I know many of us have been watching or hearing about Derek Jeter's last few games in Major League Baseball. During his last home game, when he hit the single that drove a winning run home, one of the announcers said, "When everything speeds up, Derek Jeter slows down." Hearing this, I paused and thought to myself, "Now that is a key to success."
For most of us, when life gets busy, the kids are screaming, we have a work deadline or someone we love is sick, our minds start racing. There are so many demands on us that we don't have enough time to come up with immediate solutions to our problems. Life is moving quickly, and we jump right on that fast-moving train. The problem is that speeding up in our minds when life around us is busy and chaotic can cause a lot of stress, worry and anxiety. Sometimes we stop sleeping, and it's actually emotionally and physically harder to get everything done. Our thoughts take too much of our energy, while our bodies do not receive enough. We start making mistakes, dropping the ball as it were.
So how can we slow down when life speeds up and take the Derek Jeter approach to life? One of the easiest, most available tools that we always have at our fingertips is our breath.
Our thoughts and emotions are closely linked to our breath. Our thoughts and emotions often control the way that we breathe and, in turn, the way we breathe often affects how we think. So when life speeds up and so many things are happening around us, we tend to focus on inhaling and breathing at a faster pace, and our breath becomes more shallow. Our speech speeds up or becomes unclear. We never seem to be able to get our point across clearly and concisely. This can lead us even further into feelings of stress, worry and anxiety. Also, even when we think we are breathing normally, our breath may actually be reaching only the upper region of our lungs, from which point the breath goes primarily to our heads. When our energy is all in our head, our thoughts take control of our body. We become consumed with our thoughts and lack awareness of our body or our intuitions. When we generate too many thoughts, we can become overwhelmed when emotions arise. Overthinking, we lose our focus.
Awareness of our breath, on the other hand, creates space in our minds and expands our sense of time. When we become aware of our breath, it is easier to pause and take long, deep breaths. Even one deep breath in the midst of chaos and a busy schedule can provide us with enough space and time to ask, "How do I want to react to this situation?" If you are able to take a few deep breaths, you may be able to prevent a knee-jerk reaction and calm your body down. With practice, the breath can become a safe haven that we can rely on in everyday life as well as in very stressful situations. As we become more aware of the rhythm of breath and slow it down, whatever is overactive in the body or mind calms down. Our thoughts and emotions align with the slower rhythm of the breath and we can relax more in response to whatever we face. As the breath slows down and grows softer and steadier, instead of depleting our energy we are able to nourish our mind and body with a peace and tranquility. In a more relaxed state, the outer world no longer controls our every thought and emotion. We are able to find more of a balance and act more clearly and effectively.
The truth is I have no idea what Derek Jeter has done the last 20 years to maintain his composure and attitude, a stance that has played such a large part in his success. Maybe it is his natural disposition, his upbringing, or MAYBE he is aware of his breath! Whether or not we're professional baseball players, most of us can use a little help every day staying calm and focused in whatever we may face with our children, work or even driving in traffic. Staying aware of the breath is a great way to try to balance our mind.
Try it. Maybe you'll find you are more Jeter-esque and get game winning results!
Photo: By Keith Allison (Flickr: Derek Jeter) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons