Catching breath

Thursday, September 14th, 2017 at 8:00 am

What can be more instinctive, more natural than breathing?

The deep inhale, the cleansing exhale. Oxygen to our lungs, carbon dioxide released. In and out. Over and over.

Automatic, unlabored breath.

We don’t think of it until something goes wrong, until we’re laboring to climb stairs or in a sprint to catch a youngster who insists on running out into the street. Don’t notice it until allergies plug the nostrils that usually carry the life-giving air in, the poisonous carbon dioxide out.

But then, all we can think is of our need to catch our breath.

This is how I feel about my routines, the air I breathe day in and day out.

I am a creature of habit, a lover of the routine. I delight in days that flow effortlessly from habit to habit, like breath flowing effortlessly through my airway to my lungs and back.

But when the exhaustion of first trimester met the exhaustion of a mother who hasn’t slept through the night for nine months and then a bout of food poisoning (for myself and the not-yet-sleeping infant) took me out, I was left heaving like a woman who’s just run up twenty flights of stairs with a panda on her back.

I desperately needed to catch my breath.

But no matter how hard I tried, it seemed impossible. I couldn’t figure out how to establish a reasonable morning routine, much less a full day one.

I’d set my standards low. I wasn’t worrying about exercise or ambitious projects. I just wanted to see the living room floor once a day, do the dishes after meals, and not have three loads of clean laundry waiting to be folded at any given time.

I knew from past experience that morning was the best time to get things done – before I’d lost my energy and motivation.

But no sooner did I have the dishes cleared from the breakfast table and already the children were clamoring, the mess was driving me nuts, and I was already ready to snap someone’s head off (usually my daughter’s, hers being the nearest.)

I needed to catch my breath.

In desperation, I turned to Google, searching “preschool routines” or “toddler rhythms” or something of the like. And more often than not, I ended up with a suggested morning schedule for a preschool classroom. Those were not particularly helpful, given that I was trying to get my OWN tasks done. What I wanted was something to tell me how to set up my own rhythms around life with a toddler.

And then I stumbled upon Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf method and the novel idea of routines as an interplay of breathing in (internally focused activity) and breathing out (external activity).

I was intrigued, especially by the idea that the teacher (in a Waldorf school) should aim to be accessible and attentive for breathing-in activities and should be present and busy at her own work for breathing-out activities. I decided to give it a try. I reorganized my morning routines to alternate between breathing-in activities, in which I focused on the children, and breathing-out activities, in which I focused on the home or on my own pursuits.

And, just like that, our household slipped into automatic, unlabored breath. So many of the frustrations and irritations I’d been struggling with in the mornings? They were gone. The children could play peacefully among themselves while I cleaned up from breakfast and did just a few quick cleaning tasks because they had just been breathing in my conscious presence at breakfast (rather than vying for the attention I was giving my phone). They let me exercise in peace because I’d first filled their lungs with presence while we did our action songs and finger rhymes together.

Is it perfect? No. I still have plenty of times where I’m struggling to catch my breath, when the frustration and the irritation sets in. But now, instead of attempting to sprint all day long and only catch my breath in the evening, I’ve established rhythms that allow me to breathe throughout the day.

And what a difference it has made, catching breath.

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