Learning to Exhale

I have been holding my breath since the day my eldest son was born; holding my breath and running. In fact, my whole family has been running headfirst at the world. It’s how we’ve always done things – working, volunteering, careers we love, a business, house, three children, friends and family.

Every day for four years we would take a deep breath, hold it and charge forward together; come home exhausted and start again the next day.

I started Yoga last week. When I left home in the evening, I explained to my son, “Mummy is learning how to breathe”. He understood. He’s always ahead of me. He’s the reason I’m learning to exhale.

My eldest son simply refused to keep holding his breath and running at life. At four he was showing signs of significant stress. We were all feeling it, but he was showing it. We couldn’t ignore it. We had to make some big changes.

I resigned from work to give our family all of my focus and energy. But I was still running – playdates, kindy, therapy appointents. Things didn’t get easier. I felt like I needed more support, more respite, more childcare days.

When I paused for a moment or two, and reflected, I knew we were happier when our days were slow, when they were spent at home filled with our favourite things, and each other. With quiet and rest.I realised we needed to do less, not more. I wasn’t sure how.  But encouragement from other Autistic people and parents of Autistic children lead us to consider homeschooling, and then unschooling; to consider doing less; to slow down. To be gentle with ourselves, and with each other.

Black and white photo of myself, face toward the camera, smiling at my child, who is also smiling, facing me and away from the camera, side profile

Black and white photo of myself, face toward the camera, smiling at my child, who is also smiling, facing me and away from the camera, side profile

So we tried. Starting with pulling our son from kindergarten and finding the gentlest, kindest person to be home with me so that we could have all of our children’s needs met at home.It’s been five months.

It feels like a long and slow exhale. It’s a process of learning and un-learning. It’s not easy for me.

Instead of taking a big breath and charging through life, passing as busy, extroverted, neurotypical people; we live our days at a pace that suits us. We say “no” a lot. We avoid busy places and big events. We stay in our pyjamas and watch movies. We dig in the sandpit and paint. We hang out together, just us.

Each week seems a little quieter than the one before. Less people, less commitments, more time to rest.

Each step of letting go is hard. Another step towards acceptance that things are different now. Letting go of some playdates, saying no to a birthday party, not going to the library if we don’t feel like it, avoiding parks during school holidays.

My children are better than I am at exhalation. They have less busyness to un-learn. They excel at relaxation and play.

Three children and a parent are hanging out on a trampoline

Three children and a parent are hanging out on a trampoline

So here I am, off to Yoga to learn how to exhale – in Pranayama, the practice of breath control;

One phase flows into the other. The exhalation should last approximately twice as long as the inhalation. The pause in breathing arises naturally at the end of the exhalation phase and lasts until the impulse to inhale occurs of its own accord. The inhalation forms the active part of the breath. With it comes contraction of the respiratory muscles. The exhalation is the passive part of the breath, the phase of relaxation (Yoga in Daily Life)

This is what I hope for our neurodiverse family. To have relaxation times twice as long as busy, people-filled times. To pause between passive and active moments until the impulse  to inhale and engage occurs of its own accord.

I hope we will learn to pay attention to our breath, to know where we are in the cycle of – exhale, pause, inhale. Downtime, pause, engage.

I hope my neurodiverse family will find our own rhythm. A rhythm for each day, week and season.

Starting with a long, slow, gentle exhale.

5 replies
  1. Amy Bean
    Amy Bean says:

    For weeks I have been longingly googling yoga time tables. I don't know when I could possibly go to a class. But now I think I should try harder.
    I realised in the first part of this post that I have been holding my breath. Well, all the time. I need help to release my tight seal of exhalation so I too can breath deeply as the body intended.
    I love this post and it has served me a lightbulb moment. X

  2. Tam
    Tam says:

    I love this Bri….I too run head first at life and I'm very good at pushing myself until I collapse for a day or so and then going again. Lately I've noticed my expectation that my girls 'suck it up and get on with things' too. I'm trying to catch myself doing that and then choose rest, or connection rather than running harder….but it takes time to re-programme, doesn't it? Thanks for sharing x


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