In physiology, we learn that breath is the vital exchange of gases. It is a sign of life. In yoga, breath is Prana or our vital force moving through our bodies. In mindfulness meditation, breath is used as a tool to stay in the present and as an object of focus or concentration.
For moms, breath is not only vital for our survival but for our sanity as well. We can learn to use it as a resource, as a reframing tool, and as a cue to pause our fast-paced lives. When we are stressed, frustrated or fearful, our breath tends to be either shallow and rapid or held and tense. When we are overwhelmed and overextended, we are often unaware of our breath, but chances are our breath is held, tense and shallow. By simply taking a step back from a frustrating situation and noticing our breath, we create the potential for pausing, acknowledging, and starting again from a more mindful place.
If we can take a moment and just allow our breath to come upon us, we can find softness and ease in the wave of the inhale and exhale. Taking a step back and breathing in an easy, effortless and gentle way is a wonderful opportunity to take a moment for ourselves, to bring us back to ourselves, and to help us realize that this moment is as fleeting as our breath. It is a great reminder that each moment will pass into another … another moment and another breath. And that frustration, anger and fear will eventually pass. Interestingly enough, these feelings often will pass more quickly if, while breathing, we validate our feelings with compassion rather than judgement. In using breath in this manner, we act as strong role models for our children; the act of stepping back, pausing and breathing is a tool we all can use to validate ourselves and our feelings. Reminding ourselves that we are okay in this moment and that this moment too shall pass.
One thing I see when folks do step back and breathe is that they choose to breathe in a very purposeful, effortful manner. I am a strong believer that this forced, effort-filled way of breathing only creates more tension in the body and establishes unhelpful habits of controlling and manipulating our breath. I am always uncomfortable when I watch my children during their annual well visits being asked to “breathe deeply” for their chest exam; they breathe in and out so rapidly and so forcefully being “good little patients” while they attempt to keep up with their doctor’s quick moving stethoscope. This is not teaching our children to breathe deeply, rather it is creating patterns or tension and effort as they learn to control and manipulate their breath. We teach ourselves and our children to breathe deeply by encouraging relaxation and ease in our bodies, not by forcing breath.
Held, tense and forced breath creates tension in our bodies and our minds. Conversely, easy, gentle and effortless breath creates ease and calm in our bodies and minds. If you catch yourself holding your breath, notice that it’s difficult or painful to take a deep breath, or observe that you can only take a deep breath by forcing an effortful inhale, consider trying a simple breath meditation. This two-part guided meditation teaches and illustrates an essential mind-body technique called breath awareness.
- Start by imagining that you are sitting on a beach watching the waves. Watch as each wave rolls on to the beach and then recedes back to sea. Simply watch each wave as it flows up and back. Each wave is different. Each wave is unique. We have no control over these waves. We are simply an observer.
- After a few minutes of observing the waves, bring your awareness to your breath. Maintain the same distance and detachment to observing your breath that you had with the waves. Resist the urge to control your breath, to change it, or to manipulate it in anyway. Resist any urge to judge, criticize, or change your breath. Simply be an observer of your breath. Let each breath “happen to you,” rather than you “doing” your breath. Stay with observing the wave of your breath for a few more minutes.
(I teach breath awareness to my patients and my students. It allows us to begin to deprogram our habit of controlling, manipulating or holding our breath. For many of us this habit is unconscious, meaning we are not even aware that we do it.)
Moms need tools. We need tools to help us calm down at times and to step back and take a moment for ourselves. Our sanity is constantly being tested and breath is a vital tool to help us pause and let a moment pass. Embrace breath as a great tool for resetting and reframing a moment. Use breath to create a pause or moment of reflection in our frustration, anxiety and fear. Remember soft, easy and effortless breath will bring calm and ease to both our bodies and minds. While vital for our bodies’ survival, breath is equally vital to our emotional wellbeing.