Just Breathe

Just Breathe

What becomes possible when you learn how to “just breathe”?

My first understanding that my breath wasn’t an automatic, mindless action came when I was just 12. I was a pretty typical kid but I was always asking to do lessons in activities that were, shall we say, unusual. Bagpipes, anyone? My mother saw things like ballet and music as more natural choices. But she let me do my thing graciously. It started me on the road to learning how to “just breathe”.

Meeting Mr. Yogi

A friend was doing a meditation class with her mother and they invited me along. I thought it sounded interesting. This was in the early-ish 1970s and the Beatles had introduced the world to transcendental meditation. Our teacher looked very much like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but of course it wouldn’t have been. The Maharishi had started working on some big plans and surely wasn’t teaching a small group of students in small town Ontario.

We gathered in a grade two classroom at a small elementary school. We sat in those school desks with the plastic seats and the curved arms. They were small for my friend and I and they were tiny for the adults. All of us oversized students, shifting uncomfortably, waiting for Mr. Yogi to share his secrets.

When All Else Fails, Just Breathe

He told us to focus on our breath, to breathe in and out quietly and listen to the sounds it made. He showed us how focusing on a sound, even the sound of our breath, could shift the busyness of our minds. How it would open a space for peace and calm. It was cool. For a couple of days and then I forgot all about it.

Just breathe_DeirdreWalsh

Just breathe_Deirdre Walsh

Flash forward 20 years to early yoga classes. Early-ish 1990s — yoga was only a little weird and was full of some really interesting characters. Our yoga teacher was Gita. She was, and always will be, the best. She taught Kriya yoga and we did a lot of poses, but we also did some chanting and breathwork. That part was weird. Weird, but peaceful.

Thankfully, breathwork isn’t weird anymore. Well, at least not that weird. Many people have discovered the spaciousness and peace that come from following your breath and letting your mind settle into the comfortable rhythm.

Waiting to Inhale

One of my favorite ways to connect with my breath is during that tiny little pause that comes when you’ve finished your exhale. It’s a tiny little place to rest for a fraction of a moment. When I’m sitting in waiting rooms or in muzik hold or waiting for inspiration I’ll start to slow my breath down and just hang out in that little space for as long as I can. It’s a micro-vacation for me.

There are many, many ways to do breathwork. It’s a practice that portable and mutable. It’s perfect for the lifelong students among us because there is always something to learn. For instance, most of us use the muscles of the upper part of our chest to breathe. We either were taught to breathe that way or it happened over time. This signals to our brains that we are stressed because that’s how we breathe when we feel we’re in danger. It adds an invisible layer of stress on top of the stuff you can see coming at you.

The Goods

Here are some good resources I recommend for learning how to breathe. Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple has a very straight-forward way of explaining things, but he breaks down the correct and incorrect patterns very well. Leo Babauta of Zen Habits describes beautifully the meanderings your mind will take you on when you start to focus on your breath. Jon Kabat-Zinn has a guided meditation here if you want company as you breathe.

Once you have a good handle on how to breathe, I offer you a wonderful practice from Christopher Germer on how to use your breath to soothe pain or difficult emotions. This is where you can begin to unlock all the genius that your breath holds. Happy breathing!


Soften, Allow, Love by Christopher Germer

Take three relaxing breaths.

Bring awareness to your body and the sensations or emotions occurring there in the present moment. Then find your breath in the heart region and begin to track each breath with mindful awareness. Just breathe for a few moments.

After a few minutes, release your attention to your breath and let your attention be drawn to the place in your body where your difficult emotion can be felt most strongly.


Soften into that location in your body. Let the muscles be soft without a requirement that they  be soft, like applying heat to sore muscles. You can say “soft . . .soft . . . soft” quietly to yourself if it enhances the process. Just breathe softness.


Allow the discomfort to be there. Abandon the wish for the feeling to disappear. Let the  discomfort come and go as it pleases, like a guest in your home. You can repeat “allow . . . allow . . . allow” if you wish. Just breathe allowing.


Now bring some love to yourself for discomfort in this way. Put your hand over your heart and  breathe. You can also direct love to the part of your body that is under stress. It may help to  think of your body as if it were the body of a beloved pet or child. You can repeat ”love . . . love . . . love”. Just breathe love.


“Soften, allow, and love”.  “Soften, allow, and love”.  Use these three words like a mantra, reminding yourself to incline with tenderness toward your discomfort. If you experience too much discomfort with an emotion, stay with your breath until you feel better.

Slowly open your eyes when you’re ready.

Posted by Deirdre Walsh

Photo:  Breathe_Mae Chevrette_CC2.0

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True Motivation

True Motivation


The world can be a busy, overwhelming, noisy pushy place. I don’t know about you, but it’s hard to tap into my true motivation to stay healthy and balanced. I’m always looking for a soothing oasis of calm and comfort to regain a sense of internal harmony. I do better when those oases involve breathing, tea and moments of mindfulness. These are the “good” habit that I need to make room for in my life.


But staying with these kinds of good habits is deceptively difficult. They seem to be put to the backburner when other people’s needs rise up. It was worth doing some digging to find out a way to help me stick to them. A straightforward method has been developed by BJ Fogg. His method depends on picking the “right seed” – a tiny behavior that is a gateway to a steady habit. Then you pick the “right spot” in your day – adding it just after something you’re already doing. Coaxing it to grow depends on motivation.


Fogg doesn’t really believe in motivation. He feels that if you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot. He claims that you don’t need to reach inside to find your true motivation. If you set it up right the new habits will flow like water.


This sounds good, but I’m betting we all have a trail of broken resolutions behind us. So we know instinctively that the story is more complex than this. There always comes a time when the effort of planning for this effortless moment is competing with something easier or more fun or soothing. The planning doesn’t happen and then the moment doesn’t happen.


True Motivation Rises up From Why


There are many times when we need the boost of true motivation to help us push through the hard or the inertia. We often think of motivational speakers or motivational quotes as being a great source for the push. It’s because they engage our emotions – they make us “feel” like we want to push through or “feel” shamed because we don’t want to. But Fogg is on to something when he cautions against waiting for this “feeling” to hit.


There are three kinds of true motivations that run deeper than waiting for the “feeling” to arrive and they are all based on knowing why you want to make the change. The most sustainable why is to feel good about what you’re doing.


  • It’s got to be meaningful to you – maybe to others too, but definitely to you
  • It’s got to be something you want to learn about and master
  • It’s got to feel good along the way


Be True to You


You can count on your motivation when you’re changing for yourself. You have to see, feel and taste how awesome your life will be when you get this thing handled.


Sometimes we think that making big changes will buy us something we don’t already have. Things like confidence, love, respect and self-worth. In this case you’re dancing with your anxiety. Look deeply into the goal to see if you’re being influenced by the people around you and your environment to think you want something different.


Don’t choose a goal that is popular with the cool kids only to achieve it and feel like you’ve just done it to fit in. Choose a goal that is aligned with how you want to feel in your days and your life.


Be a Student of Your Success


Your success will change your life and who you know yourself to be. The things you learn along the way will be transformational. The successes will teach you as much, if not more, than the failures. Grit is what will see you through.


If you’ve outsourced the mastery part of your goal you may reach an endpoint that you’re happy with but you won’t really know how to keep it. I think some of the weight loss programs create this result. You can follow the program and get the results but you won’t have discovered what your body really responds to. You’ll be dependent on someone else’s process for success. A deeper, more satisfying success comes from learning how to make the change for yourself.


Make Feeling Good the Goal


Danielle LaPorte is on to something here with her Desire Map. Her approach makes the assumption that it will be easier to put in the grit and hard work if the goal makes you feel good along the way. If you understand that your deepest desire is to feel more connected – to people and life – then it becomes clear that working two jobs to buy a bigger house isn’t going to get that done.


This is a deeper and more sustainable kind of “feeling”. I don’t think anyone ever wakes up at 5 am and “feels” like they want to put on their runners and head out the door. But the connection with nature that you get when the sun starts to rise on a fresh new day is a very motivating kind of feeling.


How do you stay motivated to make the kinds of changes you want to?

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