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A Breath of Fresh Air: Mindful Breathing

In 2001, I packed my seven suitcases and left the City of Lights aboard a bullet train named "adulthood" with my 3 month old son and non-English speaking husband in tow. 
I spent the next 15 years tumbling through life: I got a job, bought a house, bought a car, had another kid, got promoted, moved, got an advanced degree, got divorced, changed jobs, got promoted again, got married, changed houses, changed jobs, got fired, started a business, got cancer, kicked cancer, got two jobs, sold a business, quit a job and thousands upon thousands of smaller, yet equally impactful, things along the way. 
I'm sure, in your own way, you can relate. 
Through all of these events, I knew I had lost the sense of who I was. I no longer knew what I liked. I no longer knew what I wanted. I no longer knew what I needed. I was adept at giving my kids, my various bosses, my clients, my husband and even my dog what I thought THEY needed. But who was serving me? Where was I? 
After 15 years trapped in the tumultuous surf of corporate life, I had lost my True North. My true sense of self. My true purpose in life. 
Enter Mindfulness 
In my quest to change something, ANYTHING, about my journey, I became an information junkie. I read every book, article and research paper I could find. In publication after publication, successful people (business people, entrepreneurs, athletes, and thought leaders) mentioned the secret to their success: mindfulness. 
Mindfulness...being in the present moment. Letting regrets from your past and worries about the future escape you. Experiencing the here and now. Being present. Breathing. Focusing on what's in front of you. Utilizing your senses to their fullest potential. Letting thoughts slip in and out like water through your fingers. Non-judgment. Peace. Calm. Tranquility. 
I wasn't sure how mindfulness activities could fit into my hectic lifestyle so I decided to begin my journey simply, by focusing on my breath. I figured I was breathing all the time already, so it couldn't hurt to make it a little more effective. 
I once read that you can go for weeks without eating, days without drinking but only minutes without breathing, yet most of us never pay attention to our breath. It sounds simple, but to many, the sheer act of breathing can become complicated when it's performed intentionally. 
To ease into a mindfulness breathing practice, you can simply learn to focus on the breath with The Mindful Minute 
1) Get seated in a comfortable position either on the floor with your legs crossed, in a chair with both feet flat on the ground or lying flat on your back with your legs naturally splayed and your palms facing up. 
2) Set a one-minute timer on your phone. 
3) Gently close your eyes. 
4) Allow yourself to breathe naturally. 
5) Focus on the rise and fall of your belly. 
6) Feel the sensation of the air swirling in and out of your body. Feel the rise and fall of your belly 
7) Let thoughts gently flow in and out of your mind. 
8) Allow yourself to fully experience the present moment. 
9) And breathe. 
10) When your timer goes off, gently open your eyes and turn it off. Allow yourself to remain motionless, calm and peaceful yet awake and aware. 
11) Wiggle your fingers and toes and slowly allow sensation to return. As you return to your daily activities discover a newfound sense of calm and peace in your day. 
Once you feel you have mastered the art of breath awareness, you can move into a more deliberate act of breathing. Dr. Andrew Weil teaches a simple yet impactful breathing technique with a multitude of health benefits: 4-7-8. 
4-7-8 Exercise (Relaxing Breath) 
1) Get seated in a comfortable position either on the floor with your legs crossed, in a chair with both feet flat on the ground or lying flat on your back with your legs naturally splayed and your palms facing up. 
2) Place the tip of your tongue behind your top teeth. 
3) Begin by breathing in through your nose for a count of 4. 
4) Hold your breath for a count of 7. 
5) Now breathe out through your mouth, leaving your tongue behind your teeth and making a blowing nose, for a count of 8. 
6) Repeat this 3 more times. In through your nose for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7 (4, 5, 6, 7), blow out through your mouth for a count of 8 (6, 7, 8). In, 2, 3, 4. Hold, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Blow out, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. In, 2, 3, 4. Hold, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Blow out, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. 
7) Now breathe normally. 
Do this simple breathing exercise twice a day (morning and night) for at least 30 days, if not 60 or even 90 days. Once you feel you have truly mastered the 4-7-8 breath cycle, you can increase the 4-7-8 cycle to 8 times twice per day. The health, productivity and stress-reduction benefits are unprecedented for the minimal investment of your time. 
Strange and powerful things will begin to happen in your life when you became mindful of your breath: Your stress levels decrease, your happiness increases, your patience elongates, your productivity improves as does your overall sense of joy and fulfillment. 
While breathing is the tip of the mindfulness iceberg, it is definitely a breath of fresh air. 
About the author: Jill Johns is a recovering corporate executive; a serial entrepreneur; a business advisor; a life coach; and a women's advocate who designs custom retreats blending unique experiences, magnificent venues and top-notch coaching. Having led off-sites, workshops and retreats for more than 15 years in Corporate America, Jill leverages her knowledge to create one-of-a-kind events. Individuals, teams and businesses undergo unparalleled and sustainable performance enhancements when collaborating with Jill.

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