I keep all of my stress wrapped up tight in my body, wound around me in layers. And while I’m on autopilot through much of the week — working, commuting, commandeering bath time and playtime and dinnertime, sweeping through each mess in my house with my hands flying everywhere — the one thing I seem to forget to do is breathe. Mommy mindfulness is often the last thing on my mind.
As moms, we all hear about the importance of self-care. Yet a survey by HealthyWomen and Working Mother found nearly 80 percent of mothers put off taking care of themselves because they were too busy looking after their loved ones. When women were asked to rank how they manage healthcare in their family, they put their children, spouse and other relatives, and even their pets above themselves.
It’s no surprise then that many moms feel depleted or burnt out. And while experts say self-care is critical to a mother’s health — and the health of her children — it often seems impossible to find time to devote to oneself. That’s why, for now, I will think only about breathing.
Take a “soul vacation”
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Han describes breathing as a “soul vacation,” writing, “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”
The effects of deep breathing are numerous; it evokes a relaxation response that combats stress, which makes us more susceptible to illness, anxiety and depression. It also can lower blood pressure, and affect areas of the body like the heart, brain and involuntary bodily functions. The Mayo Clinic recommends some diaphragmatic breathing exercises, but there are many techniques you can use to increase mommy mindfulness, particularly through yogic breathing, also called pranayama, or meditation.
Meditate… with your kids?
Apps like Insight Timer and headspace offer thousands of (short) guided and unguided meditations, many of which are focused on breathing. There are even kid-friendly meditations if you can’t find time alone.
Teddy bear breathing
You also can practice “teddy bear breathing” with your children, which involves laying on your back with a teddy bear on your belly, then breathing in slowly through your nose and counting to three before breathing out. The American Institute of Stress has more instructions on this and other types of deep breathing.
Many of these exercises can be done anywhere and at any time — driving, walking the dog, even while working out. I challenge other moms (and myself!) to take a few moments each day to breathe… not just for ourselves, but for the health and well-being of our families.