Deep belly breathing: an easy mindfulness exercise for parents
Three minutes to breathe yourself into a better headspace.
We all have testing times as a parent. When your baby has been crying for hours and won’t settle. When your kids want to wear dress-ups to school rather than a uniform. Or when every member of the family is pulling you every which way, needing everything done right that minute.
Being a parent isn’t always a walk in the park, but there are things you can do to give yourself time out. Deep belly breathing is one mindfulness trick that helps you to refocus and gain clarity when it all seems too much to handle.
It’s normal to stress out as a parent
We all have amazing visions of being zen mammas who calmly communicate and reason with our families. We envision instant connection and co-operation, because we’ve been reasonable and calmly explained a situation. Naturally then, everyone will see the logic and you will all move on to the fun stuff like play, craft and visits to the park where you discuss the wonders of the world.
Yes, we’ve all had those visions, but the reality is that parenthood isn’t always so smooth. Sometime the highlight of your whole day will be your toddler doing a poo on the toilet, but that’s okay. This period of your life is fleeting and soon enough your kids will be wiping their own bums and you’ll wonder where the time went.
That fact doesn’t make the testing moments any easier though, especially when you are right in a moment of madness. The more mind-numbingly frustrated you become – you know, that type of frustration where your blood is so red-hot that it feels like steam is puffing from your ears – the harder it is to effectively communicate with your babies and children.
I really want to be a zen mum. I work very, very hard every day at keeping my cool and explaining issues clearly and firmly, but also calmly. I discuss my need for co-operation and make sure there is always time to bandage pretend wounds, cuddle as much as possible, play hide and seek, and run from the monsters stalking us. But I am human. I am a mother. I am tested. I am tired. I am perfectly human in my imperfections. So needless to say, I occasionally lose my shizzle! That’s when I turn to deep belly breathing.
How deep belly breathing helps with stress
At times when you feel frustrated, overwhelmed or frazzled, it is useful to have some tricks up your sleeve that will help you to cope. Deep belly breathing is simple and only takes a minute or two from your day. Try it the next time you have a quiet moment, like when you are waiting for the kettle to boil for that much needed cup of tea.
Choose somewhere quiet to stand or sit.
Close your eyes.
Breathe deeply through the nose to a slow count of ‘one, two, three, four’.
Pause when your lungs are full and then exhale for a count of four.
Pause again at the end of your exhale and repeat the process until you feel calmer (or until a little person starts calling out to you).
I try to do at least five of these breaths when my buttons are being pushed and I am reaching a point of snap and yell. This exercise is definitely useful in those moments, but regular deep belly breathing can also help you to keep a clear head and hopefully not reach that tipping point.
Practising three minutes in the morning will put you in a good headspace for the day – no matter how tired you are – and three minutes at night will help you to sleep better. And the more you practise, the more you will remember to practise.
Deep belly breathing vs meditation
If you are thinking that this sounds a lot like meditation, that’s because it is. Deep belly breathing is a simple, parent-friendly tool for mindfulness and meditation.
In my baby massage classes, we practise a number of simple one-minute meditation exercises and they all start with five deep breaths. When we begin these calming activities in a room full of babies, it is amazing to witness the magic that happens. As parents calm down and breathe, every baby goes silent as they respond to the change in the room. For a brief moment there is a serene calm that overwhelms me each time.
TIP: A top way to try a little deep belly breathing is to sneak quietly into the toilet (it might not be glamorous, but it’s quiet). I can often stay hidden for five long minutes sitting there – just don’t get caught though, or you’ll need to find a new quiet place.
Deep belly breathing for children
Children are like mirrors to our moods. They read us better than we read ourselves. If you can learn to calm yourself and breathe, they will imitate you and respond to this exercise. In learning a tool for yourself and practising in front of your children, you are teaching them some of the most important lessons anyone can learn – how to self-regulate, calm down and think clearly.
If I see one of my daughters beginning to lose it, I use deep breathing to help them find their calm. We discuss breath and their feelings, and we try to ground ourselves. With practice, your children will start to respond to the exercise and to use it as a calming tool, although initially their age and personality will have an impact on its effectiveness. Practice. Practice. Practice makes perfect. Or close enough.
Remembering to practice your breathing
I hate it when I lose my shizzle. But the reality is that life can be irritating. We are all tired and lacking the time, energy and money to do something good for ourselves. That is why deep belly breathing is so effective – it’s free and fast, and it can easily become a habit.
Write yourself a note that will remind you to practice your breathing and stick it somewhere where you will see it. Maybe above your bed so it is the first thing you see in morning, or above the bathtub, so you can practise while you wait for the tub to fill. Then, in the very wise words of my very wise dad: “Breathe in. Breathe out. Move on.”