Breathwork is Mainstream, Managing Workplace Stress and Beyond

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In a park flanked by UN forces, giving licorice to children who survived the Schrebenitza Massacre.

In 2005, while covering a United Nations reconnaissance mission to post-genocide Kosovo, the work stress was unimaginable. There was a moment on this trip that elicited such a visceral response it made me sick. There was no place to go but inside. The only remedy available, was my breath. I accessed it.

Deep breathes that contained my anger, frustration and pain in a moment in which I had no choice but to listen. The only choice was self-mastery.

I found myself in a military headquarters building sitting across from a towering  six-foot-six soldier. There is no need to get into specifics to fuel pain and judgment. Through an interpreter he explained he had simply done to the enemy, what they had done to him and his family.

The deep breathing techniques I had learned from a number of mentors, yoga teachers and spiritual teachers over the years, allowed me to be a mindful witness to what was being said at this table, and helped me process the grief.

To me, the breath is the elixir of life. It’s most important tool that I use to manage stress in the work-life merge. It has gotten me through covering plane crashes and the events of 9/11. And it is certainly the technique  which is threaded through any of my stress management courses when I work with executives. And now… drum roll… it’s  gone mainstream. Even corporate.

The Breath Becomes Popular Mindful Mainstream Tool

The “breath” should be on a marquee in Times Square. It’s certainly making its way into every work stress and mindfulness article one reads as we head into the busiest time of the business calendar. (Yes, guilty as charged. Read my latest at The Daily Muse)

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Taking a Breath in the Work-Life Merge

Breathwork has become a popular topic of conversation as a key component of meditation practice, leading many a C-Suite giant these days toward being a more mindful leader. Deep breathing is scientifically known to trigger the relaxation response associated with reducing stress and helping with focus and concentration.

The attention on the breath is now bringing together top thought leaders, scientists, psychologists and practitioners at Omega, September 15th-20th.  At Breathwork Immersion: From Science to Samadi, they’ll share their knowledge with healthcare practitioners, yoga teachers and business people from across the globe, to discuss the latest research and techniques as it relates to health, meditation, stress reduction and personal transformation. The conference was based on the success of a tele-summit hosted by The Shift Network last January which brought in more than 6000 people from across the globe.

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Breathwork Immersion September 2013

Among those facilitating: Clinical psychologist Jack Kornfield, who has also trained as a Buddhist monk; Dan Siegel, MD,  a Harvard-trained physician and co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA; Stanislav Grof, MD, known for Holotropic Breathwork; Jim Morningstar PhD, Director of the School of Integrative Psychology; Jessica Dibb, Co-Director of the Global Professional Breathwork Alliance (GPBA).

I had an opportunity to do an e-mail interview with two of the facilitators, Jessica Dibb and Jim Morningstar on their thoughts about the significance of this event as it relates to reducing stress in the workplace.  I’ve included a few comments from both of them.

JUDY: We’ve been breathing a long time! Certainly it’s been a focus in yoga and meditation. Why the sudden mainstream interest in the breath?

JESSICA: Breath is life.  The very first and last thing we do in life is take a breath.  More and more medical, scientific articles and research reports are appearing saying that the origin of most illness, both physical and psychological, is lack of oxygenation of tissue.  People who work with the breath have always intuited that this was true, and they have experienced the benefits physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually.

JIM: The current upsurge of interest began in the 1970s and has steadily built with a variety of practitioners and disciplines. In the Global Professional Breathwork Alliance, we’ve taken a special interest in linking traditional breathing techniques with newly evolving medical practices and research, and in bringing this to the mainstream’s attention. The age of diversity in health and healing practices has arrived.

JUDY: Why has breathwork suddenly been thrust into the spotlight with regard to work stress?

JESSICA: Air is free. Learning how to monitor your breathing and regulate it is one of the most cost effective measures you could desire, and has been shown to give remarkable results with workplace stress and general attitude of employees.  It is something that they can do in any setting, at their desk, walking, or in a meeting to remain relaxed, alert and creative.

JIM: The healthcare costs of employers have skyrocketed such that cost effective ways of reducing stress have become critical to the wellbeing of employees as well as employers.

JUDY: Are you seeing breathwork being taught in the workplace, or more a part of meditation trainings?

JESSICA: Yes. Breath awareness, which is an essential element to mindfulness training is being used in so many workplaces. When employees are not stressed and can keep focused, then the savings to an organization are many.

JIM: Mindfulness and other breathing techniques are making steady inroads into corporate wellness programs. I’m involved in presenting such programs in the workplace.

JUDY: Many spiritual traditions use breathwork as part of practice. Can one really say there is any one proper way to do breathwork?

JESSICA: At this conference one of the things we will be articulating is that Breathwork is a field with an entire spectrum of practices.  There are reports from all breath practices of some kind of life-enhancement.  So it is time for us to understand the different practices, and what each one is most beneficial for,  learn how to guide people towards what they need and also give the public enough info for them to make informed choices. At one end of the spectrum are simple practices for relaxation and stress reduction.  At the other end of the spectrum, awareness of the breath is a timeless spiritual practice.

JIM: The reason so many techniques have survived is that they have served people at some time. Breathwork is highly adaptable to the needs of people from simple relaxation, to therapeutic healing interventions, to spiritual growth.

Jessica tells me the program is for anyone who wants to improve their health, but it’s a comprehensive immersion which also offers healthcare professionals 31 Continuing Education Credits for attending.

She adds that, “People will come away with astounding knowledge from physiology and neuroscience, to the mechanisms and power of the breath in health,  relationships, mind, consciousness, personal growth, and even the possibility of contributing to a more unified world.”

Have you ever given such thought to the breath? The health and emotional benefits of such a simple act of awareness? Please share your thoughts. And BREATHE.

For your entertainment purposes, check out my music video on taking a breath in the work-life merge. I produced last year in a fun effort to try to get people breathing at work. Check out Breathwork Immersion: From Science to Samadi and the associated extended workshops over the next few months which you can also sign up for by clicking here.