Stand Up and Breathe: Five Ways to Let Your Light Shine

Kujuku Island at Sunset Nagasaki-ken, Japan

I once overheard my mother telling my father that I would never make anything of myself. She had a point. I’ve always been an accomplished writer but I didn’t write my first book until I was forty-four. I wish I had the excuse that life, career or family got in the way but they didn’t. I did. There’s a difference between graceful modesty about your talents and hiding your light. I belonged to the hide your light brigade.

Hiding our talents, failing to acknowledge them even to ourselves, does nobody any favors. We miss out on the rewards our talents attract and so do the people around us. For me, talents are not just about being artistic or good at a job. Listening, being a good friend, exuding peace or exuberance, parenting, problem solving are all talents. And reward is not just about worldly success or money—who makes money from writing? When we hide our talents we suppress some of the best, most unique parts of ourselves. By doing so, we cut ourselves off from the joy of being fully, vibrantly alive. That joy is beyond price.

We hide our magnificence for many, often complex reasons. Sometimes we make ourselves invisible so that others can shine more brightly–often a feature of intimate relationships. Sometimes we’re uncomfortable with the attention being visible brings. And sometimes we ourselves don’t recognize our own talents, perhaps because as children we were told we didn’t have any. Our cultural norms also play a part, particularly norms that limit the role of women.
We may need the help of a good friend, therapist or spiritual director to deal with the deeper issues that keep us hidden. This deep work can’t be hurried. But when we need a little confidence boost to be out there, visible, shining brightly, our breath and our bodies can be our best friends.

When we feel good, we’re more inclined to embody our talents and uniqueness, and less afraid to be seen by the world for who we are. We can’t help it. Feeling good makes us more energetic, more confident. Energy and confidence break through the wall of invisibility that surrounds those of us who tend to hide our light.
Elevated mood is associated with positive thought patterns while depression and low energy levels are often associated with negative thoughts and beliefs. Unlikely as it may seem, those thought patterns, positive and negative, are intimately linked to body posture.

Sit Up Straight: Studies at San Francisco State University show that positive thoughts come more easily when we sit in an upright position–the old fashioned sit-up-straight-good-posture our mothers used to nag us about. Participants in the study found that negative thoughts were much more difficult, and for some impossible, to generate when sitting upright. But negative thoughts came easily when sitting in a slouched position with curved spine. The same is true for our walking posture.

Skipping: If mobility is not an issue, for a quick burst of energy, do some skipping. Opposite arm skipping (right arm with left leg and vice versa) while looking skyward, straightens our posture and rapidly increases our energy levels. Try it. Skip with children if you need some cover. Or skip alone, look up and enjoy the freedom of being out there in all your childlike vitality.

Confidence Poses: To boost to your confidence, try a confidence pose. A confidence pose, sitting or standing, is when your arms are open—not folded or crossing your body in any way—and you are facing the world squarely. Superwoman demonstrated confidence when she stood legs apart, hands on hips, head up. Studies at Harvard show that two minutes in that pose, just two minutes, reduces our level of the stress hormone, cortisol, and increases our level of testosterone, the hormone that helps us take risks–like the risk of being seen in our uniqueness and power.

Before I discovered breathwork psychotherapy, the only time I paid attention to my breathing was when I had a bout of bronchitis. Taking breathwork sessions and training as a therapist revealed the hitherto unimaginable world of breath to me. Breathing techniques can be used for everything from experiential psychotherapy—great for dealing with those deep issues that keep us hidden—to meditation, problem solving, enhancing creativity, elevating mood and calming nerves. In terms of letting our talents shine forth in the world, try these two breathing practices.
The Breath of Joy: If we observe how we and others breathe, we’ll notice sighing, shallow breathing, pauses and held breaths, and we’ll notice full, free breaths. The way we breathe speaks to us about our state of mind because, like our posture, our emotions are expressed in our breathing. Studies at the University of Quebec show that not only do emotions affect our breathing, our breathing affects our emotions. We can actually generate feelings like fear, anger or joy by practicing certain breathing patterns.

To feel joy, practice the Breath of Joy: Breathe slowly, rhythmically through your nose. Fill your lungs with air right down into your belly and keep your ribcage relaxed. Focus only on your breathing and feel your body and mind relax. Keep breathing and focusing on your breath until you feel the stirrings of joy. Joy is a great emotion for getting us out there in the world.

The Breath of Creativity: Breathing can be used to enhance our creativity, whether that means creating a work of art or finding a solution to a day to day problem. The breathing pattern is similar to the Breath of Joy and is best done when alone and interruptions are unlikely. I like to be lying down. Breathe fully and rhythmically through your nose at your own pace. Keep it relaxed, no striving for depth or speed. Once you feel your breathing pattern has been established, bring the problem or work you want to create to mind. Let it hang out in your mind. Test out some ‘what if I did this?” thinking but don’t try to make something happen. Just keep breathing and watch how ideas begin to flow without much effort from you.

Breathing exercises and posture change don’t require a prescription or a therapist—they’re free–and the only side effects are better blood oxygenation and a healthier, more supple spine. The results–helping us to be our full, authentic self–can be priceless.

About Catherine Dowling

Catherine Dowling, is the author of Radical Awareness: Five Practices for a Fully Engaged Life, (2014, Llewellyn Worldwide, USA) a handbook for putting the wisdom of spiritual awareness into practice with a range of day to day issues, and Rebirthing and Breathwork: A Powerful Technique for Personal Transformation. (2000, Piatkus, UK). She has almost twenty years’ experience as a breathwork psychotherapist. Learn more at:

  • Virg Lewis

    I agree totally with Catherine about the importance of deep breathing in everything we do. It helps center, revive, and move the oxygen throughout your whole body for a multitude of benefits.