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How Focusing on My Breath Has Helped Me Manage My Child's Complex Care

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How have you reacted to bad news about your child’s health?

Did you have a panic attack?

Hold your breath while you processed it?

Did you hyperventilate and have a hard time getting in control of your breathing?

Looking back, I can see I did so many of these over the years. It wasn’t until I started taking yoga classes and took yoga teacher training that I realized how poorly I had been breathing all these years, especially around my daughter’s health concerns.

My advice is easy: Keep it simple. Breathe.

One of the best things we can do for self-care is to breathe. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

However, during our busy day, we may not notice that our breathing is off. After all, we breathe normally whether we focus on it or not, right? Wrong. In our stressful and anxiety-ridden lives, our breathing patterns can contribute to more stress.

What are some abnormal ways we breathe?

1) Shallow breathing through our chests.
2) Breath-holding (especially in stressful situations).
3) Over-breathing (i.e. hyperventilating) and not getting in enough air.
4) Being too aware of your breathing which makes you more anxious.

Breathing in the ways I’ve mentioned above means we’re not getting enough oxygen to feed our cells, organs, muscles and more. Not breathing correctly can really mess with your central nervous system. Less oxygen means less energy is produced to keep your body functioning at its highest level. I have found that breath work is the number one tool in my self-care toolbox.

During yoga teacher training and yoga retreats I’ve attended, I have learned some of the keys to breathing correctly through practice.

1) Breathe through your nose; it filters the air.
2) Breathe with your diaphragm versus through your chest, i.e. “belly breathing.”
3) Breathe in a relaxed manner, and soften your belly.

Deep breathing is especially important. Why? Inhaling deep breaths fill your body with the oxygen needed to fuel your body. The majority of us take shallow breaths (breathing through our chests) all day. By being in the present moment and hopefully clearing your mind, it is
easier to focus on your breath.

How can deep breathing affect your body?

1) It can help decrease your heart rate.
2) It can help lower your blood pressure.
3) It can help slow your breathing down.

Here are two examples of breathing exercises to calm and center your mind:

Six-Count Belly Breaths
This practice slows down your heart rate and calms your nervous system. Put one hand on your stomach and the other on your diaphragm. Picture your torso as a glass. When you breathe in, you are going to fill that glass from the bottom to the top, from your stomach up to your shoulders. As you breathe out, you are going to empty the glass slowly from your shoulders down. I do this to a six-count, but you can do what works for you, as long as it is a deep breath for you. Do this for five minutes.

Alternate Nostril Breathing
This practice balances the left and right sides of the brain. Use a four to six-count on each inhale and exhale. Use the thumb of the right hand to close the right nostril and inhale through the left side. Then, use the index finger of the right hand to close the left nostril, exhale through the right. Next, inhale right and exhale left. Continue for 10 rounds. You are exhaling and inhaling on one side and then moving to the other side to exhale and inhale.

See? Breathing made simple.

I hope this can be a useful tool the next time you find managing your own health or your child’s health to be overwhelming. Parenting a medically complex child isn’t easy, but techniques like this can help you stay present and calm.

Originally published: December 6, 2019
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