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Take a Team Breath

I learned about the “team breath” at a recent conference. Well, maybe I didn’t just learn about it, as I’ve been practicing yoga for almost 7 years now. At yoga, classes typically open and close with a “cleansing breath.” In fact, at its core, yoga is a “breathing practice.” This is what my yoga teacher tells us in every class. While the 5000-year-old tradition draws together the mind and body, today’s yoga poses (a.k.a. asanas), sweating, and core strengthening are secondary to the discipline of focused, meditative breathing. So, she reminds us at every class “If all you do is sit for an hour, focusing on breathing in and out, you’re doing yoga.” But let’s get back to it.

Applied to training, the execution of a team breath is quite simple. Announce to the group that together you will take a “team breath.” Ask everyone to slowly draw a deep breath in through their nose. Then, ask them to release it, even more slowly. Go ahead and do it with them, making your own breath audible. That’s it.

Then pause. Take a beat.

When and why take a Team Breath?

Deep breaths tend to calm our mind and body, helping to reduce stress and refocus the brain. They’re useful for trainers and their learners alike, throughout a training event. Consider integrating a breathing pause at these junctures:

  • At the start: Introducing the Team Breath at the beginning of your session will calm your nerves, relieve anxiety, and slow your speaking pace. However, students will also benefit. Think of it like pressing a reset button. For any who rushed to make it to class on time or have their minds swimming with thoughts, simply focusing on breath creates a separation from the craziness of  whatever came “before.” So, after your brief intro, pause, and take a Team Breath.
  • Regroup in the middle: If you’ve just finished a long explanation or a heady topic, or if you find the group’s energy is waning. Try a breathing exercise.
  • Transitions: When you’re about to move onto a new topic, pause, breathe, then move on. Or, after a super fun game, take a moment to let the excitement settle and the learning imprint. Stop, breathe, and discuss what’s next.
  • Weariness: You may find your group is tired after a long session, but you’d hoped to close with one more chunk. Introduce a breathing exercise, to prepare your group for the home stretch.
  • Refocus: Perhaps a handful of participants are having a side conversation and you want to gather everyone’s attention. This too might be a good time to take a Team Breath.
  • Stretch: Finally, you want to add movement to the session because everyone’s been sedentary for too long. Stand, stretch, and then. Take a Team Breath. Inhale as you take a body-opening stretch; exhale as your body contracts and pushes out the air.

Many Forms of a Team Breath

A single deep inhale and exhale may be enough. However, if you use the technique frequently, you may want to mix it up and add some variety and impact with this array of breathing exercises:

  • The Fog: Breathe in through your nose (2 seconds); open your mouth and exhale, like you’re fogging a mirror.
  • Whistle Style: Breathe in through your nose (2 seconds); purse your lips and blow out slowly.
  • Like a Lion: Inhale deeply through your nose; open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and exhale.
  • Ujjayi Pranayama (a.k.a. Darth Vadar): Breathe in through your nose (4 seconds); keep your lips sealed and breath out, making a raspy sound.
  • Right-Left Nostril: using a thumb and finger, inhale through your left nostril, exhale through your right; then switch sides.
  • Equal In & Out: Through your nose, breathe in for 4 counts then out for 4 counts.
  • Box Breath: Breath in for 4 counts; hold for 4 counts; breath out for 4 counts; hold for 4 counts.
  • Body Breath: Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly; slowly breathe in feeling your chest expand then slowly exhale.
  • Count to 10 and let it go: Take long, slow breaths, as count to 10 in your mind.
  • Om: As a group, take a deep breath in, very slowly let it out as you say Om (see how long you can make it last).
  • 6 seconds: Take 10 six-second breaths — in for 6 and out for 6.
  • 3 x 1: Take three quick “sips” in, then one big puff out.
  • 60 in 60: for 60 seconds, focus on contracting (pulling in) your belly to quickly exhale (let the inhales happen on their own).
  • 4-7-8: Breathe in for 4 counts; hold for 7 counts; breathe out for 8, making a “woosh” sound. Repeat for 4 rounds.
  • Mornin’: Raise your arms above your head and take three deep breaths.
  • Mantra breathing: Repeat to yourself: I breathe in “peace, happiness, acceptance.” I breathe out “stress, worry, anger.”
  • I Am – Mantra: Breathe in “I am,” Exhale “happy”; Breathe in “I am,” Exhale “fearless”; Breathe in “I am,” Exhale “enough”

Brain Science Behind a Team Breath

Okay, I admit I’m not a brain scientist. However, I have done enough research on memory and the brain to confidently stand by these explanations about the positive impact of breathing exercises in learning environments.

  1. Improved focus: Calm, deep breathing helps clear out distractions and focus on our minds. By refocusing, we can turn our attention to the specifics of the learning content.
  2. We remember beginnings and endings more than middles: By pausing for breathing exercises, we create additional opportunities for new beginnings.
  3. Reduced stress improves memory: Deep breathing exercises signal our brain that we’re safe, thereby reducing stress hormones like cortisol, which are known to impair memory.

When it comes to yoga, I’m the first to run from “hippy-dippy” practices. That flavor of yoga just isn’t my thing. Still, I’ve come to appreciate the calming effect and focus that result from pausing, reflecting, and breathing deeply. The next time you need to refocus your group give it a try. If you go all-in, and then want to startle your group out of a meditative, reverie, a three-toned chime could do the trick.


Learning from Yoga

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