As a busy working parent, I’m all for the quick and easy tips to bringing more calm and wellbeing into my life.
As much as I love the idea of meditation before the kids wake, and making green juices for breakfast, and afternoons in the sun with a cup of herbal tea – I have to get real here. The world of the flat-out and run-down mama is paved with those good intentions. And those intentions to improve your parenting wellbeing don’t help you when I’m in the middle of an almighty meltdown.
We need to start simple.
Finding something that you can connect with, any time of the day (or night!), to bring you back to the moment and stop you from joining your toddler in that momentous tantrum on the floor of Ikea is gold. It’s the holy grail. It’s what stops you from embarrassing yourself in front of what-seems-like hundreds of desperate shoppers.
For me, one of the best ‘go-to’ stress relievers and self-nurturing things I can do for my parenting wellbeing, when everything else is just madness, is focus on my breath. Yes, I know it’s not rocket science, and it’s certainly not new. But I can almost guarantee that every single person out there (unless you are a yogic yourself) can benefit from just paying mindful attention to how they breathe. Especially when the baby is screaming, the toddler is demanding a DIY toy, and you’re stuck in the Kitchen display area.
Most of us shallow breathe. Even when we are not in a crisis ‘fight-or-flight’ mode, we are so busy rushing around, we take in the absolute minimum air that we need to survive. Stop right now and notice your breath – it only just makes your chest rise and fall, doesn’t it? And when we decide to take a ‘deep breath’, we fill our lungs as much as possible and then just let it go – try it.
Well, I’ve got news for you. This is not the best way to use the breath so you maintain cool, calm and collected when your little one looses it.
What we need to become aware of is that there are two important elements to the breath – the breath in AND the breath out. Most of us forget that. Even when we take a deep breath, we don’t really empty the lungs at the end. There is an assumption that it is the inhalation that quietens the mind and reconnects the body – that’s why we so often say ‘take a deep breath’ – it is actually the exhalation which is the key to connecting with mind and body. The exhalation calms the nervous system, and stops that fight or flight mentality.
In fact, in yoga, the belief is that it is the exhalation that connects you back with yourself. The inhalation breath is from your soul to the outside of your body, whereas the exhalation is from the outside of your body back into your soul.
If you really want to get in touch with the power of your breath – so you can tap into it next time you really need it – find a moment or two to sit quietly and try the following exercises:
- When you sit down to focus on your breath, focus on your shoulders, your chest and how you feel in your body.
- Focus on the quietness of your eyes, your forehead, and the softness of your face.
- Allow the tongue to move down from the roof of your mouth – when the tongue is down there’s more moisture in your throat, which allows you to breathe more steadily.
- And then try doubling the inhalation count on the exhalation. So try inhale for 4, exhale for 8. Notice how different your body and mind feels.
And then, the next time you feel stressed, panicked, or just plain over it, remember to breath out. All the way out. Feel your shoulders drop, your jaw unclench. Feel the panic begin to subside. And then head straight to those emergency exits.