Take a deep breath…
This day last week, right about this time, there was a room out in UCD’s Innovation Academy filled with nerves & excitement, anxiety & hope, uncertainty & trepidation. Over thirty people were sitting waiting to be filmed, waiting to deliver a speech to their peers, waiting to go out into the world as Post-Grads & start a new chapter in their lives.
At the best of times, this kind of situation gets our hearts pumping, our blood flowing & our minds racing. Butterflies flutter in tummies, our reactions get sharper & our nerves can start to get the better of us.
And then add in a wee delay. The AV set-up was taking a little longer than expected; extra time was on everyone’s hands. Toes started tapping, shoulders started migrating ever further upwards towards ears & nervous chatter started turning into long silences & stronger anxiety.
A classmate turned to me & without really thinking, said, God, I could do with some Yoga!
But of course! I’ve been in so many similar ‘tense, nervous, waiting’ situations. In fact, I’ve been in much more precarious & stress-inducing scenarios: like 45 minutes in an MRI with that horrid loud clackety-clack noise drilling through my racing mind, all while trying to lie still as a mouse; like sitting in an Oncologist’s waiting room, about to hear what stage my cancer was; sitting waiting much later on to hear if I had the “all-clear”. So I know well what had & still does help me - coming back to the breath.
Up I hopped, hoping my peers & friends in class would ‘indulge’ me - ‘how about we try some deep belly breathing together guys? We’re sitting waiting anyway, so we might as well use the time in a better way eh?’
So, together we began. We sat more upright & gently eased our lower backs more firmly into the back of our chairs; we spaced our feet & knees hip-distance apart, feet planted firmly & facing forward; we invited our bellies to soften & relax, our hands gently placed on our thighs, palms facing up, thumb & middle finger together; our shoulders relaxed, back of our necks long, chin slightly tucked towards the chest & then we gently closed our eyes.
We first tuned into our breath; how our breath was right there & then: was it fast or slow; deep or shallow; even or uneven? A mix of all those things? We did our best to breath in & out just through the nose. We began to let our minds just notice the breath, not seeking to control it, just allowing whatever was there to be there & do our best not to judge or control. We allowed the breath to become more even, more smooth, just our own unique natural rhythm.
Next, we started to guide the breath on the inhale more deeply into our bodies, not just by using our nose, our lungs but also our minds, our imaginations. With each inhale, we gradually deepened the breath so that we could feel & visualise the breath coming in through the nose, down past the throat, working its way down past the upper chest, mid-chest, the ribcage gently expanding up & out, down past the diaphragm til the peak of the inhale reached the belly, the belly also gently expanding.
And then, we guided the out-breath out the same way the in-breath had come in, no rush, no hurry. Picturing the exhale like a wave retreating from a beach, the out-breath receded the way the inhale had advanced; breath leaving the belly, the belly gently sinking down & in, up past the diaphragm, with the ribcage gently sinking down & in, up past the mid & upper chest, past the base of the throat & finally out through the nose.
We surrendered to the breath; letting the breath become deeper, longer, more rhythmic, smoother; allowing the breath to mimic the motion of waves coming in, waves going out, no discernible beginning or end, no hurry, no worry.
Together, we continued to breath in this way for a few minutes more. I observed faces around the room beginning to relax, tense frowns beginning to release, small smiles beginning to hover round the lips; shoulders began to ease down that little bit more with each & every breath; & postures seemed less rigid & ‘held’, seemed more at ease & ‘natural’.
At the end, this lovely, kind group of people indulged me a little further & allowed me to lead them in chanting ‘Om’ together three times. Chanting has a powerful relaxing effect on the mind & the novelty factor was a welcome distraction for some of the group not familiar with Yoga.
And by the time we finished our short Pranayama (Yogic breathing) practice together, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds on a rainy day, our AV issues were sorted & we were ready to begin our filming, hopefully all in a calmer & more refreshed frame of mind.
Remember the breath is always with you; a powerful, free & nourishing tool. One that you can call upon to help you no matter what the circumstances.
Try it today.