In Leadership for the Disillusioned (Allen & Unwin, 2007), management professor and yoga teacher, Amanda Sinclair suggests that we have constructed leadership as a disembodied activity. She focuses on the seemingly simple act of breathing to demonstrate how re-embodying leadership can bring about significant positive change in our practice. However, there a couple of stumbling blocks that must be removed in order to proceed.
First, we are not accustomed to thinking that our body has any role to play in leadership, so we must be open to a more holistic approach to both understanding and practice. Second, we think of breathing as something that we do automatically, without having to think about it, or interfere with it. We must learn to engage in conscious purposive breathing, taking control of the taken-for-granted and learning to use it to our advantage, rather being a victim to the changes in our breathing that come about in response to the situations we encounter on a daily basis.
Very often when we are concentrating or feeling stressed we will be breathing in a very shallow manner, or even holding our breath. Sinclair suggests that we take some advice from negotiation specialist Tom Fisher, who said that we should learn to STOP, an acronym that stands for stop what you’re doing, take a conscious breath, observe bodily sensations, and then proceed. Employing this technique heightens our state of awareness and shifts us out of reaction mode, increasing our capacity to connect with others.
Of course, there are numerous breathing exercises that can be learned, which not only have positive physiological effects like lowering heart rate, increasing oxygen supply to the blood, and aiding digestion, but we become more aware of our physical presence and actually provide the appropriate physiological state to allow for mindfulness and an extended appreciation of our surroundings. Sinclair has experimented with starting her management and leadership classes with a few minutes of breathing exercises. Students were reluctant at first, sometimes out of embarrassment and sometimes because they thought it was a waste of time, but the benefits were quickly apparent, and the practice became part of the routine.