This time of year is meant to be enjoyable, fun, even magical. But for many it is stressful, harried, and just outright overwhelming at times. That's why this year I'm trying something new to make it through the holidays without losing my mind. I'm practicing a special technique that a dear friend clued me into - something that helps her get through the impossible when she feels like giving up. And the best part is that this special thing is something that I already know how to do. It's something I do day in and day out, effortlessly. It's called breathing.
Yep, that's the secret - breathing. While having lunch with my good friend she told me about a recent 5k she had completed. It had been a while since she had run a race, so she told me that she found herself struggling to finish. That's when she stopped focusing on the course in front of her and instead began to focus solely on each breath she took. She cleared her mind of everything else and began to count each breath as she inhaled and exhaled. Her mind cared only for each breath, her body focused only on the air that filled her lungs and was then expelled. She told me that the physical act of running became so much easier once she began to count each breath and before she knew it, the race was over. And she felt great.
I was intrigued by what she told me and decided to try it out the next time I went for a run. I am definitely not a runner by nature, although I force myself to lace up my shoes and get out there and do it. And because it's not something that comes naturally or enjoyably, I often abandon the run half-way or two-thirds of the way through for a brisk walking pace instead. Oh, and did I mention my old lady knee? Yes, just one more excuse my mind offers up when the running gets tough. So as I set out for my neighborhood run, I began to count as I breathed. Inhale and exhale - one. Inhale and exhale - two. Inhale and exhale - three. Before I knew it, I was at breath 534 and was well over two miles into my run. And I was still going. Instead of dreading a looming hill or worrying about my knee, I was only focused on my breathing. I could keep going. Instead of giving up, I told myself that I could take one more breath.
Just keep breathing - it's that simple. And it's a concept that can be applied to all parts of life, not just dreaded exercise. When I look at the list of things I need to accomplish before Christmas, either my eyes glaze over or I go into panic mode. How can I do all of this? How can I find the time to fit everything in? But then I remind myself to focus on just one thing. I can bake one batch of cookies without worrying about the presents that still need to be bought or wrapped. I can address one Christmas card at a time without thinking of all the others that still need to be stamped and put in the mail. It can be hard to clear your mind of all the worry and all the to-do lists and just be mindful of one thing at a time. But just remind yourself that it's as easy as breathing - breathe in, breathe out. Focus on one breath at a time and then the next and the next, just as you focus on one task at a time.
Just keep breathing. This is what we, as parents, need to remember when we have particularly difficult days. There are days when newborn babies don't want to be put down, nights when toddlers will not go to sleep, and days when the tantrums seem never-ending. And on these days, when it seems impossible to keep going, that's when we need to focus on just one breath at a time. Inhale and exhale - that's one; inhale and exhale - that's two. And before you know it, you've run five miles or you've wrapped a pile of presents or you've survived a nightmarish day of parenting. Because here's the thing about breathing - you can't stop. You always have to take the next breath, even when you feel like giving up. So during this time of year, when things are especially hectic, take each day at a time, each hour, each moment, each breath. Calm your mind and focus on your breathing and you will find that you can make it through anything. And hopefully enjoy some of it along the way.