My friend, a mother of a 2-year-old boy, recently asked me, “What yogic technique can I use in those moments my toddler makes me feel like I’m just going to explode!?”
Great question. I responded, “Breathe.”
Whether you’re experiencing the ‘terrible twos’ or you’re just feeling stressed and overwhelmed, your breath can be powerful. In those moments, we often take shallow breaths or barely breathe at all. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found “when breathing is shallow and fast, the body responds with an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones.” Becoming aware of the breath and encouraging it to flow smoothly and deeply can help calm the mind and body. For me, taking that pause of awareness helps draw me back to center so I feel more present as I react to any given situation.
Take a moment right now to become conscious of your natural breath as it flows in and out or your nose. Are you breathing quickly or slowly, shallowly or deeply? What parts of your body move with your breath? Just observe.
Then scan your body to notice if you’re tensing or gripping anywhere. Can you gently guide your breath to those areas and encourage them to soften?
The more you practice checking in with your breath, the more you may remember to do so in stressful situations. By ‘stressful’, of course I don’t mean a moment you’re face-to-face with a hungry tiger on a jungle adventure. Most day-to-day stresses don’t require that same fight or flight response even though our bodies often kick into that mode. If your toddler is having a meltdown and you want to explode, how is your breath? Can you encourage even just one inhale and exhale to be smoother and longer? What do you feel in your body? Maybe your shoulders are tensed up by your ears. Can you soften them down? Noticing even just one breath can make a huge difference.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
When you have some time to yourself, try this calming and cleansing breathing exercise. Using your right hand, you’ll alternate your breath between your two nostrils. To start, gently place your right thumb next to your right nostril and your right ring finger next to your left nostril.
- Without pressing either, just take a nice long smooth breath in through both nostrils.
- Close off your right nostril with your thumb and exhale out of the left.
- After your full exhalation out of the left nostril, breathe in on that same side.
- At the peak of your inhale, close left with your ring finger, open the right and exhale right.
Continue just like that with slow smooth breaths. Breathe in right, close right, exhale left. Breathe in left, close left, exhale right and so on.
Kelly Brennan, RYT is a NYC- based yoga and meditation teacher. She teaches yoga to all ages from babies to grown-ups. Many adult students comment on her gentle, compassionate energy as she encourages mindfulness both on and off the yoga mat. In her kids classes, children love Kelly’s incorporation of silly games, songs, and adventures. For more information about Kelly, visit www.inwardfacing.com.