Here's a simple breathing exercise that I share in The School of Greatness:
The Importance of Breath and Meditation
Meditation is about clearing the mind of everything else—all the extraneous distractions, obsessions, doubts, and trifling matters that keep us from focusing. It's something we need to do every morning when we wake up and every night before we go to bed (at least, I find my days more powerful and intentional when I do it morning and night). You live the day of a champion by beginning as one and ending as one.
The key to meditation is in the breath—to focus on your breathing and be aware of your breath. You want to unplug and simply breathe. Breathe in joy; breathe out stress. In joy, out stress. Allow yourself to feel connected to the world, to the universe, and, most important, to yourself. Anything that gets you disconnected from business, career, stress, and the rat race is great for you.
My favorite breathing exercise is something I've taken from another of the greats I've had the privilege of learning from, sports psychologist Jim Afremow, PhD. In his book, The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive, Jim talks a lot about the importance of breathing when you want to perform like a champion.
"Under perceived pressure, we tend to hold our breath, and then we not only don't have the oxygen to our system that we need, but also our muscle tension increases," Jim told me when we talked. "Muscle tension is the number-one enemy in sports. If you're a swimmer, you're going to go slower. If you're a pole-vaulter, you're not going to jump as high. Deep breathing helps to clear our mind of stress and expectations, and it relaxes our body. I think it's important to have either a meditation practice or, at the very least, to take a deep breath throughout the course of your day and notice whether you're breathing easily and deeply."
15-Second Centering Breath Process
1. Breathe in through the nose if you can for a count of one, two, three, four, and five, expanding the belly.
2. Then hold it for a count of one and two.
3. Then breathe out through the mouth for a count of one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight, releasing the air in the belly. Be prepared; this is a big breath. It's not something you're doing all day. This is just to reboot your breathing. But the key is the exhale. It's a little bit longer than the inhale, and that's where you get the relaxation response.
More: A Meditation for Compassion
"When we think about taking a deep breath, most of us just think about the inhale—taking that big inhalation. That's actually the stressful part," Jim made me understand. "Getting all that air out, that's the relaxation part and really helps you to feel your best."
You will be surprised how you feel if you do this before bed or before an important meeting or event. When we focus on our breathing instead of the things that stress us out or that we are afraid of, we don't allow the stress or fears to creep in. Go ahead and try this exercise right now and repeat it for four cycles (1 minute in total).