03/04/2011 12:19 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

I Am Calm

Mantra: I Am Calm
Posture/Exercise: Deep Breathing and Forward Bending

There is a direct connection between a person's attention and their breath. We can use our breath to calm our thoughts and our emotions. This practice will develop focus. From this focus, we can also learn to hold one-pointed attention. With that laser-beam attention we can accomplish our everyday tasks with greater ease and precision.

Start by sitting at the edge of your chair, with your feet hip-width apart. Be sure that your back is very straight. Relax your shoulders down, away from your ears, and rest your hands comfortably on your thighs. With your eyes closed, count thirty full breath cycles (one inhale and one exhale creates one breath cycle). While breathing as deeply and as slowly as possible, try to remain completely still during these thirty breath cycles. Focus only on the breath, the sound of the breath, and the feel of the breath under your nose. If the mind or attention drifts away from your breathing, simply draw your attention back to the breath as quickly as possible. This practice will become easier with time. Even if, for example, while you are concentrating on your breath you hear one of your co-workers telling the latest company gossip next to you, continue focusing only on your breathing. There will always be gossip to return to, and I cannot imagine any dish that could possibly be as rewarding as taking the time to strengthen your attention.

Never once has it failed that when I had witnessed a person holding their breath and asked them if they had drifted away in thought, that they had agreed in amazement of my correct assessment. While you are engaging in conversations today, even if they are phone conversations, try to tune into the other person's breathing as a means to understanding their state of mind and attention. When you are aware of your breathing, you are present. When you are present, you are more powerful than when you are not.

After your round of thirty breaths, keeping your knees bent, fold forward over your thighs into your forward bending pose. You should still be sitting at the edge of your chair. Allow your back to stretch towards your feet. Keep your abdomen tight as a means to protect your back while it is stretching. If you are not at a desk, and are able to stretch on the floor, straighten your legs out in front of you. Reach your hands forward for your feet, ankles or outer shins. Pull your chest towards your feet. If you have any spine-related issues, such as a herniated disc, or inflammation in your lower back, please keep your knees bent and arch your back as you pull your chest towards your feet. A forward bend is contraindicated when there is a bulging or herniated disc in the lumbar and/or sacral spine.

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Once you are in position, you should feel a stretch that is still comfortable. Count another ten full breath cycles while holding the posture. In your mind repeat, "I Am Calm". Allow the essence of calm to sink into your being. Continue to remind yourself throughout the day that you will remain matter what happens.

In addition to having the muscles of the lower spine, pelvis and legs stretched, forward bends are also important for turning off the sympathetic nervous system - this is the part of the nervous system that is activated in times of stress and which comprises of the "fight-or-flight" response. By turning this off, the parasympathetic nervous system is able to take over. The parasympathetic nervous system allows the body to rest, as well as to digest. The body has a much more difficult time digesting during times of stress. The benefits of the parasympathetic nervous system are an improved immune system, as well as healthy and well-rested organs. When the body is in "fight or flight", it tends to hold excess weight as a self-preservation mechanism; women also tend to have fertility difficulties when the body is in this stressful state.

Unhealthy levels of stress appear simply as the illusion of power...otherwise how could the tortoise keep winning the race?

Have an amazingly calm, focused and productive day....


"Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or misfortune at their own private pace, like a clock during a thunderstorm." - Robert Louis Stevenson