Breathing in Space

Let breath lead the way.
— Sharon Salzberg

by Nancy Alder

Breathe.

Renew.

Begin again.

Everyday I wake up with the intention to carve spaces for myself; to find nurturing and balance. Yet juggling a family and a career often disassembles these plans. That two hours of yin yoga, or journaling gets pushed to another day as I drive to basketball games or fold laundry.

To help keep the scales even and so I do not forget myself in the busyness of life as a working mom, I make sure to spend some time every day with my breath. On cold, dark mornings my inhale warms me up and provides sunshine. When the chaos of parenthood wells up, I turn to the releasing bottom of my breath and the earthy exhales that sustain me. In a mom’s world where my shirts, my socks, my food and my time is shared, my breath is one space that is mine alone.

Feelings come and go like clouds in the windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.
— Thich Nhat Hahn
Photos by Nancy Alder.

Photos by Nancy Alder.

Many days my yoga practice shows up only as exhales and inhales. I place one hand on my heart and one hand on my abdomen and draw my awareness back to myself. I notice the spaces at the top and bottom of my breath. I feel the movements, the shape changes and the texture of my breath. I count and focus. I linger in the brightness at the top or the softness at the bottom of each breath. I choose to carve out space for me.

My breath work can take many forms, but it is not bound by time or location. Whether I am awake before anyone waiting for coffee to brew or sitting at the middle school to pick up my oldest, I find time to consciously breathe. These 2 practices are tent posts in my practice and help me renew and begin again from a space that is my own.

: : Balanced breathing : : Close your eyes and take a few breaths to find a space for yourself. What does that space look like and what is the quality, texture and pace of your breath? While your life may feel out of balance, you can return to that space in-between through your breath. Take ten to twenty breaths bringing your inhales and exhales to the same length. This mirroring of the intake and output can be done just through awareness or by counting. Allow your inhale to be the guiding length for both halves of your breath. Notice how this control feels different to the breath you started with both spatially and energetically. Return to your normal, uncontrolled/uncounted breath and look at how it has changed.

:: Grounding exhales : : Begin with a few rounds of normal breath with awareness. Draw your attention inward and watch the movement of the spaces between your ribs, your chest and back and your belly. Exhales are part of our parasympathetic response system and bring physiological relaxation to your mind and body. When you have trouble sleeping or feel stresses/anxiety rise, try practicing extra-long grounding exhales. Take three normal breaths counting your inhales. Now ten to twenty breaths where your exhales are one to three counts longer than your inhale. Focus your attention at the bottom of your breath where there is release and ease. Notice the softness that comes in your shoulders and your jaw. Open your mouth and release the breath and with it the stresses that you were holding. Bring yourself back to your regular, uncontrolled breath and view any changes in the texture or quality of your breath.

Yoga and parenting are not so different. Both require a desire to go with the flow and learn something new. They solicit an open minded, curiosity and a willingness to start at square one. I am asked all the time about practicing yoga and what is required to do so. Do I need to be flexible? Do I need a mat? Do I need to go to a studio?

Each time I reply with the same words, ones I echo about being a parent:

All you need is your breath.


About Nancy

Yogi + Mother

Nancy Alder is a mom to elves, a yoga teacher and writer in Connecticut. She is a New York editor for Mantra Magazine and writes about the alchemy of yoga, mysticism and motherhood at her site Flying Yogini. When not teaching or writing about yoga she explores the enchanted woods with her elves and counts the days until the next snowfall. Photo of Nancy by Sheryl Sapphire Photography.