Take a Breath

July 19, 2011

 As a student of yoga, breath is a fundamental part of the practice. As a mother of three, breath is paramount.

I first came to my yoga mat with the idea that achieving the most difficult of poses was the end goal, but I was amazed to learn that it is the linking of breath to movement that advances one’s practice. What a powerful gift to discover that my body and breath could move in time, and that when they did the possibilities for physical and spiritual growth were endless. As I stand in a difficult position, it is not my muscles alone that keep me there. As my body stretches to it’s maximum potential and opens up fully, it is not my bones and joints simply giving way. It is my breath that sustains me, that holds me up, that opens me fully.

Stepping off my mat, I realized that there is no difference between a difficult pose, and a difficult life situation, both require a deep breath to get me through.

As mothers, we first become linked to our children through the amazing power of the breath in birth. The inhalation that fills us up energetically and holds all of our power and potential, and the exhalation that forces us to release control and trust in ourselves and the divine universe surrounding us.

As we grow as mothers, and our children grow into their own, the power of the breath still holds. Children reveal so much about themselves by their breathing, it tells everything that we need to know about them. The shallow breath that we hear when they are tense, fearful or overly excited, the deep long breaths after a challenge has been met, and the beautiful rhythmic breathing of a deep sleep. It is a key into their world that we simply can not overlook.

One of the questions that I get asked most often is how I create rhythm in my home. I have struggled with this question because I am not sure that there could ever be an honest answer. My rhythm has to look different from any one else’s if I am going to honor where my children are in this moment. There is no great formula for creating rhythm, all that we can come back to is the breath. Follow our children’s breath, and rhythm will naturally occur.

The in breath, the out breath, and the silence between them.

Our breath helps us process our world, and gives us a sense of what is going on around us. When we help children find their own natural cycle of breathing, we help them to gain a better sense of themselves, and their place in the world. Thus creating their own rhythm.

The in breath is where expansion occurs, where we are open and receptive to those things that give us growth. Take a deep breath, and we draw in what we need to move forward.

The exhalation is where we let go and surrender, allowing our body to get rid of our excess, of all that we do not need.

The silence between them is the pause where we find the balance. It is so quick that we almost never notice it, but it is the essential part of any transition.

When I look at my children, I realize that there are two parts to creating their rhythm. The first is to try and balance their breath through their activities. Making sure that if they take an inhale, if they do something that is active and fast paced, that they have ample time to exhale as well. To let go of the excitement, and to allow their body and their mind get rid of the excess.

The other aspect to being able to truly honor their rhythm is to teach them how to just breathe. That seems weird to say. I mean, we are actually supposed to come hard wired with this information, it should not be something that we need instruction on. Yet in today’s fast paced world, the sensory overload and the frenetic pace of life can deeply disconnect us from the normal processes that we need to function properly. They take us away from the present moment, from our breath, and from the natural rhythms that keep us balanced.

I would like to think that I first taught my boys how to breathe when they joined me on the yoga mat in the mornings as babes, wiggling around through my practice. More likely, they were much older and experiencing their first set of crisis. For Jacob I think that it came when the sweet little thing had to have multiple blood draws as he was being diagnosed with celiac disease. Teaching him that the pain would be better if he took a deep breath, gathering the strength that he needed to deal with what was coming, and then to blow out all his fear and anxiety. I remember being surprised that it worked, that something shifted and he did not look at the situation in the same way.

Teaching a child the simple act of taking an equally long inhale and exhale, with the smallest of pauses in-between, shows them that they have the ability to balance their emotions, and to control their reactions. I tried to teach my kids actual methods of complex breathing that I learned as an adult yoga teacher. That, of course,  proved silly and fruitless. All that I needed to do was sit them a few times a day and quietly be with them as they counted to 7 on the inhale, and 7 on the exhale. After a while, they stopped counting out load, and now all I need to do is to say “take a deep breath” for them to know what they need.

I can create a schedule, map out our day, and plan ahead, but if I want anything to be successful, then I have to think of our day as a balanced breath. It takes a little bit of practice, but coming back to the breath never fails me, and for that I am so very grateful.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

PlainandJoyfulLiving July 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Hi Heather,
Thank you for this thoughtful post. Wishing you and your family well and hope you are enjoying the summer. Warm wishes, Tonya

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Linda July 19, 2011 at 3:31 pm

A beautiful post Heather
xo

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Lynnette July 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Thank you for this. I began my yoga journey only recently but I understand what you are saying. I feel the lessons I learn on the mat slowly spreading into my daily life. Thank you for some clear examples of including kids in purposeful breathing.

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Karen July 19, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Beautiful, and something to think more about.

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Angela July 19, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Wow Heather! Your post is so beautiful. I am trying to help the kiddos breathe through trying moments, reassuring them that feelings are just feelings and they come and go. I think I will use your 7 count guide. Thanks for bringing so much to my days!

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geepeace July 19, 2011 at 10:03 pm

So refreshing…peace

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sherene July 19, 2011 at 11:24 pm

I still remember the moment all those years ago I realized I was paused between breaths in savasana. It was so opening. When children are very upset, they cry with their mouths open. Asking them to breath deep through their nose teaches them they have a way to calm down ( and it makes them quieter!) I was astonished when it got Lyra through her first dentist appointment.

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Jessica July 20, 2011 at 3:11 am

I reposted this on FB. I really enjoy your thoughts. You have deep insights. Thank you <3

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Only In Louisiana July 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

Beautiful writing ~ well said

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Shelley July 20, 2011 at 12:26 pm

This is perfect. Many years ago I took a meditation "class" and learned there how important the breath is. I try everyday to remind myself of this. I'm gong back to read this post again. Thank you.

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molly July 20, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Heather,

You have no idea how much I needed to read this right now.

Thank you.

Molly

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Adrie July 20, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Lovely – I think the concept of our home rhythm as breathing (and really, our lives) is so spot on and perfect. Thanks for the reminder!

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~carrie~ July 20, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts on the breath of the body and life. I've been struggling so very, very much with this recently. ~carrie~

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earth mama 101 July 21, 2011 at 6:05 am

This year was the most profound memory of me "teaching" to breathe. I mean, I say it all the time "take a couple deep breaths", but really teaching the benfit and explaining it happened with my oldest. She is tense a lot and was very fearful. We spent some time with a counselor this year, who brought up breath, and I though, of course! So we taught her when she was feeling short of breath…like if she were feeling anxious, to put her hand on her stomache to feel her breaths rise and fall. She has told me how she has done this simple excercise since and I have seen most of her anxiety evaporate. Such an important and powerful tool indeed!

:)Lisa

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FrontierDreams July 21, 2011 at 6:20 am

Beautiful, beautiful, BEAUTIFUL Heather! I just typed up another rhythm post and came over here to see this so funny! :)

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lacey July 22, 2011 at 1:57 am

we've been breathing very badly these past few days. thanks for this reminder–i think this physical activity will help us.

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Hannah July 22, 2011 at 8:57 pm

I just had a temper fit after discovering my dog had dug up and laid in my nasturtium bed (which had it's first bloom yesterday). I tore around the yard ripping out all the little fences I had erected as an effort to keep the animals out of my gardens, while my son and daughter watched from the porch, holding their breath. Now it's time to exhale… all of us…

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@dotingondeirdre July 22, 2011 at 11:56 pm

What a lovely post. I need to work on my breathing. I think once I get past this move I will be able to relax and slide back into our rhythm.

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shannon July 23, 2011 at 1:45 am

When I put my son to bed at night we always take some deep inhales and exhales together. It is magical. The other day he was having a little bit of a hard time and when daddy asked if he needed to talk about it he said, "No…I breathed it out and I'm much better now." I love that. What a gift – to learn the beauty of connecting to our breath from such an early age. I had a little time tonight to catch up on some of your past blog posts. You have such an incredible space here. You continue to amaze me. xo

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Kristina L July 24, 2011 at 2:15 am

Thank you for the lovely post! It's now bookmarked so I can refer to it as I try to integrate better breathing into my everyday life. Unfortunately, the times I desperately need to breathe deeply are usually the times I'm breathing shallowly and not thinking about breathing at all. Need to be more mindful of this…

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earthycrunchy July 24, 2011 at 2:29 am

When I'm stressed, I take shallow breaths. This totally makes sense Heather.

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agambroult July 25, 2011 at 12:12 am

mm. I remember realizing the link between the breath and the movements and the breath and life. But I slip into and out of my yoga practice and when I am not practicing, I forget–obviously. I have never taught my girls how to breathe, but I think they could benefit from that, too. Especially my big girl who gets very panicky and would up. I'd like to try some breathing and relaxation techniques with her to help her in school, too.

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Birdie July 25, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Heather, this is one of the most beautiful and inspiring post I think I have ever read! Yes, we so underestimate the power of our breath and we do need to 'teach it' to our children … wonderful wonderful post!!

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Shivayamama July 28, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Thank you so much, I am glad that it resonated. The breath has been the most powerful tool for my kiddos (and myself), and it fascinates me to watch how it plays a critical role in development. Happy weekend :)
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Annie August 11, 2011 at 3:58 am

What a beautiful post. Thank you–very helpful!

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kerry August 15, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Heather, breath has been so important to me lately. This summer my own yoga practice has been growing and breath has helped me get through the challenges of class and through long, hot, summer afternoons. This post really resonates with me as something that I should be doing with my children, especially now that my oldest will be starting school in a few weeks. Thank you for this and for your beautiful way of describing and explaining things.

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