It is the first thing we do when we are born, the last thing we do before we die. We do it all day and night.
Seems a natural part of life, yet I am trying to get better at it.
Ancient sages figured out long ago the importance of breathing, beyond the obvious, immediate life-sustaining benefit. Who knew there was a right way to breathe? Turns out deep, slow breathing from the diaphragm used in meditation and yoga can also be done in the canned soup aisle of the grocery store or while driving the kids to school.
But let’s start at the beginning. Before I perfect my breathing, I must remember to breathe.
I have diagnosed myself with a case of Mom Apnea; the cessation of breathing caused by motherhood. It started with my first newborn. After spending an hour feeding and rocking the baby to sleep, I would hold my breath as I lay him into the crib; hoping he would make the transfer from my arms to the mattress.
Inserting a Cheerio into a baby’s mouth with only two teeth the first few times, I unconsciously held my breath until I could confirm the Cheerio had been swallowed and was not lodged in the windpipe.
The breath-stopping moments grew from there: realizing someone cut off all their hair themselves or discovering the reason for the clogged toilet was a Hot Wheel. Finding out my son drew with purple marker on the back seat of my friend’s minivan or walking into the kitchen just as somebody was trying to fish a broken Eggo out of the toaster with a fork. No sustained calm breathing there.
Each stage of parenting brings a new onset of Mom Apnea. My biggest challenge will be to learn to breathe during fear inducing occasions. Those times when our body tricks us into thinking suspending breath somehow suspends time, magically removing the possibility of hurt, emotional or physical. Standing by as a stubborn toddler refuses help as she navigates her way down a flight of stairs. Watching a child take his turn at a dusty home plate, bat held over his shoulder. Scanning a newly posted cast list for a play. I
n through the nose, out through the mouth. Repeat.
Breathing deeply and slowly helps develop our concentration and focus. It reduces stress and relaxes the body, allowing us to live in the moment. So, it would follow, controlling one’s breathing makes one a better parent.
The chorus of the song “Breath (2 AM)” by Anna Nalick has become a sort of anthem for me. I especially love the part:
…life’s like an hourglass, glued to the table
No one can find the rewind button now
Sing it if you understand.
and breathe, just breathe
whoa breathe, just breathe,
Oh breathe, just breathe,
Oh breathe, just breathe.
Take a listen here.
Recently I attended a baby shower for a friend who was having her first baby. Her sister turned to me and said, “You have four kids, you can give Kelly lots of advice.”
I know she’ll get plenty of advice from other moms about the best kind of diapers, or whether it is a good or bad idea to get the baby on a feeding schedule. All the reasons to use a pacifier and the reasons you must not.
The advice I have for Kelly can be summed up in a word.