"You Westerners. You're so one-dimensional. You don't even know how to breathe!"
So said Lous, my Indonesian mentor, when I whined about a grueling day at my job in Barcelona. That's me above, up to my eyeballs in a must-do-right-now-where-do-I begin? situation.
Life can sweep us into stress pretty easily: We have five deadlines to meet, get stuck in traffic, see news about the latest shooting in our neighborhood, receive a call letting us know that a dear friend has just been diagnosed with cancer, suddenly remember that we were the one who was supposed to buy groceries and fix supper tonight... And all of this can happen in the span of a few minutes. What to do?
Breath is our most basic survival tool. Ironically, it's often the first thing to go when things get crazy. Lous knew that was true about me, so she sat me down that afternoon and initiated me into Real Breathing 101. Somewhat to my surprise, I learned it quickly. I was delighted that it worked almost instantly and cost nothing. Since then I've used it gazillions of times myself and taught it to hundreds of CEOs, other coaches and therapists, athletes and artists, military personnel, harried parents and hassled managers. I'll pass on Lous' teaching to you.
In OASIS in the Overwhelm 60-Second Strategies, I offer three variations. Today I'll begin with the Emergency 3-B-C. It's the Three-Breath-Countdown you can use immediately when something smacks you hard and you feel your stress signals beginning to flare.
Here's how to do it:
Rest both hands on your belly... Bring your attention to your breath... Send it out... Let your lips be soft... Purse them open a tiny bit to let the air come out... Very gradually, let all the breath out... Your worries can exit with your exhale... Hear your breath going out... Let your hands feel your belly go in. This is the long exhale.
Now you're ready for the inhale.
Keep your hands on your belly... Close your lips gently. Let the air come in through your nostrils... softly... gently... no need to pull it in... Nature abhors a vacuum, so your belly will fill up on its own... Just allow room for the air to come in... easily... Let it come all the way down... Feel it pushing your hands out as your belly expands. That's the full inhale. You've got it. Just keep it going.
Breathe out and in two more times, slowly, deliberately... Take time to reach easy emptiness on the exhale and spacious fullness on the inhale. Let the breath do its things. It's been doing it for centuries. Your body is simply one of its latest vehicles.
That's it. You've just done the Emergency 3-B-C.
Ask yourself: "What is different in my body and in my mind from one minute ago?"
Notice any shifts with curiosity rather than with judgment.
When is a good time to use the Emergency 3-B-C?
Any time you feel those alarms beginning to ring -- for you or for someone else. My colleague Karin Joy Whitley used it when she heard the news that her dear friend had a huge mass growing in her abdomen. Read how Karin used the Emergency 3-B-C first for herself, and then gave this "Gift of Calmness" to her friend.
In a future blog, I will give more examples of when to use it, how to use it. Meantime, a few practical tips:
1. You can use 3-B-C on I-95. Just keep one hand on the wheel and put the other on your belly.
2. If you are really pressured and think you don't have time for a 3-B-C, do a 1-B-C. It can work wonders.
As my mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "You can't stop the waves. But you can learn to surf."
Do a dress rehearsal now. Move yourself from craziness to calm in an instant. Give it a shot.