Could something as easy as taking a few breaths boost my patience and increase my peace of mind? The answer, I've discovered, is yes. A few breaths, or more accurately, a few conscious breaths, since we are breathing all the time, gives us a split second to recall what's really important in the situation, rather than just reacting on impulse.

Breathing with awareness also helps us tune in to our bodies and notice what is going on internally. Patience and impatience are not just ideas in our minds, but also sensations in our bodies. We each have our own words for these sensations. To me, patience is a feeling of calm groundedness, a rooted, expansive feeling of well-being, while impatience is a jittery, flustered, off-balance sensation.

When we become aware of the sensation of impatience in our bodies, we can use our breath to come back to patience by slowing the inhales and exhales a bit. This signals our nervous system to begin the relaxation response. In as little as a minute, our shoulders relax, muscles loosen, blood pressure drops, and our heart beats a bit slower. From this physically calmer place, we are able to respond more effectively because we have access to all of our emotional and mental resources.

There are many ways to do calming breathing. In a stress-reduction report issued by the Harvard Medical School, there is a technique that can be done in less than a minute. It is particularly effective because it combines breathing with touch, which has also been found to be soothing.

Put one hand on your belly, just under your belly button. Breathe in, feeling your abdomen inflate. Hold for the count of three, then breathe out, feeling your abdomen deflate. Hold for the count of three. Repeat until you feel calmer.

You can use this technique anywhere, anytime - under the pressure of a deadline when your computer suddenly goes on the blink; when the kids are rubbing on your last nerve; when you're worried about getting somewhere on time. You can encourage your family and friends to do it when their patience wears thin as well.

M. J. Ryan in The Power of Patience