• Melanie Fernandez

Claiming Your Power: How One Mom Made Breathwork Less WooWoo

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

By Cristina Bustamante.

Cristina is a writer, wife and mom of three. She's also a hilarious follow on Instagram: @survivingcristina.

I want you to take a second, and in this moment take a deep breath in and slowly let it exhale.  Notice where your shoulders are as you’re reading this on your phone or desk at work. Is your jaw clenched?  Take another deep breath in and again slowly let... that... shit... go.

What I have found as I reluctantly continue to age, is that life is just a constant series of riding waves.  You know what I mean? I feel like l am a contestant on American Ninja Warrior running from obstacle to obstacle trying to survive.  Sometimes I get the easy obstacles like just a simple climb over the wall.  Then other times I am in that really hard obstacle swinging from one little rope to another inevitably falling from high above into the cold water.  Then no matter how cold I am from the water, or beat up from the landing, I have to get up and go onto the next obstacle, because the course, as life, just continues. Adulthood, am I right?

About two years ago, I started to notice that my body was almost always in this fight or flight mode.  I looked normal. I’m sure my friends or moms at school couldn’t tell. I just felt like my chest was always tight.  I had a constant headache. I constantly felt like I had no control. No power. Powerless is not the way you want to feel.  Powerless does you no good when you are trying to navigate the waters of career, motherhood, marriage, and all the other fun stuff adulting brings.

I started to see a therapist, Dr. Carina (we will get into this another time).  One day, early on in our sessions, I was sitting across from my therapist just going on and on about god knows whatever the anxiety of the day was.  At the end of my story, I looked up to see if she was still with me. She was just staring back at me, and said ok we are going to do a small meditation.  This was the first time I had to admit out loud that I hate meditation {insert gasp}.

I was afraid to make eye contact. At that moment, I felt like I was failing therapy (get on my anxiety level).  I realize this is becoming taboo to say. I mean, what Gen Z-leaning Millennial doesn’t have a meditation app on their phone? Sorry Headspace, it’s not you it’s definitely me.

The truth is traditional meditation is not for everyone.  The idea of sitting in one place for 10 minutes, in silence, pushing all my thoughts to the side, SCARES THE SHIT OUT OF ME.  It just felt overwhelming at that time. It still does some times. Then Dr. Carina said something that would go on to change my life…

“Little things many times.”

Basically what my favorite therapist taught me is that by taking a few deep breaths a couple of times throughout the day- I could achieve similar results to someone who sits in place and meditates for 10 consecutive minutes.  The results being, a calmer mind and body. Taking a minute or two a few times a day didn’t seem overwhelming at all.

Dr. Carina and I made a game plan and brainstormed some examples of when in the day I could take these “little” breaks and make it work for me.  We discussed the car ride on the way to pick up the kids, the shower, walking to my car, and watching soccer practice. As we discussed it I started to see her point.  This could be done anywhere. So I took the small step of taking 4-5 deep breaths in the shower. At first I felt like a weirdo. Standing there under the water taking a deep breath in and slowly breathing it out, but each time I took a breath, I could feel my shoulders just relax.  This could work. I started to take the “little” breaks in my day to make sure I was taking deep breaths and keeping myself in a calmer state.

A couple of weeks into this “little things many times” practice, I innocently sent my three kids to take showers while I finished making dinner.  Then I heard the screams. We all know the screams I’m talking about, the "I’m not hurt but I’m very upset" scream, from one of my daughters. I instinctively took a deep breath in and out before walking over (something I would have never even thought to do before).  Upon arriving I would find my son standing over my daughter with a very angry face, and my middle daughter crying on the floor of the shower.

“What happened?” I asked calmly (I’m basically Ghandi now).  You can always count on my oldest daughter to throw out the facts right away, “Tristan peed on Dylan! For no reason!”  I felt myself get tense. How do I handle this? A part of me wants to laugh, but another part of me is really upset. Usually I just would have reacted.  However I took a deep breath and looked at my son who I could not see was upset, “What happened Tristan, why did you do that?”

“Dylan took my Trex and wouldn’t give it back!”  Oh boy. I had controlled the instinct to yell. I also had to control the desire to laugh. But my realization in that moment was that I did actually have the control.  How on earth I was going to communicate to my son that peeing on anyone for any reason is wrong was a whole other thing. But I now knew I could respond when I was ready.  Also they no longer shower together for anyone out there who may be concerned.

For the longest time I felt that I was just not a person who could control her emotions.  It was at least what I told myself when I overreacted. “Oops sorry about that, I just have a short fuse- runs in the family.”  I lived my life in a bad cycle of a reaction, followed by guilt or shame over said reaction, and then almost always an overcompensation to try to make up for the reaction.  By just allowing myself to take a breath, I find that I am opening a place for me to respond instead of react. This was power, for me.

Do I think breathing is the answer to everything? No. 

If only life was that simple. But for me it was the first step in taking some of the control back.  To claim some power back in my days. In the little situations like watching my daughter tie her own shoe when we are late for school, to the moment on a treadmill when the trainer says 15 seconds and I don’t think I can.  It helps me in the bigger situations like when you are fighting with your husband and he says to “calm down” or your mother in law comes over and wants to offer her advice on well, anything.

It feels silly to sit here and tell you to take a deep breath.  It feels too simple. We hear it all the time, but I wasn’t doing it.  I’m guessing some of you right now who are in the middle of the diapers and laundry and racing from one activity to the other aren’t doing it.  Now two years into the practice, I find myself taking a deep breath any chance I get. It’s my small way of taking control. Claiming my power.


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