Just Breathe

The 1983 movie Mr. Mom is, in my opinion, Michael Keaton’s finest performance of his career. Mr. Keaton plays Jack, a family man who loses his job and becomes a stay at home Dad while his wife goes back to work full time.  Given that we have yet to fully appreciate the immense amount of work that parents do as a society, I’d argue its still as relevant today as it was 34 years ago.  But I digress.  My favorite line from the movie comes when Jack, who has started to let himself slip a bit, argues with his wife about how tough his new role has become.  Check it out below.

“I yelled at Kenny for coloring outside the lines!”.  If you can’t identify with this statement, you may have found your peach tree to sit underneath and meditate long ago, and this post may not be for you.  But if you have ever had one of those days.  The kind where you have been prone to snap, make judgements a bit too quickly and you think that your brain may be turning into oatmeal, then read on.  With the hustle and bustle that is everyday life as an instructional coach, husband and dad, it has become abundantly clear to me that a proactive approach to overall wellness, especially regarding mental health, is essential to attempt to move from the “survive” column to the “thrive” one.

The Importance of Breathing

We all know that it is important to take care of our bodies.  So much of that discussion focuses on the food that we put into our bodies.  Much of that discussion has progressed, I believe, towards more sustainable “wellness” models as opposed to yo-yo dieting.  Sleep is also essential and more people are advocating for both our children and adults that being tired is not a “weakness” and that to be a healthy and productive human being, sleep is as important as the food we eat.

However, one of the most obvious keys to a healthy well-being is a tool that we are using every minute of every day: breathing.  Focused breathing can significantly reduce stress in both adults and children.  So while we may not get enough sleep because we have so many responsibilities and we may not eat a perfect diet becomes sometimes running to Wawa is the only option that fits into our schedule, taking 1 minute to stop and just breathe is an incredibly effective option for reducing our stress and improving our overall well-being. When you breathe deeply, you lower your heart rate and blood pressure, increase the oxygen supply to your brain and you relax all your muscles. Imagine being able to enter such a state right before a difficult meeting or class. It might be the edge that you need to be just that much more empathetic towards the people you are interacting with.

Tech and Breathing

Mindfulness is enjoying its time in the wellness spotlight lately and for good reason: its a cheap and effective way to reduce stress and it has been embraced by a larger percentage of the population that may have thought “meditating” was for weirdos or hippies. Dan Harris, an anchor for ABC news even wrote a book about his personal journey towards mindfulness that is exceptionally accessible to people who might think of meditation as too touchy-feely/foreign.

More than a couple good friends of mine have recently started to use the Spire wearable to help deal with some stress and anxiety and focus on their breath.  Its a small device that clips to your belt line and communicates with an app to measure breathing rate and notify you if you seem tense or at ease.  By getting a notification that you are tense, you can stop what you are doing and focus on your breath for a moment.  My one friend describes it as magic – that when he tenses up, he “focuses on his dots” and brings his breathing back down to a normal level.  It reminds me of the Ed Norton Jr Hulk movie, in which he wears a heart rate strap so that he doesn’t turn into the hulk unless he really wants to.

Headspace is one of the most popular mindfulness apps out there right now but my personal favorite is Calm.  They offer a free premium account to all educators and have meditations specifically designed for children of all ages.  I can’t think of a single classroom that wouldn’t benefit from access to this tool.  I’ve used Calm sporadically for a number of years now.  I got over my initial misgivings and attempt to sit for 10 minutes of guided breathing each morning before work.  I used to put the nature scenes on over my projector after a particularly difficult class and just listen to the ocean or rain for a few minutes.  It’s an incredibly feature-rich app that I consider an essential part of my mental health toolkit.

While I love Calm, there are many days where 10 free minutes does not exist in the morning. I recently got the Apple Watch series 3. One of my favorite features is the “Breathe” app. During the day, the watch will buzz you and remind you to breathe deeply for 1 minute. This may be the closest I ever get to daily meditation. Frankly, it may be all that I need. Initially, I relied on the app to remind me periodically through the day to complete a breathing exercise. However, I have found myself opening the app either right after something stressful or right before I know that may become stressed. This is my greatest takeaway and habit from my experience in learning about mindful breathing. It may not be a full body meditation, but its enough to recenter me and slow myself down.

Breathing and Mindset

If there’s one absolute truth that I have found as an instructional coach it is this – we are ALL fighting our own battles. It is so easy to forget. None of us sets out to only think of ourselves and our issues.  Biologically speaking, we need to take care of ourselves first. The quality I wish to impart of our young people and the one that I feel will not only ensure more successful schools but also a more successful world is empathy. If everybody paused to breathe before responding to each other we might make the world a better place. Some places where breathing may be important:

  • People didn’t read your email.  This is not a personal attack.  We all have too much information coming at us.
  • You have to repeat instructions.  See above.
  • The wifi isn’t working (May need to find a paper bag. But it will be ok)
  • You are about to judge somebody or contribute to the rumor mill
  • You are about to resort to anger (See “coloring outside the lines” above)

We are all human. We’ve all faced the situations above and no technique will eliminate all negative feelings we have. I hope that bringing attention to breathing may help you avoid one stressful situation from becoming bigger than it needs to be. Start small. As one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, states: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. Don’t think that in order to be mindful, you HAVE to set yourself up like the Buddha.  You don’t HAVE to close your eyes or commit to a 10 minute or longer program. JUST BREATHE. You already have everything you need to try this strategy. Try it yourself, share it with your students. Breathe together before a test or a meeting or before every class – and see if there are positive results.  One of my favorite benefits of mindful breathing? It can bring about an immense sense of gratitude. And it’s not just me – in the words of the almighty Eddie Vedder, from the song “Just Breathe”: “Oh, I’m a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love”. How much better would the world be if we took a breath and said thanks to start our day.  Thanks for reading 🙂