“Don’t forget to breathe.” It was the early 80s, and I may have been in kindergarten, but I thought to date that was the most ridiculous advice I had ever heard. Mom was doing her Jane Fonda exercises and the exhortations of the leg warmer-wearing ‘Hanoi Jane’ seemed so basic, so trivial, so obvious that the woman must have been brain dead. And that was before I saw Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy.

Who Forgets to Breathe?

Well, apparently me. Because I keep on having to re-learn how. I’ve spent untold hours of my adult life just learning and re-learning how to breathe. Lately, this has been at the Hall of the Peaceful Dragon – the school where I study Kung Fu. There I am currently working on remembering to breathe deeply and effectively while my mind and body try to perform the various body contortions and coordination required. It’s damn hard. After a few minutes of basic stance and form training I find myself covered in sweat. After an hour I am exhausted. And this is entirely because I forget to breathe. Heh, I think even Daniel-san in The Karate Kid had to focus on this!

Recognize the Pattern

But it’s not only Martial arts. I know that my Kung Fu training will soon become much easier because I recognize the pattern. I’ve seen how learning to breathe leads to clarity, composure, and competency. Learning how properly breathe leads to success in all things.

Sports Pattern

This is the actual, physical act of breathing to improve performance. Can you spot the pattern?

“Don’t Forget to Breathe, Daniel-san!”

  • Swimming – Learning how to breathe and relax allowed me to swim 5.25 miles in open water.
  • Lifting – Anyone can throw a bunch of iron around. Focused breathing makes you efficient and effective.
  • Shooting – The first thing you learn in marksmanship (after firearm safety) is how breathing affects your shot. Master your breathing and you’ll hit the target much more often.

Mastery in those sports above and indeed in any sport comes down to the practice of breathing. So easy to understand, so maddeningly difficult to master.

What about outside of sports?


This is part abstraction, part application. You can see how by extending the physical activity of careful, practiced, and conscious breath control can help in any situation where you need to control mind, body and focus. Let’s take something near and dear to the Cubicle; office work.

  • Negotiations – Timing and silence is such a huge portion of negotiations. Try letting their last offer sit for a few breaths before saying anything.
  • Conflict – You’ve heard this before “take a deep breath and…”
  • Focus – It’s amazing how much clarity a few minutes of relaxed breathing can bring you.
  • Deadlines – Have to do something that just can’t wait? Take the time to breathe. The essential priorities and the steps to accomplish them will come to you.

I can go on extrapolating but you get the point.

Take a Man’s Breath; You Take His Ability to Fight

This quote came to me from my Kung Fu instructor George. A different instructor relayed the same sentiment this way; “A human can go weeks without food and days without water but only minutes without breath.”

If someone (boss, peer, client, etc) robs you of your breath, they rob you of your ability to be effective. Don’t let them. Defend your ability to breathe.

If you need to over come an adversary – on the field, on the mat, or across the office – make it so they cannot breathe.

How to (re)-Learn How to Breathe

As I have said, I have learned how to breathe over and over and over again. Each time I try a new endeavor I recognize the patterns from my previous successes and apply them. I am certain that you can do the same thing. Take a look at your own previous successes and build from there.

For a more pragmatic, apply-right-now formula, Leo of Zen Habits has good piece here.

Whatever you do, ‘don’t forget to breathe.’

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