Some experiences are so exhilarating that they take our breath away. Other experiences induce panic and leave us feeling like we can’t breathe. Leadership can include both.
I know this from experience.
A Breathtaking Diagnosis
One week after successfully defending my dissertation and earning my PhD in leadership studies (an exhilarating experience), I ended up spending a week in the hospital.
Then, I returned home and spent the next two years struggling with eating solid foods, in and out of the hospital, until finally getting a dire-sounding diagnosis for a chronic illness (stressful enough to take my breath away).
Dissatisfied with my diagnosis and lack of treatment options, I then spent over a week at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, going through a series of tests for a second opinion. After reviewing test results with my doctor there, I returned to Mayo a few months later for two weeks of treatments.
What was the problem? The major issue appeared to be a chronic stress response I had developed. What I discovered through diagnosis and treatment procedures was that, among other things, I wasn’t breathing right.
Let’s process that a moment – how many of us pay attention to how we are breathing?
For me, I paid very little attention to it previously. And now, problems with this oft-ignored behavior had led to a host of other complications.
Cheesy as it may sound, I had allowed the combined stresses of leadership studies and work as a school administrator, along with other curve balls in life, to take my breath away.
And it was causing major problems.
Mindfulness as a Solution
At Mayo, I learned about Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the health benefits of doing Tai Chi – a martial art form that requires great bodily awareness and focused breathing (some even call it a “moving meditation.”), and even a more healthy way to breathe.
Once I returned home, I read Peter Levine’s book, Freedom from Pain, and learned to develop circular breathing practices to deal with both chronic pain issues and anxiety. Additionally, I found a place to learn Tai Chi.
The result of these changes?
- I’m better, though I still have some struggles.
- I have an appreciation for the necessity of mindfulness practices,
- as a result, I have a renewed sense of what is going on in my body and I can respond both more quickly and more appropriately when I feel myself under stress, making sure I breathe and relax the various tensions in my body.
- When I catch myself being anxious, I can stop a moment, focus on where I’m feeling the anxiety, breathe through it, and hopefully get myself out of “fight or flight” mode. In sum: I now recognize my triggers and take corrective action.
CLU teaches mindfulness as a necessary skill for those who would lead social change, and because of my health experiences, I’m convinced that our students benefit. In fact, mindfulness has been a popular topic for our students’ capstone projects.
If you want an introduction to mindfulness, besides the resources linked in this article, I suggest you take a look at John Kabbat-Zinn, such as his book Mindfulness for Beginners.
For a discussion of bringing mindfulness into change management, take a look at a recent white paper from myself and Stephanie Vernon Hughes, “Mindful Action Research: A Values-Based Scholar Practitioner Approach.”
Now, over to you.
Have you ever had an experience that caused you to take up mindfulness? How might you practice mindfulness to center yourself in your day to day activities?
Tell us in the comments!