I am a counselor. I have had many titles in this field some of which are School Counselor, Life/Transition/Interview Coach, Intuitive/Grief Counselor, friend, cheerleader, confident and pain in the ass. I do all of these things exceedingly well. Much of what I do is listen, ask questions, give support and make people feel safe, heard and sometimes loved. I do this as easily as I breathe; I don’t think I just do what comes naturally so I rarely give it value. That is what we all do. What comes easily, innately and without thought is generally a natural resource, a gift. For my sister Chris one of her gifts is in parenting and it is on the savant level, though she says it’s more like the “idiot savant.”
I use this space, this column to talk about me, my challenges, victories and general oddness. I share the dark and the light. I believe we are more alike than not, so in sharing I hope that folks see their own struggles, foibles and joys. Some of what I write is for pure entertainment, some for education and I am sure the last piece is ego. Though talking about how I screw up on a daily basis does not always feel ego driven. It feels like going to confession and the priest is shaking his head, sucking on his teeth and rolling his eyes. So here is my current dilemma… I have been asked to try to distill some of what I do in my one on one work with folks, in Walk N Talks, phone conferences and classes here in print. I don’t know how this will translate but I will try. I will try and put down my ‘breathing’ here for those who are interested. I will attempt to break what I know down in small steps, exercises, tips, strategies and rituals for those who asked.
“That which you manifest is before you.” Garth Stein
Since I started this piece with the word breathe let’s start there. I forget to do it all the time. I know that sounds wrong. You have to breathe it’s a requirement to living, but it is true. When I get nervous, am learning something new, in pain, trying to hold a pose in yoga or one in the dressing room while trying on bathing suits I hold my breath. That is the exact wrong thing to do in most circumstances baring you are underwater or your car pool buddies have a penchant for bean and onion burritos. Being calm, clear headed, relaxed is a far better place to make a decision from yet we rarely stop and breathe. So in order to achieve those states give your noggin some air.
Grab a pen and a pad and write down a number between 1 and 10, of how you are feeling right now. 10 being very stressed i.e. gerbil on methamphetamines and 1 being the yogi-zen-corpse zone. Stop; don’t think yourself there just feel. How does your body feel? Your head can be a lying bastard but your body does not lie, its true blue. Ok after you write that number down, read these next few steps and try them as you read. You need to be sitting or lying down…not driving a car or operating machinery. If you do either of those things while reading anything I write you are a nut and are putting us other nuts in danger. Stop it.
Ok take a deep breathe through your nose to the count of 3. Hold that breathe for the count of 3. Now blow it out your mouth for the count of 3. Do that breathing repetition 4 more times. If you cheat and keep reading without doing it not only are you a spoilsport but also it’s not good juju. Write down where your stress level is now. Hopefully it is a little lower. Your brain and body should be happy you weren’t stingy with oxygen for about 3 minutes. Nice work!
When do I use this simple breathing technique? I use it in yoga when the teacher reminds me, in traffic right after I start to give someone a non-sanctioned hand signal, when my caller ID flashes” Mother,” “American Express,” or my sister, the grifter’s name. I use this technique when I first lay down in bed at night, when someone says they love or hate me, when I can’t think, speak or move because I am overwhelmed. Sometimes I just need one deep breath, and then I am good to go. Other times I need a few rounds and often step away from the situation. I stop and breathe and do nothing but that… it is a way to find stillness, go within and center. I can do it anywhere for free and what it gives me is immeasurable.
Remembering to breath can be difficult. Sometimes I am on the verge of a panic attack before I remember. Meantime my body has been screaming at me like a banshee to slow down. But my head is a bigger bully. My head has been telling me to suck it up and move on. My head will surely kill me if I don’t listen to my body. It would be nice if you would listen to me on this point, but it is essential that you listen and trust your body.
There is an old story of three apprentice yogi’s talking about their masters. The first apprentice said his yogi master could sleep on a bed of nails without any bodily damage. The second apprentice boasted his yogi master could meditate for 24 hours straight without moving. The third apprentice smiled, knowing he had chosen the best of the yogis to study under. “My master,” he said “sleeps when he is tired, eats when he is hungry and breaths into adversity.”
The small steps I talk about are not difficult; remembering to use them is, as is placing value on what they offer. Finding balance in your mind, body and spirit leads to discovering your passion, your gifts, your authenticity and a joyful life. On the other hand crazy is as crazy does. If that is a clown car you have been riding around in pull it over, take a break and breathe. What have you got too loose besides the drama, stress and cotton candy?