those around you, trying to connect the dots and solve problems, are you breathing? Or are you holding your breath? Most leaders hold in their breath as they try to push their way through one crisis to another because their needs always seem less important than the needs of others.
If your job is to motivate, inspire and lead a group of people, and if you are trying to persuade those above you to follow a certain new or braver tack in your business, check in with yourself if you have enough oxygen. Most people who find themselves in these situations have little awareness of how they are breathing and most are either holding their breath (more often) or are breathless:
(I just had to get John Ritter in there somehow)
The key is to understand that when it comes to successful communication and persuasive speaking, one has to have enough oxygen in his/her body to calm the emotions, relax the throat and increase the resonance. All of these things will increase your presence, help those around you to calm down and actually hear what you have to say.
When we hold our breath (especially when we do it unconsciously) we create a tension in the room that can radiate a dissonance or mistrust among those we are trying to reach.
It has the impact of communicating anxiety and lack of confidence, even if we feel like we are very confident in what we are doing. It also has the impact of limiting our ability to think clearly. We know that breathing is capable of reducing stress, but it is also capable of calming our emotions.
You don’t, however, need to be a yogi to get the benefit of deep breathing. You just need to put in the practice of doing it in order to reap the benefit.
The more space you make for oxygen, the more space there is in the room. The more space in the room, the calmer and more open people tend to feel.
(Otherwise the conversation feels like this)
How do you breathe more deeply?
You might want to lie down on your back for this, as it could make you feel lightheaded at first.
- Take a deep breath into your belly. Try to imagine your breath going into your thighs and filling your hips and your legs. The deeper you can drive the in-breath, the greater the oxygenation of the blood.
- Imagine yourself expanding with each breath, getting bigger and more in focus, like a balloon filling with air.
- Relax your shoulders and your neck (you could have your head on a small pillow) and allow your body to relax into the floor.
This may sound like it doubles as a relaxation exercise:
(That’s because it is a relaxation exercise)
The obstacle to breathing more deeply is often tension and stress related. We allow our diaphragms to get stuck in a contracted position (defensive), which causes us to feel a higher level of stress, which then resonates that stress outwards when we speak.
Breathing or oxygenating your body can have the impact of releasing stress, relaxing your vocal chords and making you come across as more confident and relaxed.
The more space you have within you (i.e. breath) the more space people feel when you speak.
(well, maybe not that much space)
If you are leader of an organization, a team or even someone trying to facilitate a small discussion, your willingness to take the time to create the space within (getting oxygen in your blood and your lungs), will profoundly impact how people perceive you and how they feel about your presence.
But don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself. Before going into a difficult conversation or trying to give a challenging talk, take the time to breathe deeply and soften your body. You may be surprised how powerful your voice is and how impactful your presence can be.