Mindfulness and Your Breath
Conscious Breathing for Parents: From Conception to Birth and Beyond
Mindfulness for Healthy Living
Mindfulness is an essential component to living a healthy, satisfying and joyful life. Mindfulness helps us develop agency and wisdom as well as kindness and compassion. It has also been shown to benefit our health and well-being as well as our longevity. Finally, mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress. Mindfulness is “moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness” according to Jon Kabat -Zinn (JKZ p. xlix). According to Kabat-Zinn, “The only way we have of influencing the future is to own the present.”(JKZ p. xl)
With moment-to-moment observation, the fast pace of life begins to slow down as we begin focus on the present. Hence, our relationship to time and to the circumstances of our lives begins to shift. Mindfulness is a fundamental ingredient for the creation and maintenance of a conscious family, from conception to birth and beyond. Only by paying attention to the state of the mind and the body in the present can we positively affect the trajectory of the future.
When contemplating starting a family, and especially during pregnancy, there’s a natural need to think and to plan. While this is helpful, too much of a good thing can work against us. For example, too much thinking can adversely affect sleep and can cause anxiety. Cultivating awareness is one of the best ways to ensure the health of your family. Awareness requires “only that we pay attention and see things as they are. It doesn’t require we change anything.” (JKZ p. 20)
Observation of the breath is a mindfulness practice that every parent and parent-to-be needs.
The mind is often in overdrive. By shifting the focus to the breath, there is a slowing down of thoughts as well as positive physiological responses. Research shows that conscious breathing lowers the levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol while elevating the levels of melatonin, DHEA, serotonin and endorphins. Conscious breathing has also been shown to support calm and sleep.
At first, embarking on a breath awareness practice can feel overwhelming and even provoke anxiety. Alternatively, it can feel like nothing is happening. Keep practicing. The beauty of observing the breath is that you can do it anywhere, at anytime and can have a profound calming effect. Conscious breathing is a must for anyone considering beginning a family and especially for anyone struggling with fertility challenges. During pregnancy, conscious breathing benefits mamma as well as baby in the womb who receives the benefits of the practice as well.
Kabat-Zinn, J. Full Catastophe Living (NY: Bantam Books, 2013).
Mindfulness: A Conscious Breathing Exercise
To begin: Observe 3 cycles of breath - Inhale/Exhale, Inhale/Exhale. Inhale/Exhale.
Were you able to remain completely focused on the observation of 3 breath cycles? Can you observe your breath for 3 minutes? When first beginning practice, consider using a timer. Three minutes can seem like a long time to sit, and observe your breath. When you notice your mind has become distracted, be compassionate towards yourself, note the thoughts and then return to the observation: Inhale/Exhale.
In order to receive the benefits of mindfulness, commit to practice. It takes self-discipline, effort and consistency.
As you continue to practice, you will begin to extend the length of time you can remain focused on the breath. You will also begin to witness the various subtleties of your breath, body and mind. As you observe your breath, notice the air moving in and out through your nose. Observe where your breath moves freely inside your ribcage? Witness any sensations in your body. In this way, your awareness or consciousness begins to spread. It’s astounding how much transpires in a single breath.
Mindfulness Practice for Everyone
In addition to body awareness, mindfulness has been shown to increase focus, concentration and productivity. This is one of the reasons CEOs and businesses are investing in these practices. Mindfulness can be a life saver for parents too, helping them to remain patient and responsive. For children, mindfulness has been shown to lay the foundation for future academic success and help them develop emotional intelligence.
Beginning these practices before starting a family is ideal. Build a strong foundation for your family. Incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Benefit from the practice, especially early on during the period of conception, pregnancy, labor, birth and early postpartum. Mindfulness will support you as you parent and help you to be a model for awareness, kindness and compassion as you raise your children to be thoughtful and conscious beings.
Begin with your breath. 3 cycles. Then 3 minutes. Begin now.
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