How often do you think to yourself, “It would be so nice to take a moment for myself right now—to breathe or meditate, but I definitely don’t have time for that today”? My guess (as a fellow mom) is that it may have happened a time to two. We have 101 things to do and mindfully breathing just isn’t one of them. I get it. I’ve been there many times and still find myself there on occasion. However, learning why it’s important to breathe and how to realistically make it a part of the day is key to integrating it regularly and experiencing the abundant benefits that it provides.
Most of us are not in tune to how we breathe. We typically take shallow breaths, which limit the diaphragm’s range of motion and leave us feeling short of breath or anxious. Let’s take a moment to check in. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Now, take what you would consider to be a deep breath. Which hand moved more—the hand on your stomach or the hand on your chest? Oftentimes, it’s the hand on the chest that is moving up and down more than the hand on the stomach moving in and out. A deep, abdominal breath facilitates the beneficial trade of oxygen for carbon dioxide, which can slow the heartbeat and lower blood pressure. Deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve, a part of the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls our rest state. It deactivates the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates our fight-or-flight response resulting in a more calm state.
In order to encourage deep breathing throughout the day I recommend a few things:
1) Practice deep, slow breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth each night before you fall asleep. You can place your hands on your stomach and on your chest for a while as you start to get the hang of it.
2) Set an alarm on your phone to go off each hour for a couple of weeks or as long as it takes to become more aware of your breath and make it a habit. Take time to do this now.
3) One of the most important skills we can teach our children to regulate their nervous systems and emotions is deep breathing. Many of us moms find it hard to do something for ourselves (which I’ll discuss in the next Mindful Mama Moment article) so let it be known that this is a tool that your child will benefit from immensely along with you! A two for one! Don’t we all love that in our busy lives?! No matter the age of your child, when your alarm goes off, when you feel rising tension or anxiety in your body, or when your child starts to get upset, engage him or her in deep breathing. For me, I simply say, “Let’s take a deep breath” to my 3-year-old. We take a deep breath together and repeat it a few times. He will even tell me now to take a breath if he sees I’m upset by something! I do the same with my 10-month-old as well. He clearly doesn’t do the deep breath with us yet but those mirror neurons are working, and one day soon enough, he will breathe deeply with the rest of us.
Deep breathing is an efficient and effective form of self-care for the everyday mom. It doesn’t take up too much time and successfully helps regulate the autonomic nervous system allowing us to be more present and calm for our families and ourselves. So, take one more slow, deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth before you start dinner tonight or go on a cleaning rampage before naptime is over!