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Margin and Breath

A pink neon-like sign that says "breathe" sitting on a green bark background

“I love a broad margin to my life.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Before I went on retreat two weeks ago, I was sitting in a peer group and this quote was read aloud. We then had conversation about what a “broad margin” looks like, and how we cultivate it.

In my peer group I’m the youngest by approximately fifteen or twenty years, so the others are entering into or enjoying retirement. They are still busy people, but aren’t fettered by the demands of working and leading as they have been in previous stages of life. Whether it’s because of age, maturity, or intention (or all three), they seemed to have a much better awareness of margin than I do.

If you’re anything like me, it feels like margin can be taken away from you. In January and February I felt like I was resilient and present, had ample space in my schedule, and was intentional about nurturing myself (this is what margin is to me). Then March comes in like a lion with a full schedule, stressful committee meetings, client cancellations, and family issues. By the time I got to the peer group, it felt like my margin was stolen from me by the stress of life. Although I did have a little breathing room, I had forgotten how to breathe.

And then came my retreat. It was about the practice of yoga (in the broadest sense including meditation, breath work, and postures), starting with the breath. We were taught how to breathe, which sounds weird but absolutely necessary. Stress and anxiety makes us breathe quickly and shallowly, which physiologically increases our stress and anxiety. Deep breathing comes from the diaphragm and helps calm us down.

As our small group participated in the different breathing exercises, I started to notice a change in how I felt because of the breathing. The first practice we did was “crocodile pose,” which is when you lie face down, arms on top of each other, with your forehead resting on your forearms and your feet splayed, toes facing out (Google it). We lay in this position, breathing, for five minutes. The weight of our bodies forces our diaphragms to work more intentionally and get stronger. For me it was like someone pressed a reset button, and I was connected again. My body remembered how to breathe. What gift!

Through this connected breath I found margin again, and if I gained nothing else I am deeply grateful.

Questions to ponder:

  • What does margin mean to me?

  • How do I cultivate margin?

  • Where might I need outside assistance to help me reconnect to myself?

Stay curious friends!

And make sure you’re listening to season one of the Dream Big Authentic Leadership podcast, found on Apple, Google, Spotify, and Stitcher.

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