November 5, 2008

How to Breathe Your Way to Calm

In Yoga, the breath (prana) is considered life force and guides everything. Focus on it quiets the mind, calms the spirit, and allows us to play to our edge in poses or challenging situations that come up in life.

I quickly learned that prana was the best place to start for soothing with my own son, Kai, in his early months. And now that he's toddling, I find that I can work the same magic I've watched other parents manifest with just a little bit of breath, sometimes even curtailing tantrums before they have a chance to begin.

So today, a few simple strategies for bonding and calming using the magic of breath:

Centering: When you feel your own reactions to your little one’s behavior intensifying, take a moment to notice your own breath. Don’t try to change it, but do pay particular attention to the feeling of it on the skin under your nose for a few minutes. We find that after a few moments, this leaves us much calmer, more present, and ready to deal with the situation at hand much more lovingly.

Baby’s Breath: Hold your infant against your chest and match your breathing to hers, inhaling and exhaling on her time. Feel the sensations on your skin where your bodies connect.

Breath Beats: Next time your well-fed, clean-diapered babe fusses, hold him close and try using an up and down motion (think a Yoga/exercise ball or Goddess pose/squats) that matches in the tempo of his breathing. As he and his breathing calm, slow your pace to follow. This used to turn even my son Kai’s fiercest crying into laughter.

Tantrum Tamer: In Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolers: 8-Minute Routines to Help Your Child Grow Smarter, Be Happier, and Behave Better, Helen Garabedian suggests derailing an oncoming tantrum with some simple breathwork. Show your toddler how to breathe like a lion with Lion’s Breath: breathe in through your nose using an exaggerated facial motion and expression, then out through your mouth with a “haaaahhh” sound, imitating a lion’s roar.

Grown-ups (parents and non-parents alike) can work this magic on ourselves as well! It's amazing - the lessons of baby and toddler yoga can sweeten each day for big people, too. Next time you're upset, try rocking, swaying, or bouncing your body in time to your own breath, slowing your motion as your breath calms. Or let loose with a few lion's breath roars...I guarantee you'll feel better. Prana power works for everyone.

Why is up-and-down/side-to-side/upside-down motion so powerful when combined with prana? More on that tomorrow!

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