Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur ’92
“Remember to breathe.”
“As the director of an international organization that works with heads of state to improve health for women and children, my role comprises that of chief of staff and chief operating officer. On any given day I fly overseas to brief a head of state or respond to a change in foreign policy that impacts my team. My days are filled with a mix of high-level diplomacy and day-to-day operations across three continents and I am on call 24/7.
“A few years ago I was invited to lead a public conversation with a United Nations Special Envoy. I introduced my first guest and then started coughing, a terrible, intense cough that wouldn’t stop. I was mortified but believed I could keep going. Finally, my colleagues pulled me off stage. I pushed myself to go back to my office so I could tackle my to-do list. When I arrived, my team took one look at me and sent me home.
“Around that time I noticed how shallow my breath had become. I felt it barely present, deep in the background. I had enough breath to survive but not to thrive. In the past, I had read about the importance of deep, cleansing breaths for optimal health. I started focusing on inhaling and exhaling and it felt nourishing and healing. As time went on, breathing gave me the wherewithal to sleep at night, drink more water, eat whole foods, meditate regularly, exercise daily and be fully present. And I have never been that sick since. At work, if my team has a breakdown, I ask them to take 10 deep breaths and then reconvene. It never fails to move us forward.
“Kent Place was deep breathing for me. It was a safe, nurturing environment that cultivated my enthusiasm to solve big problems and connect deeply with others. It was my earliest experience in learning to breathe.”