Barely breathing

Was it possible – I wondered this past Saturday as I lay on a yoga mat overlooking the bay, greedily inhaling and then expelling deep gusts of air as gulls circled lazily overhead – that this was the first time I had taken a conscious breath in weeks? It certainly felt like it. I mentally catalogued the events that had made the past month so frenetic: a busy work schedule, two children at loose ends between camp and school and then back in school (with all of the requisite shopping, scheduling and paperwork activities that entails) plus a high-octane toddler with fast feet and poor judgment, a trip to Florida to help manage a relative’s medical care, getting the final paper for my executive coaching Master’s degree program over the finish line and preparing to present it . . . oh, and the hurricane and resulting power outage that made our pre-Labor Day “vacation” upstate feel more like a re-enactment of Little House on the Prairie.

stones for meditationYep. I’d been so busy that I’d forgotten to breathe. Good thing my reptilian brain was keeping me going on autopilot! And no wonder I was feeling tired, cranky and unusually absent-minded. Fortunately, despite the paltry quantity of oxygen making its way to my head, I somehow had the presence of mind to clear my calendar for a one-day yoga and meditation retreat on the North Fork organized by my friends Laurie Weisman and Patrice Keitt, the co-founders of evenKeel wellness. It turned out to be exactly the tune-in and tune-up I needed.

In addition to getting the pacing just right and setting a warm, relaxed tone, Patrice and Laurie managed to conjure up a day of perfect late-summer weather. Being outside allowed us to absorb the natural beauty and tranquility of our surroundings. Their workshop included a few things I’ve done before, like morning sun salutations and mindfulness exercises, and some other activities I hadn’t tried, like mindful eating (Patrice’s husband prepared a delicious organic lunch that we ate on our own, scattered out across the property, in silence) and walking meditation.

The resulting feeling of serenity I had afterwards was startling. But it wasn’t new. I have dabbled in yoga and meditation on and off for years and the benefits, particularly from meditation, are always tangible to me. There is a growing body of research documenting some of the concrete ways that meditating and finding other ways to be present in the moment are good for us – and can actually reshape our brains. Who doesn’t want to increase their optimism and resiliency quotient? More happiness and less anxiety? Yes, please. Besides, as my colleague (and former dean) Josh Ehrlich pointed out in a recent Harvard Business School blog, “Getting stuff done is overrated. Knowing where you are going and how to get there — strategy — is everything. But many managers still spend too much time doing and not enough time thinking. Your first challenge is learning how to stop the action.”

Well said. I’m experimenting with ways to add more stillness and reflection to my admittedly overscheduled, Type A life. For now, it’s definitely a work in progress. Any tips on that front you’d like to share? I’m all ears.

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