The Big Breath

4b5e746ac1369668f22c8a6f199bda32--relaxation-quotes-relaxing-quotesI don’t think I’ve ever before understood so little of a book and yet been intrigued enough to carry on reading it nonetheless. I bought The Cosmic Hologram a couple of months ago after being captivated by a presentation given by the author, cosmologist Jude Currivan. Her story of our Universe ranges dizzyingly from cosmology to quantum mechanics, starting from the big bang.

Only, according to the latest cosmological evidence, it wasn’t big. And it wasn’t a bang. The evidence she cites suggests that our Universe is finite and that its original super-rapid expansion was exquisitely ordered and fine-tuned, more like a big breath than a big bang – which echoes nicely the ancient Vedic sages of India who envisaged the beginning of the Universe as an out-breath of the cosmic creator Brahma.

I like the image of the big breath. There’s a short poem by E E Cummings written during the 2nd World War whose image presages the scientific evidence too:

when
god decided to invent 
everything he took one 
breath bigger than a circustent 
and everything began

(Here’s the whole poem – the second verse pulls no punches.)

Everything starts with breath

If you’re curious about communication, expression, presence, connection or energy – any of these things – you can’t fail to be interested in breath. It’s the starting point of all our attempts to communicate with each other and indeed do almost anything. No work on voice projection and tone, body language or “getting your message across” bears any fruit without going back to fundamentals of breath – and not so much the physical act itself as the original impulse behind it.

Whenever you speak, before any sound comes from your mouth, your thought/emotion initiates a breath – not any old breath, but a breath whose energy and character exquisitely matches what you have to communicate and which is designed to create the particular sounds that express what you have to say.

You can hear this particularly clearly in the transparent communication of young children. However, as sound is so revealing of truth, most adults learn to interfere with the breath-to-sound connection, so that the resulting sound expresses habitual control and obfuscation (however much they paste expressiveness on top). But even then the breath tells the truth – in this case the truth of obfuscation.

If you want to communicate – genuinely communicate – everything leads back to how much you allow breathing to play its part.

Breath as a powerful support

Breath is your friend – it’s kept you alive till now! It’s especially your friend when you feel troubled or fearful. For instance:

  • An extended steady in-breath through the nose in its measured character invites steady expression, and thus gives you courage to speak or act.
    .
  • A feeling of excitement energising your in-breath gives your expression a power that a fearful breath lacks, and brings to your sound a sense of commitment and positivity.
    .
  • A huge in-breath – a breath “bigger than a circus-tent” – carries you over hurdles, such as making a statement that feels hard to say. If we took a breath that big, couldn’t you and I do anything?
    .
  • The out-breath too – when you sigh, your whole respiratory system is able to release and reset. If you were tense, you release. If you were stubbornly holding on to something, you let go. If you weren’t able to think before, suddenly on the next breath you can.

Breathing carries you through anything – fear, anxiety, pain. When things are bad, breathe! When you are tense, breathe! When you feel awkward, breathe! When a conversation falters, breathe! When you want to feel – joy, love, peace – breathe! And things become easier. A breath gets you into motion again, and in motion life moves on to a better place. And if you want to breathe, breath out.

Breath and intuition

Speaking-skills coaches who talk about breath at all often concentrate on the muscles required for the in-breath. But, as I was newly reminded at a yoga class recently, if you direct your attention to a full outbreath, the consequent in-breath takes on the nature of a release or surrender. It’s a powerful surrender however – a gathering up of energy – and on that in-breath any accompanying yoga movement that in the normal way might be effortful becomes light and easy.

That surrender is much more than a physical release. Breath is physical and mental – emotional and spiritual too. That relaxed in-breath after an intentional out-breath opens the unconscious mind with a wonderful sense of liberation to new clarity and lateral thinking inaccessible to the logic of the conscious mind. It’s the moment when “don’t know” gives birth to sound intuition.

Just a single breath? Well, yes. I’ve found, when I inexpertly practise meditation, that if I remind myself that, rather than a clock-aware 20 minutes, one single breath – this breath – is enough, then that breath has the quality and depth to illuminate (whether or not I then continue for more minutes.)

Breathe, breathe, breathe

So today – in the interest of business success, leadership, creativity, focus and better relationships, not to mention health, wealth and personal wellbeing and whatever else matters to you – pay attention to your breath. Try any of the following:

  • Take a moment to to breathe right out and, with full awareness of the experience, allow the in-breath to be a complete letting go.
  • Sigh out at any odd moment of pleasure and catch the often missed joy of the in-breath that follows.
  • Breathe-sigh out especially at any moment of difficulty – be it exasperation, worry, envy or boredom – and then witness the release on the in-breath, watching for any minute seed of insight that might pop into your mind. You’ll have to be awake to catch it though – it could be light as gossamer.

Then notice how life flows more, how your mind works better, how relationships are easier – how the quantum-smallness of a single breath is connected with the cosmic-vastness of larger purpose in your own life as well as in the broader scope of the Universe.

Just before posting this today I cycled into town along a country track by a stream. Suddenly, a heron flew up from almost under my wheels and I gasped with the thrill of it. What a large elegant bird close up! We talk about moments that take your breath away, and this was one of those, but in fact (and I’d never quite noticed this before), it was a sudden sharp intake of air – a beautiful release.

Sometimes it’s the same moments that take your breath away that breathe purpose and love back into your life. Steve Maraboli

Go well,

Judy

What Else?

Lots about breath in my books

Dip in for help with communication, presenting and voice … life even …

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others – pure consciousness even! Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – offering 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

Coaching

Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential. Email me or call on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype or phone.

Voice and Communication Coaching

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body AND your breath. Self consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Download any of my E-courses

(I never share your email with anyone):

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

 

 

I’m Giving Up on Authenticity

Who are you?To spend a life time seeking for one’s authentic self, and then get second thoughts on the whole thing. How come?

I’m giving up on authenticity.

I know, I know – dear authenticity, you have been an aspiration of mine for quite some time. I’ve even sung your praises in print for goodness sake. It’s been a long time … right back to childhood even when my mother younger than I am now used to encourage me before an event, “Just be yourself, dear.”

I didn’t have the faintest idea how to fulfil her wish then, and I’ve been seeking how to ever since. It’s perhaps the quest of our times – find yourself, know who you really are. I’ve done the work like others have – the psychometrics, the MBTI, if you want the proof – and yes, I do know quite a lot about myself. I’m artistic – I know because I create things and people say they like them. I’m shy – because my whole family was shy. I’m quick – and that sometimes makes me ignore the odd detail. I’m kind, kind of, mostly…

But I’m not sure any more that focussing on what I already think I know about myself is helpful. When I say, “I’m that sort of person”, or more often, “I’m not that sort of person” I use it mostly as an excuse or a defence. As in, “I’m not the kind of person to sell myself” or “I’m not the kind of person to demand my rights,” for instance.

A great little book was recommended to me this month. The Path, by Michael Puett and Christine Gros-Loh offers a new way of thinking about ancient Chinese wisdom. The first philosopher discussed, Confucius, was a believer in tiny acts – or rituals – where you practise “as if” – i.e. you act differently to your customary way, and thus gradually habituate yourself to new ways of being and acting in the world. One section headed “The Malleable Self”, sounded like the opposite of “The Authentic Self”, and its ideas resonated with me. It suggested that by sticking to your self-definition of your true self, acting with your usual patterns and self-labels, you might actually harden them, and thus limit yourself.

I’ve always liked the story in Tim Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis about the tennis player with an inadequate volley stroke. Every time the player was at the net he reacted defensively and feebly. His coach asked him to demonstrate how he would like to be able to play at the net, without worrying whether he actually hit the ball or not. After an unsteady start, the player began to show some aggression in his play, and eventually hit a series of fine attacking shots one after the other. Speaking with Tim afterwards, the player said he wished he were able to play like that, but he wasn’t really that sort of person. i.e. The person who had played like that wished he could play like that! He couldn’t in his own map of reality because it wouldn’t have been true to who he was. Think about it.

Neuroscience agrees with the idea of a malleable self. We now know that genes can be switched on and off, and that it’s perfectly possible to create new neural pathways through the brain. We aren’t as fixed as we might like to think.

The idea of a malleable self turns our usual thinking on its head. Instead of a converging quest inwards to find the holy grail of the real genuine me, it suggests I might instead expand into the huge adventure of embracing every possibility of what I could be. What might I not do? Who might I not be!

Most of us are already different with different people (okay, I heard that protest, you may not be.) Have you ever found yourself talking to someone from one part of your life when someone from a completely different part of your life suddenly joins you, and you realise that your usual way of interacting with one is not the way you usually are with the other, and you find yourself nonplussed for a moment?

The ability to choose different ways to respond to people and circumstances is surely relevant to the job of the coach. (or leader, teacher, parent and human being). Our ability to enter the reality of the other person is a major element in connecting and building trust, and it requires us to be flexible – malleable. A coach needs a variety of qualities to be able to relate to and help different people at different times. At one moment the fierce volley shot is just right for a particular coachee; at another the high gentle lob is more successful. But we are only as different as we have the capacity to be, and like in tennis practice helps.

Two questions:

  1. Doesn’t being different things to different people mean you lose your identity.

Not at all. Doing what the occasion requires with flexibility strengthens you and gives you more influence. People feel even more strongly the core of you, which isn’t your behaviours, but the light of consciousness at your centre.

  1. How exactly do you create the possibility of acting differently?

By realising that you can learn to be any way you want to be. Every time you catch the thought, “People like me can’t do that” you can put forward a different thought, “If I want to and believe it’s the thing to do, I can do it.”

In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. Albert Camus

The other thing you can do is to find counter examples. E.g. maybe you’re too impatient to find out what’s wrong with your computer; but you have huge patience in working out a complex pattern in sewing. So patience and you are already well acquainted. You may not speak up when something is wrong at work, but when your child suffered an injustice you did speak up, so you have done it and know how to.

So three cheers for the great ocean of possibility today.

Okay authenticity, I know there’s a different side to you too – the ability to be real, not fake, trustworthy not perfidious, and genuine and honest, not disingenuous. I just thought there for a moment you were trying to box me in – when I’m ready to fly.

But, Peter, how do we get to Never Land?

(says Wendy in Disney’s Peter Pan)

Fly, of course!
Fly!
It’s easy! All you have to do is to is to is to
Huh That’s funny!
What’s the matter?
Don’t you know?
Oh sure, it’s, it’s just that I never thought about it before
Say, that’s it! You think of a wonderful thought!
Any happy little thought?
Uhhuh

You just imagine you can do it.
Go well everyone,
Judy

What else?

Dip into my Books for help with communication, presenting and voice … life even …

The Art of Conversation
What an important topic! Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others – pure consciousness even! Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
This is a book about performance anxiety – offering 25 different strategies to perform with confidence. But it’s not just about presenting and performing – you’ll find its ideas useful for eliminating anxiety throughout your life.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

Coaching

If summer-time is a bit quieter at work for you, use the opportunity to get a coach for a month or two. Whether you already feel successful or are struggling with challenges, coaching can help you make the most of your potential.  Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you. Coaching can take place face-to-face or via Skype or phone.

Voice and Communication Coaching

It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. How you come across depends on your voice and how you use your body. Self consciousness is the grand saboteur. You’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Speak Easy: The essential guide to speaking in public

This book by my New Zealand friend, Maggie Eyre, gives you great tips on public speaking. Contact her if you’re down under and need help with public speaking – she has coached the best, including most notably former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Download any of my E-courses

(I never share your email with anyone):

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

 

The Double Bind of Performance Anxiety

Performance AnxietyDo you ever suffer from performance anxiety? Most of us do at times.

It seems to me that people’s communication difficulties can quite often be summed up as follows:

  1. They hold a fixed image of what excellence looks like – a platonic ideal if you like.
  2. They have a negative image of their own performance that doesn’t match up to the ideal.
  3. They have decided that their performance has got to look like their ideal of excellence – only it doesn’t.

Result: Impasse. They’re stuck.

People tend to express stuckness by freezing. They are literally petrified (turned to stone). When you’re petrified, your body becomes rigid and unbending; your voice become inflexible and monotonous, and your brain becomes inelastic and turgid.

Many react to freezing by trying very hard, but the effort results in stiffness and rigidity nonetheless. Their over-reliance on preparation and control always produces a predictable and inflexible delivery.

What do the best performers do?

So what might we learn from the best performers? Well, let’s acknowledge first of all, they’re not immune to fear – far from it, there are innumerable examples of brilliant performers who suffer from severe stage fright – I recount some of them in my books. But they don’t insist on a particular ideal of perfection, so they’re not caught in that double bind of gotta/can’t.

The best performers leap into their fear, which means letting go of expectation, and accepting that today’s performance – however it turns out – is today’s, maybe the best or maybe not, but unique and unrepeatable.

So, for example, Dame Judy Dench doesn’t have a set prepared way of performing and prefers live performance to film just because it isn’t fixed. An interviewer suggested to her that the secret to it all is preparation, and she disagreed:

No, I like to feel real fear. … It’s to do with freefalling. I think that’s exactly what it is.

She added,

I find it too hard to cope (in film) with that idea that you can’t change it. I love the way in theatre that you can change it every night. (from an interview with Rim Adams in The Observer)

In my book Butterflies and Sweaty Palms, I record driving some actors to a filming session and watching Monty Python comedian John Cleese record a business video for Video Arts. The same short scene was repeated several times, and each time Cleese played his part a little differently, every time wonderfully funny. His variations kept the rest of the cast on their toes, and at times they struggled to keep a straight face as he produced an unexpected comic twist or trick of timing. On one take, no one could hold it any longer, and the scene collapsed into general laughter. They achieved some great takes that day.

Performing well is very different from getting it right. It’s an act of creation – re-creation if you like – and however consistent the content every performance is different. Top musicians understand this well. There’s no definitive performance; today’s performance is today’s; tomorrow’s belongs to tomorrow – however familiar, it’s all exploration; it’s all play.

Stuckness in life

Now that translates into life too. In the charming novel The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George, the protagonist Jean Perdu remains stuck for 20 years, unable to love again because of a disastrous love affair  in his youth. Things change only when at last he’s able to look at what happened in the face and therefore let go.

An impasse is like a syllogism that doesn’t work:

I left my boyfriend for my career, and good people don’t do that.

I’m a good person.

I did that.

Just another variation on gotta/can’t.

So long as we cling to certainty about the rightness of our thinking, the logic doesn’t work, and we can’t look at the situation square on without confusion and suffering. So we don’t look, and a part of us numbs down, which means one part less for loving and caring. Such a situation can endure for decades – even a lifetime – until we dare to look it directly in the face.

No wonder fairy stories and legends abound with themes of being turned into stone or killed by looking – Medusa, the basilisk … We are terrified to look at our thinking.

So, what’s wrong with the thinking that gets us stuck?

1. Dead seriousness – I/we take ourselves too seriously.

Lighten up – it definitely won’t hurt, and it’ll probably greatly improve your every endeavour. “The only difference between a wise man and a fool is that the wise man knows he’s playing,” said Fritz Perls.

2. Insistence on perfection or rightness

The king of pianists, Vladimir Horowitz, said that perfection itself is imperfection. If perfection is just getting the right notes or words in the right order, of course it’s imperfection; it’s only a fraction of the story when you’re communicating – and living. Concentrate on the rest – energy, feeling, connection, desire, empathy, understanding… anything but correctness in fact!

3. Clinging on – to control, practice, preparation, consistency, the idea that it’s got to be a particular way for whatever reason

Let go – accept whatever transpires; get your ego out of the way. Or as Brene Brown, who often puts things well, says: “What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think – or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?” Better a vulnerable living-breathing-human-being than an error-free-robot every time.

Enjoy the dance!

Go well,

Judy

 

OTHER THOUGHTS

Voice of Influence Workshop

Over the years this 2-day workshop has made a big difference to people.  I found the course fabulous, probably the best course I’ve been on. Got so much from it. wrote Susan Nimmo RBS.  Numerous other testimonials here. I continue to get enquiries about the course and would like very much to run it again, but need someone to get people together and organise it. If that’s you, let me know! If you want to express your interest in attending the course, likewise let me know.

My Books

If you’ve found today’s blog interesting, you may like to follow up the topic in my book, Butterflies and Sweaty Palms in book or e-form.

All my books are about communication, so here are the rest!

The Art of Conversation
Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have authentic and satisfying conversations.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to dip into to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

(Un)Stuck

By the way, there’s a free download for educators of a neat 9-page story book called (Un) Stuck here – probably not intended for the general reader but relevant to many of us just the same.

Coaching

Feeling stuck? Need an impartial listening ear?Decision time? A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

The Miracle of Voice

Is your voice too quiet, boring, untuneful or effortful? It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource you have in your voice? If you don’t like your voice, you can change it; you’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Presencing Institute

Have you heard of the Presencing Institute, based at MIT? Some great resources, courses, videos, ideas – have a look.

Download some of my E-courses

(I never share your email with anyone):

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

Are you cool, calm and collected?

IMG_4820Wouldn’t it be good to be productive and successful all the time
and deal with everything calmly?

Well, yes. But …

That absorbing author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, said something that struck me this week: “Life doesn’t always follow an ideology,” she said, “You might believe in certain things and life gets in and things just become messy. You know?”

I know. I often felt like that during February, which can be a flat month for many. I worked hard at this and that; I fulfilled family responsibilities a bit here and a bit there; I felt over-worked one week and slightly wearied the next, and I experienced satisfaction at one minute and dissatisfaction the next. What happened to motivation, regular meditation, disciplined writing, order and direction? How did life get messy while my back was turned? Perhaps you’ve been in this situation yourself?

Cool, calm and collected

Oh, to be cool, calm and collected all the time!  I like the word “collected” – it’s such an old-fashioned term, and I like the image it conjures of all the disparate parts of a person being gathered up to make a congruent whole.

Though I don’t fully understand the meaning of “collected”, I know exactly what the opposite feels like. It’s that disjointed feeling as if bits of the self have been allowed to split off and pull in different directions; and life gets messy.

Grey patches

Why is it that life moves forward purposefully at one time, and then doesn’t? “Well, why not?” is one answer. Even the most brilliant artists, scientists  and leaders don’t accomplish without pause. I’ve been reading the poems of Mary Oliver recently (here’s a fascinating interview about her work). She has had a few hundred poems published in her long life, but there was a decade between her first book and her second, then six more years before her third. I don’t know how long it takes to write a poem, but I reckon that gives time for a lot of living in between.

We are easily seduced by witnessing only the highlights of other people’s existence into thinking that their lives are one long flow of glorious accomplishment. Even Facebook can give the false impression that a friend’s life is a continuous celebration of joy and success.

Mary Oliver speaks of the problem of purposeful living in one of her best-known poems, The Summer Dayin which she describes in detail a grasshopper that has landed on her hand and talks of strolling idly through fields all day. She concludes,

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Chief gremlin

So what to do about those “non-flow” times?  Mary Oliver doesn’t provide the answer, though she challenges with her question – as if to say, “So, I strolled through the fields all day and paid attention… SO? What else should I have done?!”

I recognise my own chief disintegration gremlin – it’s that old friend “ought”. “Ought” is brilliant at disrupting any activity. I start on a piece of writing that interests me, and ten minutes in, “ought” taps me on the shoulder, “You ought to be getting on with that course manual, don’t you think?” I switch task and have only just started on the manual when I feel another tap, “Oughtn’t you phone your son now before he gets to work?” Having failed to get through on the phone, I get another poke, “Getting frustrated are you? You ought to be more disciplined about meditating every day and then you’d be calmer, don’t you agree?” On it goes and my day becomes ever more fragmented.

Collecting myself

The funny thing is, I do know how to collect myself. Here’s one example: a while ago, I went on a peace of mind retreat to Mt Abu in India, where much of each day was spend in quiet meditation or other thoughtful pursuits. Towards the end of my time there, two different people invited me to join them in an activity on the same afternoon. Both invitations felt important in different ways, and I found myself worrying, unable to decide which to accept. In the atmosphere of Mt Abu, instead of telling myself negative stories or continuing to run through all the pros and cons, let alone all the oughts and shoulds, of the situation, I stopped and sat on a low wall, and cleared my thoughts for a few tranquil moments. Then I stood up and knew exactly what I was going to do – cool, calm and collected. How simple.

I think that a part of collecting yourself is knowing – trusting – that you cannot get life wrong – that it’s alright, that you will get through, whatever you choose. As Galway Kinnell tells us in his famous prayer of the three is’s:

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

And you collect yourself and know that whatever happens is okay – you want “what is”. Dark February, windy March, primroses in April – it’s all completely and entirely okay.

 

ALSO TO SHARE 

Coaching

Feeling stuck? Need a nudge? Decision time? A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

The Miracle of Voice

It’s not just what we say, it’s how we say it. Do you realise what an amazing potential resource we have in our voice? If you don’t like your voice, you can change it; you’ll experience positive results after even a single coaching session. . Email me or call me on 01306 886114.

Download some of my E-courses (I never share your email with anyone):

10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP
10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

My Books

The Art of Conversation
Conversational skill isn’t really about being articulate and having a fund of things to talk about – though that’s what most books on the subject would suggest. It’s much more about being at ease with who you are and knowing how to connect with others. Only then do you have satisfying and buzzy conversations.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
Subtitle: 25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence. It’s about WHAT to do if you’re scared. And don’t worry – we’re ALL scared at times.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
The perfect resource to dip into to discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence
“The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

Workshops

Want some help in your organisation on communicating, presenting, voice, confidence, NLP or coaching? My workshops are practical, energising and effective. Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

Have a good month.

Go well,

Judy

What Does Success Look Like This Year?

Success and Keeping OnI bought Alan Bennett’s latest book last month. I’m thinking of using the title, Keeping On Keeping On, as my New Year’s Resolution, as in, “This year, I think I’ll ‘keep on keeping on’.”

It’s the time of the New Year Honours, and whatever the spread of gongs, we notice the famous in the lists. They were successful, and that’s the message: if you work really hard, you can be successful too and win your gong. Make your resolutions: be bold and ambitious; demonstrate toughness and resilience; meet the right people; go get that prize.

Most of us want to be special, and this ambition suggests that most of us deep down fear that currently we’re a bit ordinary. Funny that – I now prefer to put that the other way around – realising that we’re all amazing and special, and our better task might be to get rid of our ego and find the ordinary in ourselves.

Upside down that might seem, but it’s been an upside down world this last year. Events have frequently demonstrated the worst in our leaders, and the aftermath fills us with fear for the coming year. If the kind of leadership demonstrated last year is special – if egotistical power-loving behaviour is “special”, who wants it?

What about a different goal for an important year – the ambition to be kind, for example? Now that would really be something.

I see much that is kind in Alan Bennett. Not just that he moved “the lady in the van” parked in the road outside his house into his garden and didn’t even consider it an act of charity; not just that he donated his archive to the Bodleian Library as a gesture of thanks to the British welfare state that had given him educational opportunities that his parents would otherwise never have afforded. Not his northern ‘of the people’ accent. More that in his autobiographical books and indeed all his writing his humanity and kindness shine out on every page.

Maybe for many, your New Year resolutions this year are to achieve particular goals and targets. But for others, this may not be your year for reaching goals, but for keeping on keeping on. Maybe you have parents becoming frailer, children needing you more, friends who are unwell or distressed, maybe your own mind and body demand your attention? These don’t have to be impediments to your goals – maybe they contain the pearl of great price for you this year.

Or maybe, as you make your resolutions, you reflect that you have made these same resolutions before, even many times – you’ve travelled and travelled, yet you’re back in the same old place again.

There’s a thought-provoking poem by Denise Levertov, called For Those Whom the Gods Love Less. (Hear her reading it here.) The title comes from a Greek saying that those whom the gods love die young. So those who live longer … Anyway, the poem begins:

When you discover
your new work travels the ground you had traversed
decades ago, you wonder, panicked,
‘Have I outlived my vocation? Said already
all that was mine to say?’

Don’t panic, she reassures. You might feel that it’s the same every year, but even in repetition the light falls differently and “radiant epiphanies recur”. She urges, “You can, you must proceed.”

TS Eliot, whose complete poems Jeremy Irons (there’s a voice!) has been reading all this week on Radio 4, declares, “the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”

So, maybe for you it’s your year to step aside from the Hero’s Journey for a moment; to draw back a little from the yoga stretch or your target in the gym, to go easy on your BHAG (big hairy ambitious goal), and find an “ordinary” resolution – maybe merely the resolution to be kind? (Or to be loving or peaceful or generous or grateful?) Now wouldn’t that be extraordinary? Special even.

Who of our politicians, business leaders, the great and the good, or celebrities famous for being famous is kind? Who would we choose for a New Year’s Honour if the criterion were to have been kind? Why isn’t there a Nobel Prize for kindness? The wonderful travel writer and human being Jan Morris in conversation with John Walsh from The Independent said,

Kindness is the ultimate path, the one thing that can stand up against all the shit, the ghastliness. It’s the ultimate human quality. I’ve often thought of starting a political party of Kindness, which would estimate the proportion of kindness there is in any policy. It would be the criterion for a whole system of government.

I really like that! So here’s the challenge: let’s look at the powerful this year and tweet any demonstrations of their kindness we notice. In fact, why just the powerful? Let’s all build a year of kindness. What kindnesses did you meet this Christmas and New Year? Today? It’s a way of perceiving that we all need urgently in these times, and I don’t think we’ve appreciated its full power yet.

PS – Kindness offers a bonus too. In a talk I attended last autumn, David Hamilton (author and former developer of drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer for the pharmaceutical industry) explained  that research at Oregon State University has proved that kindness – whether we act kindly or unbelievably merely witness a kind act – activates our parasympathetic nervous system and causes our body to produce oxytocin that calms the heart, slows ageing and makes us happier. Oh, and it’s contagious. So kindness is good for us too!

Happy New Year!

Judy

 

ALSO …

Learning Public Speaking from TED

TED Talks are probably by now too famous to need explaining, and if you Google TED you’ll now find scores of websites offering you help in delivering the perfect TED Talk. I find this short talk, TED’s Secret to Great Public Speaking by Chris Anderson, the current curator of TED Talks, one of the most useful.

Coaching

A few simple conversations with a coach can be life changing and worth the investment many times over. It’s not just about help with a to-do list, though it could be that too. It’s about getting to know yourself better – your skills, values and qualities – and discovering how to be the person you want to be. Then your way becomes clearer and smoother and you achieve more with less effort..  Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Performance Anxiety

Suffer from performance nerves? Read my book, Butterflies and Sweaty Palms. It’s full of excellent strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence, and dealing with scary gremlins. We’re all scared at times and need a helping hand. Here’s the proper link to my E-course, 10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety. A couple of coaching sessions, face-to-face or Skype, can also make all the difference.

Speaking with Authority

Download my e-course, How to Speak with More Authority. Or read my book, Voice of Influence.  Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level. My ‘Dummies’ book, Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies is also full of useful tips and strategies.

Engaging in conversation with ease

Read The Art of Conversationand find out how to make connection with people on a deeper, more satisfying level. Start with my free E-course, 10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation, for some first ideas.

Poem

I’ve just added another favourite poem to my website collection. Slow Dance by David Weatherhead is a poem for busy people. Maybe that’s you?

Worry? What me?

Five LIve

As I sat at my laptop a couple of days ago I thought I might write about that mild angst you sometimes wake up with that can colour your whole day – you know the kind of thing …

I was just getting going when the phone rang. It was a young guy from BBC Five Live. Had I seen the latest Telegraph article on whether conversation is dead and whether it matters? Would I agree to be interviewed via Skype on their programme later that day at 5.25 PM? Yes, I would.

He forwarded the article and twenty minutes later called me back to hear my first ideas on the subject. No problem at all … yet I felt a mild angst, and for the rest of the day, I thought and worried about the interview at fairly frequent intervals.

By 5 PM I was already linked on Skype, and tuned-in to Five Live, a channel I’ve never knowingly listened to before – the pace was fast, the tone unrelentingly young and energetic…

At 5.20 I was put on stand-by, and could hear the programme through their speakers. At 5.23, a voice broke through,

“Judy? Okay if we announce you as “Judy Apps, Communications Expert and author of The Art of Conversation?
Yes, that’s f…” He was gone.

“COMMUNICATIONS EXPERT?” (said my internal voice in capital letters). Expert? (bold, underlined, question mark). Expert? No pressure then …

5.24. One minute to go. The journalist is currently interviewing a member of parliament from the Labour Conference, and the debate is getting quite lively: “So you are a Socialist?” “Yes, we’re all Socialists here,” … A new voice breaks in and I suddenly realise it’s for me – okay, go, go, this now  is it!

“Sorry, Judy,” says the disembodied voice, “This Conference interview is running over. We’ll try to fit you in some time during the next hour. We’ll call you when we’re ready.”

What? Any old time during the next hour?

Okay, keep the energy going … I’m just making a cup of tea when the phone rings. It’s my original young man of the morning with the briefest of messages.

“Hi-Judy-sorry-we’ve-pulled-your-item-perhaps-call-you-another-time-Bye.”

Oh. Was that it? That was indeed it.

I went and played the piano – Beethoven, with loads of furious energy and quite a lot of wrong notes – until I felt better; (vigorous shaking being a well-known large animal strategy for dissipating stress – as Peter Levine tells us in Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.

Well, what a funny day! I’d spent much of it focused on the future. And the future had laughed at me: “Didn’t expect that outcome, did you?!”

Isn’t it the strangest thing – to use nervous energy on what hasn’t happened yet, and certainly won’t turn out precisely the way you’re imagining it anyway? It’s what I work on with people all the time, for goodness sake. We’ve all experienced it.

When you’re in the middle of something that gets the adrenalin going, the only thing is to be in the present, accepting the situation as it is, breathing and living it – holding on to the intention to stay in the here and now. It makes all the difference when you can. It’s the only way to listen well; the only way to pick up what’s really happening; the only way to use your full intelligence and respond mindfully.

At the Brahma Kumaris yoga centres, quiet music plays for one minute on the hour every hour – a reminder to return to yourself, to check in and see if mind, heart and spirit are still occupied in the way you want them to be. It’s a gentle effective system for becoming present again – I really like it. Try it one day if you like by setting up a gentle hourly alarm on your mobile.

I turn to Rumi for inspiration, and as usual he has something helpful to say:

This now is it. Your deepest need and desire
is satisfied by this moment’s energy
here in your hand.

Thanks, Rumi, that’s what I wanted to write about!

 

Also to share …

Coaching with Compassion – Sun. 9 Oct – London

Another great event in the Spirit of Coaching series, hosted by the Brahma Kumaris in London – 2.00-5.30pm.

An opportunity to explore the depth and meaning of compassion and the important role it can play in the coaching process.  For all coaches and anyone interested in personal growth and development.

It’s free, but you need to register here. I’ll be there – hope to meet you.

My Books

The Art of Conversation
No one ever taught us the art of conversation – no wonder many of us struggle. Change your life with confident communication.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms
The practical answer to the fears and anxieties of presenting, speaking in meetings and expressing yourself when the going gets tough. 25 brilliant strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence.

Voice and Speaking Skills for Dummies
Discover the power of your voice, understand how it works and use it like a professional, whether in meetings, addressing an audience, or standing in front of a classroom.

Voice of Influence     “The body language of sound”. Like body language, your voice gives you away. Find your authentic voice, speak powerfully and influentially, and reach people on a deeper level.

10 Tips for Having a Great Conversation

Do you struggle to know what you say when you meet someone new? Or do you feel that you babble on and sound shallow or childish? Or do you sometimes find yourself stumbling, where others seem to converse so comfortably? Then try this e-course – free to download here.

Try some of my other E-courses too (I never share your email with anyone):
10 Secrets for Overcoming Performance Anxiety
How to Speak with More Authority
Understanding NLP

Coaching

Coaching is for anyone and everyone. I hear from leaders in organisations who want to air ideas and solve problems, executives who wish to polish their skills, unemployed people who want to get back into the market, people who feel in a rut. Lots of reasons, but all wanting the same thing – to move forward and be the best of themselves. Maybe it’s time for you to take that step? A few sessions of coaching are affordable and potentially life changing. Email me or call me on 01306 886114 if you want an initial conversation about what coaching might do for you.

Training Courses

Would your company benefit from a group session on voice, communicating, presenting, NLP or coaching? Get in touch. Read testimonials here.

“Today, like every other day”

A few lines by the poet Rumi, from the collection on my website:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Thanks to those of you that get in touch – it’s good to hear from you.

Go well,

Judy

judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

 

 

 

What’s the Job of a Coach?

golden-statue-of-hero-riding-horse-2701x1986_101722 (1)When planning my old website my designer decided to make the subject headings gold – I quite liked it. When I tried to replicate the tone in my newsletters I discovered that the colour that appears as gold on screen is in fact a dirty yellow/ochre/brown colour. It just deceives the eye into thinking it’s gold.

When you think about it, even when you see a gold object in real life, its golden glitter is not intrinsic, but the result of reflected light – its glow is not inside it, as it were. If you want that, you need a source of light. Gold objects are not sources of light.

I was pondering this after coaching someone the other day. Sometimes, as coaches we are asked to polish a person’s golden image – i.e. to enhance their persona.

Let me explain. The client tells you that he (or she of course – I’ll carry on with ‘he’ for now) wants to achieve a particular outcome, and seeks your help to achieve it. The GROW model of coaching describes the process quite well – here’s one version:

What’s your Goal?

What’s your current Reality?

What are the Obstacles stopping you from reaching your goal? And then, what are your Options for dealing with these?

Finally, what is the Way Forward? What Will you do, by when?

Let’s say the client has come to me with the goal of ‘walking his talk’ as a leader – of coming across more powerfully. People who have inner power and confidence tend to speak in a deeper voice, stand tall and balanced, and look at their listeners. So – to put it simply – I help the client with voice, deportment and eye contact. He then looks and sounds powerful enough to convince quite a lot of people quite a lot of the time. But not all the people all the time. It’s hard to put your finger on it exactly, but there’s something artificial about the image – exactly that, in fact – it’s an image.

In working in this way, I’m helping the client to polish his personality and make it glitter like gold, rather than helping him shine with his own light from within. In so doing, I’m short-changing him.

Let’s imagine that this client – this leader – had a father who always told him he wasn’t good enough. Now in adulthood, however much he is promoted and treated with respect, there’s a small voice inside him that continues to whisper, “You’re not good enough.” That’s a pretty common scenario – you might even recognise it yourself. I can help him burnish his golden image till we’re both blue in the face but it won’t send the small negative voice away, and so he’ll never quite convince people of his leadership qualities. We see this in public figures all the time – the EU debate is a great place to look at the moment – there are those who play the role of powerful leader and those – far fewer I might add – who radiate moral power and genuine authority from a source within.

In order to do the latter, our client requires something different. I need to help him find his confidence and integrity inside, like a light within. And that means that I have to be capable of seeing the potential existence of that light within him, even when it’s obscured by a glittering reflection.

And for the client to see it too, it’s necessary for him to look beneath the glossy exterior and come face to face with himself – face to face with timidity or vulnerability or fear. Once that demon is faced – and incidentally it’s scarcely ever a real demon but only a shadow on the wall – then the person is able to step up to real authority and leadership, and convince with his authenticity. As wise old Rumi tells us, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

What is the glossy exterior, this glittering reflection that wants to create smoke and mirrors and reflect glory and power? It’s the ego.  But as coach, I know that a person’s real power – their source of light – is revealed when in coaching we go underneath the gloss to their authentic values and knowledge of self.

We coaches don’t achieve that aim all the time. When we do, that’s the real deal; that’s what we’re here to do.

Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion. Rumi

 

Coaching

Have you thought about finding a coach? If you haven’t experienced good coaching before, speak to someone who has. It’s extraordinary how in a surprisingly short time you can achieve results that transform your life, and stick. Whether you lack confidence for an interview or change of direction, are stuck in a work or close relationship, can’t find your way forward or want to be more effective in your work and relationships, coaching can achieve successful lasting change for you.

I offer one-to-one coaching both to executives a senior level and to people from every walk of life. It’s quite usual to book a series of 6 coaching sessions, either face-to-face or by video or Skype. I also offer one-off sessions to boost your confidence and skill for a particular conference speech or an important interview.

Don’t hold back if you’re looking for support in some area of your life – I can probably offer a solution that will suit you.

My books

Why not start off by buying one of my books – widely available – and then contact me with any questions you may have.

The Art of Conversation

– Change Your Life with Confident Communication. My most popular book – change your life with confident communication. Learn how to connect better and enjoy successful conversation with people.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies

All you need to know about speaking – in the familiar easy-learn format of this series.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms

– 25 sure-fire ways to speak and communicate with confidence. Suffer no longer from paralysing fear – you too can speak confidently and surely. This book is highly practical and effective.

Voice of Influence

– How to Get People to Love to Listen to You. People jump to conclusions about you because of your voice. Get your voice working for you and see the amazing difference it makes in your life!

Speaking and training

Though not running my open courses this year, I’m still public speaking and training, so do get in touch under either of those headings.

Other Links

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Western World by Iain Gilchrist is a startling and important book – several centimetres thick! – that describes the tension between two fundamentally different ways of being and thinking in the world today. Iain has now brought out The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning – a 10,000 word summary of his original book – fascinating stuff, easily accessible and well worth a read.

Another interesting read for coaches – and others – is Insight Dialogue: the Interpersonal Path to Freedom by Gregory Kramer – brings insights from interpersonal meditation that can prove valuable in coaching.

A Poem

Finally a poem by D H Lawrence on the subject of ego.  You can find other favourite poems on my website here.

When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego

When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
and when we escape like squirrels turning in the
cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.

Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh, and institutions will curl up like
burnt paper.

Do contact me at info@voiceofinfluence.co.uk if you have questions or comments about any of the above.

Enjoy the long June days,
Go well,

Judy

Lose Yourself to Find Yourself

FANTASTIC E-BOOK OFFER

 – this week-end only, 11 March to Mon morning 14 March

Just £1 for each of my books published by Crown House – for this week-end only, available from today, Friday till Monday morning, 14 March.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms offer here

– 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence. “If you’ve ever faced the fear of public speaking, this brilliant book is essential reading! Judy Apps provides super strategies for becoming a confident communicator. Her easy-to-learn and thorough approach tackles every aspect of speaking with great examples, stories and exercises.” Arielle Essex, author, Compassionate Coaching

Voice of Influence offer here

– Get People to Love to Listen to You.A book on speaking which focuses mainly on a person’s confidence to project themselves through the power of speech. The “blurb” promises a lot but I can assure the reader that the book delivers exactly what it says “on the tin”. Judy’s work is worthy of the greatest attention. Just love it! ” Ronnie Steele

I want to spread the word of this great offer, so feel free to share my messages here on Twitter or Facebook, or forward this newsletter to your friends. Thanks!

 

 

Lose Yourself to Find Yourself

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Last summer I wrote down
some words from Thomas Leonard
that caught my attention. 

This spring, I began to
understand them.

What happened in between?

What happened? Well, certainly no study of the words – I didn’t look at them again till just now. No, life happened.

The life that happened was a lot of back and leg pain over six months – bad enough to cause me to cancel almost all work. Looking back to last autumn, I was feeling angry about certain things and anxious about others. Then work stopped, life stopped, and I had plenty of time to ruminate – think, feel, meditate, whatever you might call it – about all sorts of things.

One of the first things I was reminded of was how much life is coloured by your state of mind. Life looks dark when you feel bad, just as it sparkles when you feel happy. Or, as Anaïs Nin and others before her have said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

I was familiar with that concept, but I was completely dumbfounded by the obvious corollary – just how much everything can change in every way when you are different. During my ‘inactive’ time I started to think and feel differently, and then awoke one day to realise that my anger had entirely gone, and that I wasn’t anxious any more, even though the triggers for those feelings hadn’t gone away.

I have to tell you that this isn’t my normal modus operandi – I’m well schooled in the idea that change doesn’t happen without conscious effort, and I don’t include doing very little in that phrase.

What I found was that the more I did ‘nothing’, the more my negative feelings dissipated and the more I felt myself. It was that old story mentioned by wise people through the ages – of losing yourself to find yourself. I’d read it and understood it, but nothing really comes home till you experience it yourself, does it?

So, Thomas Leonard … ? A remarkable coach and human being. He founded the ICF – the International Coach Federation – though most members of this august body have probably never heard of him. You can still get his early fascinating book, ‘The Portable Coach’, out of print now. He died in 2003. When I came across his writing again recently, I realised that he were saying in a different way just the same thing I’d been struggling with over the months. So here are his words – he entitles them “Absence of You”. I hope you like them as much as I do, challenging as they are.

          How does one become transparent?

  1. Stop seeking approval, acknowledgement, validation, reinforcement, agreement, respect, appreciation, self worth or self esteem from anyone for any reason.
  2. Stop trying to impress anyone for any reason
  3. Give up any notion that you’re an expert at anything
  4. Be interested instead of interesting
  5. Live well above the mundane matters of life (all the stupid little agros)
  6. Stop letting risk and fear limit your life experience
  7. Lighten up how you learn
  8. Have very few needs, financial or otherwise
  9. Simplify your life, perhaps dramatically
  10. Stop needing outcomes 

Go well!

Judy

judy@voiceofinfluence.co.uk

Take a Deep Breath

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STOP PRESS ***

Voice of Influence Workshop

Wed – Thu, 3-4 March 2016, London. See below

I read statistics recently that suggest that I’ve taken 550 million breaths in my life so far. You’d think I might be pretty good at it by now! But breathing is one of those activities that is regulated by the unconscious part of our brain; we just do it, and don’t tend to get better at it – unless we begin to pay it conscious attention.

We are our breath. When we are at ease, our breathing is full and effective. When we are delighted, we fill our lungs with fresh energised air. When we are moved, our breath is affected by our emotion. When we are amazed, we breathe in suddenly and fast – it quite takes our breath away. When we are tense or depressed, our breath becomes shallow and inadequate. One thing I know from working with people on voice and speaking – many of us hold parts of our body so that we are unable to breathe deeply and well, and this affects not only our voice, but our whole physical and mental well-being.

So here at the end of the year is a tribute to breath, offered with my hope is that it will serve you well through the season of stress and goodwill.

So let’s look at the benefits of breathing deeply every day:

1. Breathing releases tension

Your body constricts when you are tense, angry, scared or stressed; your breath becomes shallow and you don’t get the amount of oxygen your body needs. Deep breathing releases this constriction. Watching your breath in meditation is a great way to release tension.

There is a way of breathing that’s a shame and a suffocation and there’s another way of expiring, a love breath, that lets you open infinitely. Rumi

2. Breathing releases toxins from your body

If you breathe shallowly you don’t get rid of toxins properly and you put a strain on your body that can in time lead to illness. Your body is designed to release 70% of its toxins through breathing. Deep breathing removes carbon-dioxide and increases oxygen in the blood and thus increases blood quality.

3. Breathing brings health and tone to your body

As you use your diaphragm in deep breathing, you massage your stomach, liver, pancreas and heart and improve their circulation. As you breathe deeply the lungs become healthy and powerful, a good insurance against respiratory problems. Good breathing tones your abdominal muscles – try singing an oratorio with heart and soul, you’ll feel you’ve had a good workout! It strengthens your immune system as oxygen travels through your bloodstream by attaching to haemoglobin in your red blood cells, and this in turn enriches your body to metabolise nutrients and vitamins. The digestive organs receive more oxygen and operate more efficiently. Proper breathing makes the heart stronger.

4. Breathing brings clarity to the mind

When you breathe slowly and deeply, increased oxygen reaches your brain and you think more clearly. Even when nervous, a deep purposeful breath will bring to your mind what to say, or bring to mind the thought you need at the time. It gives you courage to speak, or do what you need to do. Start to notice how you naturally take a deep breath before doing something energetic or highly focused, and how the breath is the trigger to action. When you are stuck, take a good breath; the act of breathing creates something new, and you are no longer in that stuck place.

5. Breathing fosters creativity

Your in-breath is your inspiration (“in” + Latin “spirare” – to breathe) As you breathe in, feelings and ideas come to you and your creativity is stimulated. There’s nothing like a good 1 or 2 hour walk for instance, where you do nothing but move your body, breathe fully and look around you, for prompting new thinking and ideas.

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” Thich Nhat Hanh

6. Breathing brings emotional relief

When you breathe deeply, you clear uneasy feelings out of your body, and increase pleasure-inducing neurochemicals in your brain, thus lifting your mood. We say that we breathe but that’s not quite true: life breathes us. Observe someone’s breath and you can tell what is happening to them; every emotion or physical trauma alters their breathing. A large component of pain is tension and fear. Breathing deeply into your pain helps to ease it. Millions of women going through childbirth know this to be true. To induce calm, breathe in slowly and feel the quietness enter your body, then breathe out to rid yourself of tension and anxiety.

Breath is extraordinarily powerful because it is part of the ‘automatic’ response system, yet it is also part of the ‘voluntary’ response system in that we can deliberately and intentionally manipulate our breathing to produce different vital states. Deb Shapiro

7. Breathing creates harmony with another person

If you want to get on the same wavelength as someone, become aware of their breathing, and match it for a while. You’ll soon find that you are feeling in tune with them, and understanding better what is going on for them mentally and emotionally.

8. Breathing awakens your life force

Every sound we make, every action we take, depends on an intake of air for its energy. The poet e e Cummings paints a wonderful picture of an energetic god creating the world in a single breath:

 when god decided to invent
 everything he took one
 breath bigger than a circus-tent
 and everything began

In referring to energy, the Japanese talk of Ki, the Chinese of Qi, the Hawaiians of Ti or Ki. Indians refer to prana. When our Ki is strong we feel confident and ready to enjoy life and take on challenges. When it is low, we feel weak and are more likely to get sick. Descriptions of Ki/Chi/Qi energy nearly always associate it with the breath. We receive Ki from the air we breath, from food, sunshine, and from sleep. It’s also possible to increase our Ki by using breathing exercises and meditation.

9. Breathing is the basis of your authenticity

When you respond to someone honestly and spontaneously, your in-breath is transformed without hiatus into sound or action. If you want to strike something – hit a nail with a hammer for instance – your in-breath as you raise your arm creates all the power you need to make the strike, without your thinking about it. In speech, to express pleasure we naturally take in a free full breath, which opens the body, energises us and produces a warm vibrant sound. To refute something, our in-breath is firm and rapid and produces a strong resolute reply. The difference in sound is all in the intention that creates your in-breath – which then produces sounds that match the intention.

If, on the other hand, our response is calculated we interrupt the natural progression from in-breath to sound, and pause for a second at the top of the breath for our conscious mind to control what we say. In this case, the sound we make fails to express our inner energy, and comes out either flatter and duller, or falsely manipulated to ‘express’ something.

It’s nothing to do with putting on a particular voice. I often used to talk urgently and stridently to my children – “Don’t do that! Come away from there! – with ever-diminishing effect. Then sometimes a resolve took hold inside me, and I would think/feel to myself with a kind of internal knowing, “This is enough. I truly am not going to allow this any more. This is really enough.” My in-breath then was full of intention, and what came out of my mouth then was something much quieter, much firmer and slower, and from deep in my body. And when that happened, the children instantly took heed. (And I was surprised by their response every time because I hadn’t been thinking about putting on a particular voice!)

10. Breathing is the way to stillness

Nothing in life is ever completely still. Stillness has movement within it; the world is always breathing. Our still point is always moving, even in meditation there is a dance deep inside us, moving with the breath. Stay with this beautiful thought as you breathe in and out.

“I said to my soul, be still, and wait…So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”   T.S. Eliot

For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth. ~Sanskrit Proverb

Some suggestions for breathing deeply

Try this, slow breathing

Breathe in through your nose, feeling calm enter you, expanding your belly easily, then fill your chest, counting slowly to 5 (3 to 4 seconds). Hold for a count of 3, feeling all your cells fill with golden healing light and energy. Breathe slowly out through the nose counting slowly to 5. Feel all your cells expel waste and negativity. Continue this slow breathing cycle for a few minutes, keeping the breathing deep, slow and rhythmic.

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. Thich Nhat Hanh

Try this, the cat breath

Lie down in a comfortable place on the floor or stretch out on a sofa. Imagine seeing a lazy cat stretched out on the floor, basking in the rays of the sun. Watch the way the cat’s belly gently rises and falls. Notice how the cat’s breathing fills its entire body. Imagine now that you are that cat, feeling the pleasant heat on your body and luxuriating in letting your breath fill your entire body and spread to the tips of your limbs. Feel what it is like to be that cat. Abandon yourself to the sensation. Remember too that even as a cat is still and relaxed, it is never slumped and exhausted, but always relaxed and alert, ready to spring to action should the need arise!

Try this, the energising breath

Take three rapid in-breaths through your nose, without an out-breath in between, then breathe out strongly with the long releasing sound haaaa. Repeat several times. If you like, accompany it with movement: lift your arms in front to waist height on the first in-breath, sweep them out to the side on the second in-breath, and sweep them up above your head on the third in-breath. Then release the air all at once with a strong haaaa, bending the knees, leaning forward and down and letting the arms sweep down in front and past your hips in a single movement. Repeat a few times: in, in, in, haaaa; in, in, in, haaaa.

The secret of breath

The secret of breath is to remember. Feeling resentful? Take a big breath; breathe strongly out and rid yourself of the corrosive feeling. Feeling angry? Breathe in strength and calm. Feeling tense? Take a slow releasing breath. Feeling stressed? Breathe in stillness and calHow long does it take? As long as a single breath. We all have time for it. Though several breaths are even better!

This must be the simplest thing I have ever written about. Maybe I’m getting old enough to write about simple things – that would be good!

Have a great break over Christmas. I wish you love and laughter, and some blessed calm.

Go well,

 

Of interest

Voice of Influence Workshop – 3-4 March 2016, London

Take this opportunity once and for all to become a more confident and powerful speaker. These two days out of your life are a great investment to last you a lifetime – the skills you learn you’ll use again and again. Find your voice; turn nerves into useful energy; learn how to engage and influence your listeners. I take only a small group so your personal needs are met, and you’ll find the experience safe, friendly and energising.

The course is half-full as of today, so book here online as soon as you can to secure your place, or send the booking form if you wish us to invoice your company.

 

My Books and Breathing!

You’ll find a good chapter on breathing in Voice of Influence: How to Get People to Love to Listen to You.

Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies has plenty of useful material on breathing well for public speaking.

Butterflies and Sweaty Palms: 25 Sure-Fire Ways to Speak and Present with Confidence talks about breath in the context of confidence. Breathing well is an important element of overcoming nerves.

That leaves my Art of Conversation. Yes, breathing is mentioned in this book too!

 

Coaching

If you have issues with confidence, communication, speaking and presenting, or relationships (for instance when moving into more senior roles.),I might well be the right coach for you.  I have worked with people from many walks of life, from directors and senior managers to the self employed and those changing direction. The work starts from where you currently are.

What might you get from coaching? You will think more clearly, move into action more easily, and gain solid inner confidence to serve you well in all situations. You’ll feel calmer, more in control and more able to meet whatever difficulties you may have to face in the future. You’ll feel lighter and energised.

You might want a coach for a good stretch of time; you might be looking for 3 or 4 sessions or even a single session – whatever your objective you’ll find it well worth your while. Contact me here or at 01306 886114 to talk it through.

Why are we so attached to words?

Tripping over words

Illustration by Rosie Apps from ‘Butterflies and Sweaty Palms’

He that would live in peace and at ease,
Must not speak all he knows, nor judge all he sees.
Benjamin Franklin

Recently I’ve been falling out of love with words. Don’t get me wrong – a beautiful phrase still moves me, I still love inspirational quotations, Shakespeare astounds and delights me more and more. I’m aware of the irony of using words to say this!

But it’s true, I don’t trust them in the mouths of many people. Too many words, too much posturing, too much verbal skulduggery.

The trouble is that words don’t stand alone, firmly attached to their dictionary definitions; they gather reverberations around them like moss, and then work on us below consciousness as well as within consciousness. That can be magical in poetry but dangerous when there’s pretence of reason.

Take, as an example, easy and hard. We tell children and adults to work hard or to try harder but the word hard reverberates with its alternative meanings … rigid-impenetrable-resistant; arduous-fatiguing-exhausting; difficult-bewildering-problematic; grim-heartless-obdurate; bitter-harsh-severe; rough-forceful-heavy. The resonance of these other meanings creates tension, resistance and forcing – all counterproductive for learning and accomplishment; no wonder some children give up. We try hard at a sport by forcing and the next day we’re in agony; and then we believe the person who parrots the unproven “Work harder! There’s no gain without pain.”

Meanwhile we mistrust easy with its ‘un-easy’ resonances of undemanding-unchallenging-facile; vulnerable-susceptible-gullible; casual-nonchalant-laidback; safe-cushy-soft; loose-wanton-sluttish. Better to claim, “At least I worked hard, found it tough, got tired, put in effort. So easy gets a bad press. Yet, with ease, we learn and accomplish much more, much faster and much more pleasurably – and we notice and discover more too. Try telling a baby learning to walk and talk to work harder at it and see how much good it does!

These reverberations around words tend towards manipulation. Using today’s migrant, instead of yesterday’s refugee we can dispense with sympathy. Canny politicians use the word terrorist (them) to incite fear and anger, and peace force (us) to paint pictures of righteous courage and derring-do. The word defence covers acts of aggression. Protective acts provide justification for blowing up civilians and children. Solutions to conflicts are bandied about as if living and sharing with other human beings can be solved like a crossword puzzle. We listen to such words in the mouths of public figures and hear the predictable controlled tones that overlie any personal investment. The spin is so simplistic I wonder at our insouciance.

Meanwhile, we act as if words were everything. “Apologise!” we shout. So they apologise: I’m truly sorry (in a ‘pull the other one’ voice). “Oh, that’s alright then,” we say , “They said the word; job done.”

It’s no good – we can’t depend on words without human spirit behind them.

I watch a baby express himself and his whole body is involved. His arms whirl around with joy; excitement produces shaking through the whole body; crying vibrates through his whole being. That’s expression.

Let’s take words off their pedestal. Listen for a moment to what your body (every part of you except for your head) has to say. You may listen to an article of world news and want to say something in anger; but wait, what is your body saying? You discover sadness under your anger; wait again – and under the sadness you discover fear and vulnerability. Let’s speak from there and see what happens – we might just strike a chord in other human beings.

This applies whenever you speak, present or talk to others – when you go beneath the gloss of smooth practised words and communicate from a deeper more vulnerable place, you touch people and connect – and have the power to influence them.

An artist learning to paint is often taught to paint the gaps between objects rather than the objects themselves, and a new way of looking emerges. Let’s begin to do something similar and look between the words that people speak – to observe the pauses, the hesitations and changes in breathing, the hardness or ease in their demeanour. Let’s pause for a moment to lose the certainty of words that define, interpret, categorise and condemn, and find the wisdom of suspending judgement for a while and listening to deeper notes within.

Then let’s talk – for real – to everyone, to anyone. After all, our world needs saving, and the present ‘hard’ way isn’t working.

Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words. Rumi

Summer News

Voice of Influence Workshop – 20-21 October

Don’t be daunted – this is an ‘easy’ workshop, where people have a good time and at the same time achieve more than they thought possible. Find your voice and speak with confidence in public, even without notes. It was really impressive what people achieved last month in the July workshop. The next workshop is on 20-21 October, and I take only small numbers, so reserve your place soon if you’re interested. You can book on-line, or send me an email to reserve your place.

The Art of Conversation

My latest book is at its lowest price ever at the moment – click the link.

Read reviews, for example in Health Magazine and Frost Magazine, and my articles in the Daily Express, Red Magazine, and City A.M.

Information on my other books here.

Coaching

I’ve just gone through the (fairly stringent!) hoops of the International Coaching Federation to successfully renew my professional coaching qualification (PCC). If you’re stuck at work or in life in any way or are not finding satisfaction and joy in what you do, coaching can be of enormous benefit. I’ve made my own biggest leaps through having coaching, and it gives me great pleasure to help others find their way. Email me or give me a call if you want to know more.

Facebook and Twitter

I post daily speaking tips and other – hopefully interesting! – stuff, and enjoy your comments.

I hope you are enjoying some sunshine and repose this August,

Go well,

Judy