Odds are it's shown up your social media feed as a single word surrounded by something serene: clouds, mountains, smooth stones stacked up in perfectly balanced descending order of size.
At some point, you may have even scrawled it on a sticky note.
"Don't forget to breathe," goes the pre-presentation pep talk.
But why the big deal about something your body's going to do anyway?
You don't see automatic actions like "blink" popping up on posters any more than you'd remind a nervous co-worker: "Don't forget to circulate your blood/digest your food/secrete insulin/excrete toxins."
It's because the breath is a bridge.
When your heart races or your thoughts wander, taking a mindful breath brings you right back to the business of now, so you can focus on the task at hand with minimal distractions and maximum productivity.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of modern mindfulness, wrote: "The breath is the current connecting body and mind."
The breath is rhythmic, it's measurable, and it's the perfect portal to pay attention to the present moment, which is what mindfulness is all about.
When we're anxious, we take breaths that are shorter and shallower. So while it's impossible to "forget" to breathe, it is altogether possible to breathe in a way that decreases the flow of oxygen, thereby decreasing overall health and vitality.
Here's where mindful breathing comes in. Mentally, it decreases distraction and increases focus. More oxygen to the brain means more mental clarity. Physically, deep breathing lowers blood pressure and stress levels, while boosting heart health and immune function.
Ready to harness the health benefits of the breath?
Here are three simple tools to use anytime, anywhere: Follow the breath, count the breath, and lengthen the exhale.
Take your pick, or try all three:
1. Follow the breath.
Imagine following a runner's movement around a track, and then bring this intensity of observation to your breath.
As you inhale, feel the flow of air through your nostrils. Feel your lungs filling up as your belly expands. As you exhale, feel your lungs emptying out completely.
Your mind will wander. No problem. When it does, gently return your awareness back to the physical sensation of breathing. Since it's impossible to be in your head and in your body at the same time, we're going for the physical sensations of the body as a sure-fire way to overcome over-thinking.
Where in your body does one breath end and the next one begin? Does your breath have a temperature as it moves through you? Anyplace where it feels constricted? Being your own breath detective and "simply observing the breath can damp down stress and open the door to a more healthy and mindful lifestyle," according to Harvard Men's Health Watch.
2. Count the breath.
Breathing as deeply and fully as you can, silently say the number "one" as you inhale. As you empty out completely, silently say "two" on the exhale. And then "three" on the next inhale, etc.
Keep going until you reach the number ten, which is less than one minute.
This simple exercise activates your parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in calmer, more conscious decisions. With regular practice, you'll likely notice yourself responding more thoughtfully to situations, rather than reacting.
3. Lengthen the exhale.
The key here is to make your exhale two seconds longer than your inhale. This elongated exhale is a good grounding technique to use before a stressful event like a presentation or a potentially difficult conversation.
To begin: Breathe in, and count the number of seconds it takes for that full inhale. Now, as you exhale, make that outbreath a full two seconds longer. For example, if your typical inhale takes four seconds, slow your exhale down to six seconds.
Sometimes your inhale might be slightly shorter or longer. So just be sure to count the number of beats as you inhale each time, and make sure the next exhale is a full two seconds longer.
Doing this for just a few rounds of breathing will slow your heart rate and blood pressure. It's also a good technique to help you fall asleep.
Follow the breath, count the breath, and lengthen the exhale. Experiment with each. You'll find a favorite that resonates with you.
The beauty of mindful breathing lies in your ability to do it anytime, anywhere: At home, at the office, in traffic, at the dinner table during stressful family gatherings. You don't need any equipment other than the realization that you possess a powerful tool to harness what is already happening.