Recently a clergy colleague who is also a certified yoga instructor gave me a tip. When I’m stressed, I should concentrate on my breath, making my exhalations longer than my inhalations. That’s because inhaling activates the sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response. In contrast, exhaling taps into the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows and relaxes the body.

This makes a lot of sense to me on a practical level. I’ve often been told to take deep breaths to calm myself. It doesn’t always work, because I’ve missed the second half of that piece of advice: breathe back out slowly. That’s the part that actually settles me. On a figurative level, the longer exhalations work as well. When there is conflict or crisis in a group, the resolution or recovery takes longer than the ramp-up.

What focus do you need to place on your exhales today? And how might the church gear up for a needed exhale when the pandemic begins to subside?


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