Clearing breaths

Whether learning, singing or performing, we function better when our minds are not distracted by anxiety, and when we can feel completely present physically, mentally and emotionally. The following exercise can help us achieve and sustain equanimity.

  1. Make yourself comfortable somewhere where you won’t be disturbed, and close your eyes to shut out distractions and heighten your inner awareness.
  2. Notice your breathing for a few moments.
  3. First, turn your attention first to your intellect, your ‘thinking’ self and busy mind. With a clear, purposeful out-breath, ‘exhale’ these thoughts so that your mind empties and becomes quieter. If thoughts begin to bubble up again, just gently exhale, imagining the thoughts drifting away on the current of air.
  4. Second, without waiting for the mind to get busy again, turn your attention to your emotional self, where the dramas and feelings bubble away (often experienced more in the belly, solar plexus or chest as tension or over-activity). Some emotions we label as negative, some as positive; some are very noticeable, some much more subtle. Again, with an out-breath, whatever they are ‘breathe out’ these busy emotions, so that your emotional self becomes emptied and quieter. (If you are really attached to the feelings, you can always pick them up again later!)
  5. Third, turn to your physical self; notice where there seems to be too much tension, stiffness, disturbance, or a sense of being blocked. We label some sensations as negative, some as positive; some are very noticeable, some much more subtle. Whatever they are, collect all these sensations together, and ‘blow them out’ with one clear exhalation – you might even want to let them go with a deep sigh.
  6. At any time, you can go back to thoughts, emotions or the body, and release more, with gentle, purposeful exhalations.
  7. With practice, you can do one long exhalation, thinking the phrase ‘thoughts-emotions-body’, imagining releasing each part of yourself on the single exhalation. And, with practice, this can become a calming exercise to settle yourself in an instant at any time – in a lesson or practice time, before going on to perform, between two phrases of a song.
  8. Finally, slowly open your eyes, taking care to retain your new, more relaxed breathing. If you notice your mind, emotions or body becoming ‘busy’ or ‘tightening’ in some way, keep your eyes open but release that energy with another gentle, purposeful out-breath.

Important notes:

  1. This sequence becomes more effective, the more you use it.
  2. Practise this sequence as soon as you have read it.
  3. Repeat it just before you go to bed.
  4. Repeat it first thing in the morning before anything else.
  5. You have now done it 3 times.
  6. It can be done at any time of the day. With practice, you can do it even with your eyes open. Nobody will even know you are doing it.
  7. Use it at moments of stress, crisis or confusion.
  8. Use it 15 seconds before that important conversation, interview, telephone conversation, meeting, piece of writing or whatever.
  9. Repeat it often and the body and mind will begin to do it as second nature, and it will replace your ‘busy’ patterns of distraction, enabling you to function more effectively at whatever you are doing.

(This is also available to students as an extended audio mp3 guided meditation)

Posted in Improving performance