I love yoga. I really do.
I first started doing it when I was a pre-teen because I found that I couldn’t do anything aerobics-like due to a tragic case of exercise-dyslexia. This rare and debilitating disease causes me to lift my right arm when the instructor says left, my left leg when he says right. And when he says to bring up my right knee and my left arm at the same time…well, then I quit.
So I took up yoga because, while there are still left and right body parts moving, it is much slower and allows me to think about what I’m doing. This is also why I like Tai Chi.
But the one thing that I’m really bad at in yoga (besides the crane pose) is breathing. Again, I blame my unfortunate exercise-dyslexia. When the instructor asks us to take a big breath, I’m exhaling. When he says to exhale as I move into a pose, I’m inhaling. And since I’m always on the wrong breath, I land up double breathing to catch up. This sounds vaguely like I’m hyperventilating.
I tell myself that the breathing doesn’t really matter. But does it?
One of the beautiful things about yoga is that it not only stretches and strengthens the body, but it also calms the mind. During my pregnancies, when I couldn’t sleep or was feeling worried or upset, doing a yoga video in my bedroom helped me feel better. And that was with my bad breathing technique. How much better would it be if I breathed correctly?
I’ve hears a lot about breathing exercises , but they sounded a little too good to be true. They can calm the mind, plus they’re easy, free, can be done in my pjs, and don’t require a corkscrew? I was skeptical.
During my last delivery, when I arrived at the hospital fully dilated, the doctor told me to breathe. Having morphed into angry-in pain-laboring woman, I replied, “Does that even work?!” He shrugged and said, “Not really, but it gets your mind off the pain.” Not really.
But there is some science behind it. Though it doesn’t work for everyone, or to the same degree, it is proven to combat stress and anxiety. And who couldn’t use some of that?
Finding a time to try this out when I was feeling stressed or anxious was not too difficult. My kids love playing on the playground after school each day. But on one especially busy day, as they slid down the slide and hung from the monkey bars, my mind was running over the list of things I wasn’t doing at that moment, like a frantic hamster on its wheel.
While I was getting worked up by this exercise in futility, my watch vibrated with a notification. I actually have an app called Breathe on it that regularly invites me to spend some time deep breathing, and that I had been ignoring with great success for weeks. But this time, I started it up.
I felt a little silly, and truth be told, a little challenged. Taking deep breaths, holding them, and then letting them out for the length of time required took a lot of my concentration. So much so that the hamster had to get off its wheel to pay attention to what I was doing.
When the five minutes were up, my mind was calmer and I felt more relaxed. I don’t know if it was the increased oxygen, the redirected focus, or some combination of both, but I felt less stressed about what I needed to do. All those things were still there waiting for me when I got home, and I know I could have gotten myself worked up all over again just by thinking about them, but those five minutes of breathing afforded me some perspective, too.
One of the worst things about being on a hamster wheel is you can only see an endless path that you need to run and it seems insurmountable. But once you’re off it, you see that it wasn’t as long as you thought and you were mostly covering old ground anyway. Running over the to-do list over and over again, rehashing an argument that ended hours ago, worrying about something that might not even happened.
As moms, we are champions of multitasking, to the point that we get anxious about dropping one of the dozens of balls we’re juggling each day. Having something easy and convenient that could relax us, even for a little while, could really change our day for the better.
It turns out that breathing really does help. So the next time I’m doing yoga, I’m going to give the whole inhale-exhale thing another chance. Despite my sad case of exercise-dyslexia.
Have you tried breathing exercises before? What did you think of them and how did they work for you? I’d love to hear in the comments!