Breathing exercises with your colleagues: Hell yeah!

In a stately old building in Utrecht with beautiful high ceilings and large wooden doors I am preparing to do breathing exercises with twelve NS executives. Not all twelve are entirely convinced about the benefits of breathing exercises, so Anne Johan Willemsen from Topmind asked me to boost their interest and enthusiasm.

Anne Johan is implementing a 200-day project at NS to make great leaders even better.

And Anne Johan is a fan of breathing exercises so he knows for the hard-working executives at NS, learning how to breathe properly can be life changing.

Breathing exercises and stress management

Anne Johan gives me a call to emphasize what the session should (not) be about:

"Koen, the physiology of breathing is of course very interesting and we both know how damaging stress is, but please note this group is not expecting a biology lesson or a course in meditation. They want tips on how to work more efficiently. "

I reassure Anne Johan and head out for a walk in the woods to figure out how I am going to get a group of busy professionals excited about breathing exercises.

Walking in the woods for me makes for ‘working efficiently’. No buzzing phone, no internet distractions, no colleagues rushing by with coffee. Time slows down, my head is empty, ideas flow easily and I am full of inspiration. Yes, this is easy for me, I am only focused on giving one presentation while the busy professionals at NS are responsible for ensuring 4500 trains run smoothly every day. Yikes!

If that were my responsibility my head would be as restless as a pinball machine all day long.

Now there’s a thought, a pinball machine, this is something I can use for the session. I will instruct the group on the best breathing techniques to find mental clarity during their hectic working day, not just for relaxation, but for improved awareness and focus. Because in a large organization – with a lot of colleagues and high work pressure – they will recognize the pinball machine.

I can use myself as an example, my book “Verademing” would never have been written if I had not incorporated breathing exercises into my daily routine. And I don’t mean the exercises in the book.

So, in Utrecht, I explain how breathing exercises helped me reach my deadline and beat the pinball machine!

In 2008, together with the psychiatrist Bram Bakker, I wrote a book about breathing. Great idea, to write a book about a subject that I have been enthusiastic about for the last 9 years. But where do I find the time to write a complete book? My own company (oh yes, also administration), two sons, a sweetheart, hobbies (cycling, Murakami), friends. And write a book as well?

With some creative time-management and a lot of shuffling things around I managed to keep Fridays free. An empty agenda and a nice place to write quietly would guarantee a productive writing day.

Or would it? 

An empty agenda and a quiet workplace are of course no guarantees for a productive business day. I too live and learn. As I give this example to the executives at NS the room erupts into laughter. They recognize this scenario 😊

Of course, when seated at my laptop on Fridays, there were quite a few obstacles on the road.

I begin typing with total concentration and 6 minutes later I don’t even know what I want to write. I ponder if I should write something about breathing exercises for children, or do I need that in this book?  Mmh ok, let me come back to that later. I close Word and open my email to see if my publisher has responded regarding the first chapter of my book which I submitted to him the previous week.

No reaction from my publisher but an email from my friend Tim de Wit asking if I want to watch Holland vs France (European championship 2008). After the 3-0 win in Italy in the first round we might just have a repeat of 1988! To spark my interest, he sends me a compilation of all the Dutch goals scored in 1988. I click!

Now of course alarm bells should be going off, but they don’t. I had specifically reserved Fridays to work on my book and watching goals from 20 years ago should have been the last thing on my mind. The alarm bells never went off and before I know it 30 minutes have passed and the only thing I have accomplished is reliving the glory moments of Ruud Gullit and his team. Impossible to write a book when your head is a pinball machine that reacts to everything!


The NS executives recognize this.

Breathing exercises are worth their weight in gold

By incorporating breathing exercises into your daily routine you will bring your thoughts back to the present moment. This helps you to stay focused and get your goals accomplished efficiently.

After half an hour watching goals, when I should have been busy with my book, I practiced 2 minutes of deep breathing and returned to work with focus and a clear head.

People who regularly incorporate breathing exercises into their day know the importance of breathing properly. Not just for relaxation but for improved concentration, awareness and to accomplish tasks.

Last week, I again interviewed Bram Bakker about breathing exercises and he told me the same:

"At times when I was usually very stressed, I now do breathing exercises. For example, when I am stuck in traffic just or before a presentation'.

At NS everyone took part in the breathing exercises.

Anne Johan is happy and relaxed.

And I step back on the train to Hilversum for a peaceful walk through the woods.

Koen de Jong



Koen de Jong is the creator of the “100-dagen-sportrustenprogramma”, a frequently asked key-note speaker for businesses and author. He sold more than 1 million copies with his book Verademing (with Bram Bakker) and "een koud kunstje” (with Wim Hof).




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