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From breathless to breathing

By DJ Mitsch, MCC  June 16, 2020

“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is true success.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Email, text messaging and conversational apnea is spreading like wildfire. The truth is we are holding our breath before communicating with others and this is leading to reactive, highly charged conversations. This lack of breathing is exacerbating the body’s flight-fight mechanism and changes our brain’s neurochemistry. Cortisol and testosterone flow and we lose access to our prefrontal cortex—our “executive” brain—and make it less likely that we are our most creative self or will collaborate with others.

Creating shifts from old ways of working to new ways of working is one of the primary tools of a coach. Guiding someone from being breathless to breathing is a great example of a shift—awareness we are prompting daily in executive circles.

Consider these key words associated with being breathless – gasping, exhausted, panting, labored breathing, puffing, palpitating. See if you recognize these clues from the phrases you or others around you use every day:

“I’m overwhelmed.”

“I feel I am drinking from a fire hose!”

“THEY can’t keep up!”

“I’m toast, just d-o-n-e!”

Next consider key words associated with breathing – inhaling and exhaling naturally, easily, gently. At ease in any situation, flowing through the day. Ahhh. People in this state create a sense of safety for others and think more clearly before they respond or take on big tasks. Both are equally contagious in organizations. Decide which you want to be.

Male or female, it doesn’t matter; those who are driven, competitive and wired have a tendency to wear others out with frenetic energy and pay high costs in their own lives. Interesting that some leaders I have coached distinguish “personal and work lives” in conversation as if they have two distinct souls and domains. We have all done that at some point. Breathing gives us the ability to integrate fully as we connect our brains with our heart and gut centers. Connecting those three centers is a bit like making sure our car engines are fully operational. If something sputters, it typically signals a problem. The same is true for each of us. Bringing who we are more fully to each day, each experience, is often talked about, but rarely expressed. If we stay in our heads, breathing only as a necessity from the neck up, we lose dimension, creativity and access to our most complete contributions.

Some simple practices as antidotes for conversational apnea, presence and breathing:

  • Make eye contact with everyone you pass—no more head down, or avoidance
  • Make a game out of leaving your cell phone in your briefcase, handbag or car when you dine. Notice how many people are addicted to their devices.
  • When you speak to someone via phone, turn away from the computer screen.
  • When you begin to begin to feel stressed, notice the quality of your breathing—and check back in—take three really deep breaths and exhale those, stand up or move around and when you are seated again in front of your computer screen or in the conference room or meeting, set an intention to learn from others, experience joyful encounters, be your most creative contribution, or just to be here—NOW!
  • Every time the phone rings, you get or need to send an email or text, STOP and take a slow deep breathe. Make a fist with each of your hands by closing your fingers around your thumbs. Keep breathing and squeeze your thumbs firmly. This allows your breath to deepen and bring you to a state of centeredness, calm and focus. This one from my friend, Barbara Biziou—author of Joy of Ritual (

Try being the model for a fully integrated and highly functioning human, especially if you lead others. Doing so might be as simple as giving others the gift of your full attention… and that gift can only be given if you are awake and breathing. Watch how contagious you become with this one simple shift.

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat as needed.

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