Scientists have identified a unique team meeting starter that can make a big difference in the mental health and well-being of employees. And it spills over into their job engagement and productivity. It’s known as controlled breathing practices. Breathing is something most of us take for granted because it’s automatic, and we’ve been doing it since the day we were born. But your breath is a valuable resource against work stress, and it’s with you wherever you go.

Science Backs The Value Of Breathwork

According to research in Scientific Reports, breathwork stimulates the nervous and cardiovascular systems, enhancing both physical and mental health. Studies also show that slow breathing techniques in a conscious and systematic way stimulate the rest and digest response managed by the parasympathetic nervous system which offsets the stress response of the sympathetic nervous system.

Mindful, slow breathing not only reduces stress, but also lowers blood pressure and boosts well-being. In a July interview in Neuroscience News, Daniel Craighead, assistant research professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, explains that breathing isn’t just about the lungs, but it also affects the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Changing how much we inhale, he says, affects more than just the amount of oxygen we get. “When we breathe, that actually impacts how much blood is ejected from our hearts.” Of course, when we start the workday with improved mental and physical health from breathwork, it eventually filters down to higher performance and productivity and the company’s bottom line.

One Company Breathing Their Way To Success

It was breathwork that gave Shane Heath, founder and CEO of a natural coffee alternative called Mudwater (MUD\WTR), the impetus to start his company. Through Zoom, I connected with Heath and Chris Keener, the head of MUD\WTR:films and a professional breathwork coach. I wanted to learn more about their unconventional approach to team meetings and their rationale for integrating breathwork into the company’s culture. “We’re still shaking off the era of working on an assembly line, and one of the things we’ve forgotten is how to take care of rest, recovery and creativity,” Heath told me. “Now, we’re in an era where our success is determined by the quality of our ideas, not the quantity of work hours. The quality of our ideas is determined by how safe we feel. And how safe we feel helps us tap into the parasympathetic state, which allows us to explore more creative ideas, express ourselves and connect.”

Shane Heath, founder and CEO of Mudwater MUD\WTR, has implemented an innovative start to team meetings in his company that pays off in a multitude of ways.Photo courtesy of Jessica pons.

Prior to starting his company, Heath worked in Silicon Valley, where he became part of the hustle culture or as he put it, “sleep when you’re dead.” The stress he was under led him to examine the amount of caffeine he was drinking and to develop his product. He ended up going to what he thought was a yoga class, which turned out to be breathwork. “Forty minutes in, I’m just breathing air, and I feel energized,” he recalls. “I’m changing the feeling state of my mind and body. I felt clear afterwards. And I thought how can I start a meeting that creates a buffer from whatever you’re doing before the meeting and focus, presence and safety when you’re in the meeting. So when we’re there we’re creative, courageous, and we can maximize the potency of the time we spend together.”

As a result, company-wide meetings start a little differently than at most workplaces. “Chris, you ready?” That’s the cue for Keener to lead the 30-plus-person team in five-minute breathing techniques. “The most fundamental thing about breathwork is the act of getting present,” Keener explains. “When you’re with your breath, attending to it fully, you’re necessarily present—not in the past or future. And to do that in a group is particularly powerful. As humans probably the thing we care most about and is best for our health is to be in community. And this is a nod to that. In a time of isolation where we’re in different places around the world, to have a moment where we’re together on Zoom, there’s something timeless about that. Plus, it’s a way to kick off, and then we go into serious business from there.” After seeing how breathwork has transformed the all-hands meetings, Heath considers breathwork to be a non-negotiable ingredient for MUD\WTR’s culture.

Chris Keener Headshot
Chris Keener, head of MUD\WTR:films and a professional breathwork coach, says the most fundamental thing about breathwork is the act of getting present.Photo courtesy of Chris Keener

Here’s A Demonstration

You can practice many types of breathing exercises right at your workstation. They’re cost-free, portable and you don’t need anything but yourself. “The exercises we do are wide and varied,” Keener says. “Some are more energetic where we’re breathing quicker, and some are slower and calmer like boxed breathing. The main thing all the exercises have in common, he points out, is an awareness that breath is the primary activity. It’s just bringing your attention to the act of breathing.

I asked for a demonstration, and Keener suggested what he calls “Eleven-Eleven Breath”—eleven in-breaths followed by an eleven breath count hold that only takes a few minutes. Here’s the practice he took me through in his own words:

Sit up straight. What we will lead with is that what we’re doing is breathing, and that’s enough. Just give yourself the time to be here with your breath. You can close your eyes. We’re going to take eleven breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, taking a big full inhale through the nose and gently releasing the breath when you exhale. PAUSE. Now, take a deep breath in and hold at the top of the breath. Hold and count to eleven. Then slowly release the breath like you’re letting the air out of a tire valve. Then allow your natural breath to take over, gently through the nose. Take a moment to notice how you feel. And when you’re ready blink your eyes open.

I noticed I was clearer, calmer and more centered. It’s difficult to hold on to job stress at the same time you’re relaxing with your breath. That’s what makes these exercises so effective.

A Final Takeaway

Chronic work pressure creates roadblocks to relaxation and productivity and can lead to burnout—even loss in company profitability. It disconnects us from ourselves, other people and our surroundings, plus keeps our stress needle elevated. The MUD\WTR culture is a cutting-edge example of how businesses can support employee mental health. So, take a slow, deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth before you start your workday. If you’re a manager, consider sharing this innovative meeting-starter with your team, and watch morale and performance lift and company profits soar.


  • Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Journalist, psychotherapist, and Author of 40 books.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.

    Bryan Robinson, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, psychotherapist in private practice, and award-winning author of two novels and 40 nonfiction books that have been translated into 15 languages. His latest books are CHAINED TO THE DESK IN A HYBRID WORLD: A GUIDE TO WORK-LIFE BALANCE (New York University Press, 2023)#CHILL: TURN OFF YOUR JOB AND TURN ON YOUR LIFE (William Morrow, 2019), DAILY WRITING RESILIENCE: 365 MEDITATIONS & INSPIRATIONS FOR WRITERS (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018). He is a regular contributor to, Psychology Today, and Thrive Global. He has appeared on 20/20, Good Morning America, The CBS Early Show, ABC's World News Tonight, NPR’s Marketplace, NBC Nightly News and he hosted the PBS documentary "Overdoing It: How To Slow Down And Take Care Of Yourself." website: