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Breathe Deeply, Breathe Slowly...

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Every parent is pushed to their maximum limits at some point (or perhaps many points) while raising children. Times when our physical, psychological, and emotional capacities for being calm are defeated, despite all the advice from Thich Nhat Hanh, Ram Dass, and Eckhart Tolle on living a mindful life. We are human, and we require a tranquil atmosphere to support our nervous system to remain present and peaceful both inside and out. As much as they can be a blessing in our lives, children know how to test our limitations and push our boundaries as part of their natural development. They pay close attention to us and how we respond to events (sometimes we wish they wouldn’t).

For me, raising children has been the most significant challenge and exercise in putting all of these tools into practice as someone who advocates for living a mindful life. “ If you think you’re enlightened, spend a week with your family.” Ram Dass, the spiritual leader, once said. You may also tweak this to “If you think you’re so enlightened, have children!”

Chanting OM does not seem like a plausible possibility when our buttons are pushed, our senses are swamped by noise from a screaming child, dishes to wash, and siblings arguing in the background. Especially when in a heightened state of anxiousness and your young one comes up to you and whines for no apparent reason…yes, I know all too well how you feel! How do we reply to the calm, Zen, and peaceful demeanour we strive to live by? The reality is that our nervous systems are experiencing a lot in those circumstances, and the first thing we can do is have compassion for ourselves and remember that we are not alone.

On a physical level, you might be feeling rapid heartbeat, fast-thinking, irritability, shortness of breath or even crying. On an emotional and psychological level, you may be feeling like you want to punch a wall, scream, hide in a cupboard or even worse, jump in your car and leave for a few days. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, and we have all felt it!

Here are a few on-the-moment grab-and-go tools you can use to ease the tension and perhaps change the outcome of what would have been an explosive reaction that does not help you or your child. Tools that can help you move away from the survival zone and into a place where you can think clearly with your two feet planted in the ground will bring you to a “somewhat normal” state of consciousness.

Having experienced these moments all too often with my two boys, I developed a mantra that seems to give me what I need to get through the moment and cause as minor damage as possible to myself and those around me. It goes like this:

“Breathe Deeply, Breathe Slowly

Speak Deeply, Speak Slowly”

Whole torso breathing

When we are in heightened stress states, our breathing tends to shift into what we call shallow breathing. This type of breathing is described as upper chest breathing, where we get minimal air. So, we forget to breathe. It often leads to tension in the neck, shoulders, jaw and can even cause headaches. Shallow breathing is causal to stress, and stress is causal to shallow breathing. It’s a vicious circle, and unless you mindfully make the conscious decision to change your breathing pattern, you will be trapped in it.

Diaphragmatic breathing, or what I like to call “whole torso breathing,” encourages a healthy ratio of the influx of oxygen and outflow of carbon dioxide. Studies have revealed that bringing attention and awareness to your breathing (diaphragmatic breathing) is an efficient non-pharmacological intervention to reducing stress, anxiety and even depression. Breathing connects us directly to the body and aids us in regulating the nervous system to step out of the flight or fight zone response.

So how can I engage in “Whole torso breathing?

  • Plant your two feet in the ground (whether you or standing or sitting) about hip-width distance apart. Acknowledge your feet. Feel the ground. Allow yourself to come into your body.

  • Relax your shoulders. Relax your forehead.

  • Inhale through your nose, and like a balloon filling up with air, feel the base of your pelvis expand, your lower belly, your rib cage and then your chest. Imagine the oxygen is opening up areas of tension and hidden places that have not felt your breath for a long time.

  • Exhale slowly and deeply. As you exhale, imagine you’re blowing air on a window to fog it up, all while keeping your mouth closed. In pranayama yoga practice, this is what we call “Ouijaii” breath or Ocean breath. It allows for a deep extended, and steady exhale.

  • Repeat as often as needed.

Lower the tone of your voice and

slow it down

Now that your body is feeling more relaxed, you are ready to pay attention to other aspects of your bodily state. A quick, easy adjustment that is on the spot and will make a difference for yourself and those little ones around you is to LOWER the tone of your voice. Studies show a direct correlation between stress and a high-pitched voice. When your body is in a state of stress, your vocal cords (also known as vocal folds) react by tightening up. Emotional states fueled with anger and fear are often associated with a higher pitch of voice.

Take your time to speak. When you take time, you become more conscious of what you are saying. You help yourself get in more of a response mode and less of a reactive mode. You can imagine that you have a deep seductive voice, and as you respond to your child, you remain in your sovereign state of calmness and control like a king or queen.

Forgive yourself if these tips fly out the window when the next crisis happens. Have compassion, and give it another try next time.

“Breathe Deeply, Breathe Slowly

Speak Deeply, Speak Slowly”

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