Take a few minutes to try this now:
- Find a comfortable place to sit, lie down, mindfully walk or stand – it can be with children at your feet, in your arms, at your breast or bottle, or whilst walking with your baby or bump – this practice does not require total peace and quiet from the outside, as over time you will cultivate the practice to be able to create this state of relaxation and calm from within.
- Roll your shoulders back and forwards a few times to release tension and open your mouth into a wide yawn a couple of times to stretch and release your jaw. The shoulders and jaw are two of the key places we hold onto tension, and we want a beautifully relaxed jaw in labour and to be able to release our shoulders to find a more comfortable, relaxed state in everyday life too, so this is a good habit to get into.
- Close your eyes, even if just for a few moments, and take a deep breath in through your nose, filling up your belly for a count of 3 or 4 seconds if you can manage it. This is a deep, abdominal breath and is your life force and energy source. “Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
- Now, exhale through a soft, open mouth for a count of 6-8 seconds if you can, this is a long, slow, and controlled breath out and is the switch that turns on the relaxation response in your brain, slowing your mind and body down. Exhalation purifies the body and spirit.
- Repeat this for as many rounds as you have time and space for, ideally with your eyes closed if you can so you aren’t distracted by life going on around you – just doing this for 3 minutes can change your mindset, make you feel more energised, allow you time to re-set, reduce stress, release tension, and feel better able to cope with whatever unfolds that day. Inhale peace, exhale tension.
- An ideal time to do this is early in the morning, during feeds or nap times, after nursery or school drop off, or before bed, but find whatever time and space you can and make this moment count for you today.
By focusing on your breath, slowly drawing the nurturing and nourishing energy of oxygen in, placing a hand on your belly or bump to feel your abdomen rising as you literally fill up your cup, and then allowing the breath to release out again slowly, gently, and mindfully taking with it any anxiety, stress, or tension that you don’t need, is like a little love note to yourself. It pushes any busy-ness, to-do lists and worries to the side. When pregnant, this breathing also helps to send more fresh oxygen to your baby and is your superpower in birth to fuel the uterus to work as efficiently as possible and keep adrenaline and cortisol at bay which can interrupt the natural flow of labour. In parenthood, this deep breathing is a wonderful coping tool that can give you a few precious moments to regulate your emotions, perhaps disperse any feelings of anger or frustration that may be rising up through exhaustion or just needing a break, can give you much needed energy after a rough night, and it boosts feel-good endorphins and oxytocin which facilitate breastfeeding, aids bonding and make us feel loved and important too. “Breathing is the greatest pleasure in life” (Giovanni Papini)
The more you practice this, the more you will benefit, the quicker your mind and body will respond and the more relaxed, calm, peaceful and restored you will feel. Make this part of your daily routine and notice the change in how you feel, react, parent, and connect with yourself.
Powerfully simple wellbeing techniques
Other powerfully simple wellbeing techniques you may want to try that are safe in pregnancy and will fill up your cup, boost oxytocin (the love hormone) and soothe and calm your mind and body together:
- Treat your feet to a cold or warm soak in water scattered with herbs, petals, or Epsom salts and maybe a few drops of your favourite essential oil (all you need is an old washing bowl or tub big enough to pop both of your feet into). Breathe in deeply to stimulate the senses and enjoy a few moments to relax, restore and revive your feet – can even be done whilst you sit and feed your baby.
- Calm your nervous system wherever you are, by wrapping both arms around yourself in a hug and gently tapping your upper arms with your opposite hands. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and you could combine this with your deep breathing for a really restorative moment.
- Give yourself a gentle, short-hand massage. You can use a little coconut or sunflower oil for this if you wish or do it dry. Simply take one hand at a time and start by massaging small circles all over your palm with your opposite thumb. Activate the thumb valley pressure point to reduce stress and alleviate headaches, neck and shoulder tension. Apply a firm pressure to the skin between the thumb and the index finger by placing the opposite thumb on this point on the back of your hand, and the opposite index finger on this point on the palm side of your hand, for 10 seconds. Release, then trace down the palm side of your pinky finger with the opposite thumb until you reach the wrist joint in line with the little finger and apply a firm pressure here for 10 seconds. This is your wrist point 1 and can help to regulate your emotions and encourage feelings of relaxation and happiness. Take each finger one by one with your opposite thumb and index finger and smooth up from the base of the finger to the tops, gently squeezing the finger pads at the top, to release tension. Finally, lightly stroke along the back of the hand with your finger tips, along each finger and down to the wrist to boost endorphins. Repeat with the other hand.