The 12 Second Meditation: Mindful Breathing for Stress Management & Performance
© 2015, Robert H Lee, firstname.lastname@example.org
The author is a published researcher in the field of physiology, and has worked as an advisor to many life science companies. He has a BS in biochemistry from Yale University, a JD/MBA from UC Berkeley, and was a research fellow in Law, Science & Technology at Stanford University. He has also worked as an instructor for Performance Freediving.
Assumption of Risk
While you should not find the breathing activities described in this document to be strenuous, you hereby assume all risks by participating in these activities. The physical activities described in Chapter 5 are only examples, and in no way are prescribed for the reader. You should use your own judgment in selecting and engaging in such activities. Purchase of the digital product, available at https://gum.co/iuVY, is limited to a one-person license associated with the email address stamped on the cover of this document.
This Document Makes No Health or Medical Claims
Breathing is fundamental to life. We can do without food for weeks, water for days, but air for only minutes. In pranayama yoga, the term “prana” (Sanksrit: प्राण) literally means “life force”. In a sense, breath is life.
When we observe breathing, in ourselves and in others, we have a window into the emotional and cognitive states of a person. And by being mindful of our breathing, that is, by changing its quality and its rhythm, we can also powerfully affect those emotional and cognitive states. There is a specific scientific reason why breathing gives us both information and control over ourselves in a way that no other physiological function does. It is a subject we will explore in depth.
When you are stressed or anxious, you are told to “take a deep breath”. This is great advice. In these pages, you will learn why this advice works. You will also learn the how, as in how to affect your breathing for the better, and be able to take that generic advice many levels deeper. You will be able to use your new found breathing skills in a way that will help you cope with stress, be more focused, unlock your creativity and even to find meaning and purpose. And you can achieve these benefits by doing just one extended breath, about 12 seconds. You will begin to think of mindful breathing as a newly found super power.
It certainly has been mine. I have studied that act of breathing, as a scientist and as an athlete, for many years. And while there have been times when I have not been particularly diligent about exercise or eating right, I have remained in remarkable health. I have never missed a day of school or work due to illness. I can only attribute this good fortune to the core breathing constitution I acquired at a young age, and later developed further through the sport of breath-hold freediving. I have had minor illnesses such as the cold or the flu, I’ve even had pneumonia, but none of these has ever made me weak enough to need to spend the day in bed. Also, my weight and body composition have remained unchanged since high school.
The sport of freediving has allowed me to study and experience the intricacies of breathing on a granular level. After years of participating in and teaching the sport, I began to explore ways in which I could apply my breathing knowledge gained through freediving to other aspects of life. And this is what I am sharing with you today.
Being mindful of your breathing, that is, by gaining awareness of your breathing and consciously attending to it, is profoundly useful in at least four ways. (1) Mindful breathing will allow you to relieve everyday stress. That is, by using mindful breathing as part of your daily routine, you will be able to reduce the amount of chronic, nagging stress that intrudes on your daily live. In much the way we are taught to exercise or take regular walks at work, mindful breathing will reduce this nagging stress. Within days, you will notice changes in your mood, and these changes should translate into increased, happiness, longevity, and health. (2) Mindful breathing will allow you to reduce event-triggered stress. If a particular event, such as an incident with an abrasive co-worker, gets your blood pressure up and triggers a “flight or fight” reflex, you can use the techniques contained her to immediately attend to and reduce this spike of stress, far more effectively than the standard “take a deep breath” advice.
(3) Mindful breathing will allow you more effectively execute an upcoming performance or. Similar to (2), an anticipated performance such as making a speech or an athletic competition can be a stress-inducing event. The anxiety that accompanies this will often impair performance. If you can attend to and control this anxiety, you will be able to perform better. (4) Mindful breathing also serves as a gateway to meditation and other arts that we think of as taking a lot of willpower and focus. Have you ever wanted to practice yoga, tai chi (qigong), or any other mind-body art that seems difficult to learn, perhaps because of the effort, perhaps because you don’t even know where to start? The breathing skills taught in these pages comprise the simplest and easiest meditation practice you will ever encounter. After just a few minutes you will have learned a satisfying and useful form of meditation. Think of mindful breathing as an opening to these other practices.
Finally, after you have learned all of the above, you can use your new breathing skills to try the art of breath-hold survival. This counts as #5, and is entirely optional. Learning to hold your breath for an extended period of time is in no way a necessary component of the art of effective breathing. And it is certainly not likely that you will ever need to escape a sinking ship or survive a 15 meter (50 foot) wave surfing wipeout by holding your breath for several minutes. But after the lessons taught here, you might find that you will want to try. Just as a yogi might want to demonstrate an impressive new pose, both as a challenge to self and to show off a little to friends, doing an improbably long breath hold is certainly an noticeable way of demonstrating breath mastery.