Blink of a Breath

We live in an era of busyness and accelerating change and all too often when faced with a stressful and difficult situation, we respond in counter-productive ways. This can be remedied by a very simple technique which I call Blink of a Breath.

Here is how it goes. As soon as we notice that we are about to get triggered, we internally pause everything and breathe slowly for a few seconds. It is a little like pressing the <<pause>> button on our remote control and have a mini inner-massage.

It is better to start with an exhale – a sort of sigh to empty our system of the stale air – and then take a slow and full in-breath through our nose with an inner smile. Finally, we can exhale as slowly as possible all the air through our nose – relaxing our face, shoulders, lungs and belly following our breath like the light of a scanner. We are now ready to resume slow normal breathing and to start thinking with a fresher head about what options we have and what the most appropriate decision/action to take. 

It a very simple technique and we probably instinctively all know about it, yet it is amazing how often we forget to put it into practice. Taking just a few seconds to pause and breathe allows us to make better decisions and consider our actions before we take them. It is also a great way to alleviate our stress while learning the art of thinking on our feet in a blink of a breath.


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To Do and Not To Do

We all have to-do-lists.
Some of us may prefer not to bother writing them down and keep them in our heads. Others may have simple lists of tasks and commitments, jotting them down on paper or electronically so as not to forget. Others still, may have more elaborate systems with priorities and calendar functions with reminders. Lastly, there are those of us who use robust time-management tools and techniques, to not only stay on top of our to-dos but also to balance our life-work responsibilities and help us focus on short, medium, and long term goals. This is all very fine, but how much do our to-do-lists define our lives? And will we ever feel fulfilled by this seemingly never ending conveyor belt of activities?

Getting things done can be quite addictive as it gives us a sense of purpose, engages our problem solving minds and feels rewarding when we become better and better at juggling and keeping up with it all. The problem lies in that we may neglect its equally important polar opposite: not doing.

Doing nothing may sound boring or even unpleasant, yet I would like to argue here that it is not only necessary for our health and wellbeing but it may actually also be highly fulfilling. Whereas ‘doing’ deals with the measurable, ‘being’ dwells in the immeasurable.

There is an art of being idle, to take the time to enjoy the simple act of breathing, to contemplate the beauty of life and to adopt a child-like carefree alertness. These ‘acts of being’ are not reserved to the poets, philosophers and religious people – they are accessible to everyone.

With practice, we quickly recognise how good it feels to give ourselves a few moments of peace each day. Once we are able to put on hold all the things we have to do, even momentarily, we may touch a sense of freedom that we use to experience as children.

There is nothing wrong with the “to-do”s so long as they leave enough space for the “to-be”s


Photo by Kai D.

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Be the breath


The first act of mindfulness is breathing and unfortunately, most of us lose it at a very young age. As adults, we breathe but usually poorly. So, I invite you to start a learning journey towards skilful breathing once again. There are many exercises that you can learn, but as always it is good to start small and simple. Here is one to begin with:

Sit with your back straight and gently seal your lips. Start to notice your breath. Is it full? Are you using every part of your lungs? Is your tummy moving? Breath smoothly, soundlessly and without pause between the inhalation and exhalation.

Exhale for 6 seconds and inhale for just 3 seconds.

Keep breathing and, if you wish, add a little visualisation. Imagine that with every out breath a little parcel of negativity escapes your body. Let go of muscle tension, mental boundaries, emotional limitations, and release whatever is holding you back.

Continue for about 3 minutes, then gently stretch before getting up.

Go on, do it now… you have nothing to loose.

Breathing is something most of us take for granted, yet our breath is much more than getting oxygen to our blood. It shapes how we are. There are countless moments during the day when we get stressed, irritated or tired. Stopping for three minutes and focusing on breathing is a great way to become more conscious of what is happening. The more we do it the more natural it becomes.

Be the breath and your awareness will expand.


Photo: Anton Repponen

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This is day two of a writing challenge triggered by the work of Chelsea & Scott Dinsmore. The aim of this blog is to inspire change and to document a necessary transition, both individual and collective, towards a better, healthier world. The scope is holistic in nature, yet it comprises four specific fields of action, namely: Earth, Health, Wealth, and Self-knowledge.

Today, I am going to focus on wellbeing or more specifically on exercise and mindfulness. It is hard to help others and to be the change we want to see in the world if we are not well within ourselves. The topic of health is vast and usually tends to become more in important in people’s life when one is unfit or unwell, but it is well established that prevention is better than cure. Regardless of the state of our current health, it is vital that we spend a little time and attention to improving it. One of the most effective ways to do that is to establish a mindful habit of daily exercise and calm. And this where the XY-Zen project comes in.

Seeing the importance of encouraging more people to improve their health, a friend and I are devising a simple programme that can easily be adopted by almost anyone regardless of how busy their life might be. We have called it XY-Zen. I will not go into much detail here as it is still early days, but here is our intention with the project:

“Our mission is to help busy people adopt the healthy and minful habit of exercising and relaxing regularly,  through a carefully designed online programme and app. Each exercise is introduced slowly and gradually so it is effortless for our users to look after their mind and body from the comfort of their home. Using social accountability, our programmes are simple, fun and customisable to provide measurable results and greater well-being.”

I have been practicing a simple flow of exercise and breathing for the past sixteen years and more recently took up simple sitting meditation. It has been good for me and I really feel that more people could benefit from adopting a healthy routine for both the body and the mind. It is clear that there are many existing programmes already available out there but much too often they are time-consuming, or difficult to practice and  keep up. One of the unexpected consequences of starting this project has been a renewed interest in yoga, pranayama, and mindfulness. I have been spending the last four and a half months exploring different types of exercises and relaxation methods and feel super healthy! It has also become clearer that it was not going to be easy but I feel that it is still worthwhile pursuit.

If you are interested or would like to give us some feedback, feel free to either send us an email (xyzenstaff{at} or visit us on our XY-Zen Community Page

Do you have a daily exercise/relaxation sequence that you practice? If not, what is stopping you? We would love to hear your comments.


Photo Credit: Patrick Hendry

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Breathing Balance

Nostrils onfire

A healthy mind in a healthy body” is probably on everyone’s wish list. Yet putting this simple wisdom into practice proves to be quite elusive.

Improving one’s breathing is a great place to start. There are many type of breathing exercises but one of my favourites is the simple exercise of alternate nostril breathing. the Sanskrit name for the exercise is Nadi Shodana and  powerful breathing practice with wide reaching benefits. It is quite simple and you don’t have to be a yogi to practice it. It is a great way to start the day with but it can be practiced almost anytime (preferably not after eating) and it is particularly helpful if you feel a little overwhelmed or stressed. Some people also practice this exercise just before going to bed to help them fall asleep and improve the quality of their sleep.

There are many variations of the exercise, but here is a simple instruction that I was taught and which I have been practicing every day for the last three weeks:

  1. Take a comfortable sitting position, making sure your spine is straight.
  2. Relax your left palm  into your lap and bring your right hand just in front of your face.
  3. Bring your pointer finger and middle finger to rest below the thumb of your right hands as shown below. The fingers you will be actively using are the thumb and ring finger.
    Vishnu mudra right hand
  4. Close your eyes and take a deep breath in and out through your nose.
  5. Close your right nostril with your right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril slowly and steadily.
  6. Close the left nostril with your ring finger so both nostrils are held closed; retain your breath at the top of the inhale for a brief pause.
  7. Open your right nostril and release the breath slowly through the right side; pause briefly at the bottom of the exhale.
  8. Inhale through the right side slowly.
  9. Hold both nostrils closed (with ring finger and thumb).
  10. Open your left nostril and release breath slowly through the left side. Pause briefly at the bottom.

Repeat 5 cycles allowing your mind to follow your inhales and exhales. A slow regular breath is recommended.

Alternate nostril breathing is both calming and spirit lifting and a perfect way to develop and maintain balance. When practiced daily, it provides the foundation on which to build a heathy mind in a healthy body.


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