Awareness of breathing is a gateway to mindfulness. In the practices of yoga and meditation, you can use your breath to connect with your mind, body, and spirit. If you are upset or in pain, deep and deliberate breathing can help you become calm and balanced. You can help integrate these same concepts of breath awareness into your baby’s breathing.
I believe that scientists are only beginning to understand the effects of breath on physical and mental health. In Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing, Andrew Weil, MD, explains that you can use your breath to regulate your nervous system, relieve pain, lower blood pressure, aid digestion, achieve overall better physical health, decrease stress, and improve mental health. No pills. No side effects. Just you, breathing.
Your breath is your connection between your parasympathetic nervous system (which governs normal overall functioning) and your sympathetic nervous system (which governs fight-or-flight mode). When you become panicked or stressed, your nervous system goes into a sympathetic state: your system is flooded with adrenaline, and your heart and breathing rates increase to prepare you to respond to an emergency. By simply focusing on your breath—inhaling and exhaling fully— you can return your body to a parasympathetic state in which you are calm and mindful. This is also true for you baby’s breathing.
Focused breathing can also help children calm down when they are frustrated or frightened. Alternatively, your toddler can focus on different parts of his body while breathing in order to calm his mind in preparation for sleep. Then, if he needs a boost when he wakes up, he can breathe more vigorously to help increase his energy.
Note that when your baby is breathing, he uses his whole torso as his tummy goes up and down. This is called diaphragmatic, or belly breathing because the diaphragm helps the lungs draw air in and push air out. The result is fewer, longer, fuller breaths that fill his body with the oxygen it needs.
Wherever your child goes in life, his breath is with him. You can help bring about incalculable benefits to his health and well-being by teaching him early in life to use his breath as a tool to regulate his energy and to cultivate a state of awareness.