Thursday, August 20, 2009

Learning to Breathe

My son was having a hard time falling asleep tonight. He usually resists sleep, but tonight he was overtired and really wanted sleep to come. He asked me to help him fall asleep. He's done this in the past, and I've tried different techniques with him; my boyfriend's white paper meditation, repeating the word 'Om', counting slowly. Tonight I tried something new.

I touched his nose and asked, "What's this?" 

"My nose," he replied.

Then I touched his mouth and asked again, "What's this?"

"My mouth?" he questioned, as if to try and follow me. 

Last, I touched his belly. "And this?" I questioned.

"My belly," he responded.

"Okay," I said to him. These are the three places you will focus on, to get yourself to fall asleep. I had him put his hand on his belly and just observe it. I asked him to notice how his belly would rise and fall according to his breath. This was easy for him. He understood the concept. Next, I told him to bring the air through his nose and to watch it as it goes on a path to his lungs and fills his belly, causing it to expand. (I was careful not to say the word "in" which often triggers a person's desire to hold their belly in, fighting the natural rhythm of breathing.) Last, I told him to open his mouth and allow the air to leave in a slow exhale. And he did.

In the past, I taught breathing to kids, as part of a wellness class. Babies and young children naturally take big, deep breaths. Everyone does, when they are unaware and sleeping. It's beautiful to watch bellies rise and fall with wonderful inhalations and exhalations. As we get older and focus on it, we can get confused and we sort of try too hard to breathe. As kids get to a certain age, somewhere around first grade, they start to forget how to breathe. Keeping them in practice is beneficial.

Shortly before my grandmother died, she was required to use an inhaler. The inhaler provided a medication that she desperately needed to breathe. She was, however, unable to inhale and hold her breath. She would inhale up, taking in air, raising her chest and tightening her shoulders. Her belly would suck in, and her lips would release from the inhaler. I tried coaching her through it, but she got incredibly frustrated and stopped trying. At eighty seven years old, she was unable to figure out how to take a deep breath.

It is so important to know how to breathe. 

The practice of deep breathing comes in many forms. The most basic, I believe, is in through the nose and out through the mouth. Simply put, allow the air to enter through your nose (mouth closed) and fill your lungs, expanding them. Your belly will look as though it's got a full balloon in it. As you exhale, think of the air reversing its path but exiting through your open mouth. Do this for as long as is comfortable, and practice it daily. I like to visualize my lungs making big expansions, the air reaching to the very bottom of my lungs, getting into every nook. 

As my son was deep breathing, I was helping him to visualize his lungs expanding slowly, and then releasing the air. He found this to be very peaceful, which surprised me because, generally, he laughs at my relaxation techniques. After only a handful of minutes, I noticed that his breath had quieted. He was positively asleep.

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