Don’t Forget to Breathe
Between my second and third years of law school, I clerked for a well-known criminal defense attorney in Charlotte named Eben Rawls. One day, he had a DUI case that ended up in trial in front of an ornery judge. As I observed from counsel table, the judge made some questionable calls on admissibility of evidence and procedural issues. Even as a rising 3L, I knew better. I was about to jump out of my skin. Eben, on the other hand, was simply unperturbed – he was able to assert himself without showing any sign of frustration or irritation.
After the trial, I asked Eben how he was able to stay so calm when the judge seemed to be spoiling for a fight. He said that focused on his breath to keep from being drawn into an emotional reaction as he stuck to and adapted his trial strategy. He explained that he simply thought through each inhale and exhale intentionally.
Later that summer, Eben introduced me to the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, who has written extensively and beautifully on mindfulness and meditation. I listened to Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Mindful Living, and I read The Miracle of Mindfulness – both of which focus on intentional breathing.
Then I remembered that I had been taught breathing techniques in the Army when I was in the 82nd Airborne Division 30+ years ago. The Army called it “tactical breathing;” Navy SEALS call it “box breathing.”
So intentional breathing isn’t just the province of Buddhists, yogis, and patchouli-wearing, dreadlocked Rastafarians. It’s a powerful, proven, well-established technique to recover your wits when things are literally or figuratively blowing up all around. It really works to restore calm when my mind races to worst-case scenarios and my heart fills with despair.
It’s easy. Imagine the four sides of a box: (1) Breathe in to the count of 4, (2) hold to the count of 4, (3) breathe out to the count of 4, (4) hold to the count of 4 – and repeat, and repeat, etc. Do it for 1 minute and then check in with yourself to see if it helped.
I just need to remember to do it when I need relief. It’s easy, just don’t forget to breathe.