Aimee Hartley, Breath coach, founder of www.thebreathingroom.co.uk and mum of 2, studied and qualified as a Transformational Breath Coach and workshop leader with Dr Judith Kravitz, Founder of the technique in Italy and the US in 2009. She currently offers Transformational Breath workshops, day retreats in London and runs retreats in Somerset with East of Eden. She also qualified Professional Yoga Teacher 10 years ago and it was during her training, that ignited her passion for pranayama and breath work. She recently co-created The Little Breathing Room print, a poster for children to help them build a conscious breath-work practice.
It’s a joy to welcome Aimee to the blog:
Mum’s The Word: Breath work and the unspoken emotions of motherhood
No one tells you. Not a soul. Not even your closest allies will offer up a whisper, or a warning, of how you may feel when you first become a mum. These mums. They all keep schtum. Until you become one.
My first feeling on entering Motherhood, just before the mild astonishment of a tiny human being appearing out of me, was a unique cocktail of mild bewilderment and betrayal. Why didn’t anyone warn me? At least hint at the potential horror of labour?! Flashbacks of the glazed eye stare from friends, now made a little more sense. Like looking into the eyes of a war veteran who couldn’t re-live their nightmare to help you prepare for yours. Feelings of confusion arose when I thought of the NCT lady who charged me £180.00 to show me how to bounce on a Pilates ball and exhale like a fat fish out of water.
It took a while for this new sense of bewilderment to turn into feelings of compassion for friends, as they now felt safe to openly share their own stories. I was given the rational book of excuses: ‘How could we tell you? The human race would cease to exist?!’. I managed to muster up forgiveness for the NCT lady too, regardless of my birth plan reading like a comedy scene left on the labour cutting room floor and not using one of the 23 birthing positions I learned during the 8 week course, she did connect me with a couple of amazing mums who helped me survive on the other side.
From the mixed feelings of fear and elation which ran through me on finding out I was pregnant to the roller coaster ride of labour and meeting my first child, I suddenly realised this was going to be an entirely new experience where feelings of conflicting emotions became the norm. How to get through this?
Fortunately, 5 years prior I had trained as a breath coach and formally a yoga teacher meant I had tried and trusted breath exercises to use in these emotionally turbulent times.
‘I’M ONLY HU’MUM, DON’T PUT THE BLAME ON ME’
In my experience, I believe there are unique emotional states only women incur as a result of becoming a mum. The minute we become pregnant, our brain and body starts to transform in preparation for this new life -changing adventure we are about to embark upon. It’s often a one-way ticket.
In just a matter of hours, we morph from a human to a ‘hu’mum’. Still human, but one physically and emotionally transformed to meet the high demands of our new role of
Motherhood. These new ‘hu’mum’ emotions can often be fleeting moments of joy mixed with pride riding on an undercurrent of guilt, shame, jittery anxiety and everything in between.
The beauty of conscious breath work, (although I loved it so much I went on to teach), you only need to know the techniques, have a good understanding of a healthy breath, and a little time and practice to reap immediate benefits.
We breathe on average 20,000 times a day and more than often, each and every one of these breaths can go unnoticed. Our breath is magic. It is invisible yet can help us feel calm in times of stress, can give us energy when feeling sleepy and help us focus and find clarity and inspiration.
We share the same air, yet we all breathe in a completely unique way. Our breath pattern (the way in which we breathe) is as unique as our thumbprint. How cool is that? There are around 6 billion different human breath patterns on the planet.
Those of us who habitually over use the upper chest muscles to breathe (how to know? if you breathe in your belly will suck in and your chest will rise, you may have tight shoulder muscles and suffer from neck ache/headache) can often feel anxious and spend a lot of time in the headspace, over thinking, over analysing. Those who deep belly breathe, whereby the belly rises on the inhale but the chest doesn’t move freely, can often feel low in mood and energy and often feel sluggish. There’s also breath holders, whereby we hold our breath while typing, scrolling, working and we can often feel dizzy, tired and anxious.
Breathing is the only system of the body which is both automatic and a system we can change to shift the way we feel. It’s free, can be used anywhere, and it doesn’t take long to reap the benefits, sometimes just a few breaths can change the way we feel – it’s the perfect companion for busy mums.
There are an infinite amount of breath exercises – I share weekly tips and exercises on instagram @breathinghub but here are my top 3 which I use regularly to help me navigate my way through the emotional minefield of Motherhood.
1. Transformational Breath Practice
This technique helps:
Clears negative thinking
Helps process unwanted emotions
Being a trained Transformational Breath facilitator, it is natural for me to have full
confidence in this particular technique. It’s also one of the most powerful breath works I have come across. It can help boost your energy, help access a full diaphragmatic breath which can help induce feelings of calm and helps focus the mind. I practice this, when given the time, around 4pm when my natural energy takes a dip. This technique has been super efficient in helping people connect with and process any emotions, and is also the best breath exercise I know to help fully establish a strong diaphragmatic breath.
Here’s a little taster that’s safe for you to practice on your own.
It’s highly recommended you go to an experienced conscious breath worker to ensure you have a full diaphragmatic breath before embarking on building a regular Transformational Breath® practice.
You may notice you get a dry throat when you practice this for the first time as this is a mouth breath. You can also practice this through the nose but to reap all the benefits, an open mouth practice is best.
Transformational Breath Practice
Prop yourself up on the bed or on a yoga mat with cushions or pillows to support your back and neck at a semi-reclined angle so your chest is higher than your legs. Make sure you are warm and comfortable, and that your head and neck are properly supported. Have your hands face down on your lower abdomen, a few inches below the navel. Relax the jaw and open the mouth wide (this can be tricky if there is tension in the jaw so open wider than you think is wide!) and take a deep inhalation – the belly should rise on the inhalation.
N.B If you find it difficult for the belly to rise on the inhalation and it sucks inwards on the inhalation (which causes the chest to rise) then it would be wise to get some guidance from a breath coach before you go further with this exercise as it’s paramount the diaphragm is activated on the inhale and the belly rises.
Allow the exhale to leave as a quick short sigh. Keep all your focus on the inhalation. Inhalation should be about three times as long as the exhalation. Exhalation should be a quiet and relaxed. Then start connecting the breath with no pauses between breaths.
Repeat between 3 – 5 minutes only and notice any physical sensations in the body. Rest for one minute as you return to a normal breathing pattern – breathing through the nose.
2. AcuBreathe. Acupressure and breath
This technique helps:
Activate the rest and digest system
Focuses the mind on the present moment
Opens up the diaphragm
This is a super quick calmer for those all too stressful times: tantrums, squabbles, meltdowns. You can also practice this commuting to work (not while driving!) or if you get twitchy while queuing. I use this one often, when in doctor’s waiting room, which seems to be like a second front room since I have had children. Hold your left hand with your right hand with the right thumb applying pressure to the centre of the palm of the left hand. This acupressure point is for the diaphragm and can help us release tension from the respiratory muscles. Close the eyes and breathe gently with all the focus on the breath and be aware of the light pressure you are placing on the palm of your hand. Breathe in for a count of 5. Hold for a count of 2. Exhale for 7. Repeat on the other hand. This will stimulate the diaphragm and activate the parasympathetic nervous system and induce feelings of calm.
3. ZZZZ Breathe
This technique helps:
Stimulates the feel good vagus nerve.
If you haven’t been beckoned to deliver more water or random food requests, to their bedrooms (8.15pm: ‘Mum, can I have a potato?’), and have made it to bed alone, you can practice this one in peace. Lay in bed, on your belly, head to one side and make sure the jaw is relaxed (allow there to be a small space between the upper and lower teeth).
Close the eyes, using a diaphragmatic breath (breathing in, belly should rise), breathe in through the nose for a count of 4.
Hold the breath for a count of 3.
Exhale through the mouth for a count of 6.
Repeat this for 5 to 10 rounds and notice how the body relaxes on the exhalation.
On each exhale imagine ‘letting go’ of the day. This should prepare you for a deep sleep. Extending the exhalation helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps the body feel relaxed and calm.
All the above exercises have been created by Aimee Hartley.