Those of you who've been coming to yoga classes recently at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor know that there've been a couple of life-changing events in my extended family during the last month or so.
My mother, who has always been a strong, active, vibrant woman had a recurrence of an old health problem that triggered some other serious health issues this past year. It came to a head early this fall when she was hospitalized with pneumonia. She was released too early, and re-admitted, much sicker than the first time. When I went to visit her, she looked old and frail, and wasn't as mentally sharp as she's always been before. We weren't positive that she'd pull through this event.
How the heck do we keep our composure and our sense of balance and equanimity throughout all of this? It's not easy for many of us.
What has helped me most through my worries, anxieties, and sadness about my mother's illness is to pay attention to my breath. I find that when I am worried and sad, my breath becomes shallower, and my chest closes and my diaphragm is tense. This is ironic, in a way, because the breath has played a part in both my mother's and my grandson's health. Both were hooked up to oxygen (my mother still is, and will probably be for a long time) because they weren't getting enough of this life-necessary component.
I found that focusing on easy, somewhat deeper breaths with attention to softening my diaphragm helps me to return to a calmer, more focused state of mind. I can think more clearly and I can sleep better if I remember to do this. I'm more useful to others when I can breathe well!
I'm not doing a "pranayama" exercise here in the strict sense, but my regular practice of pranayama, or "yogic breath control" has made it possible for me to observe when my breath is stifled and ineffective in my everyday life.
A variation of one of the pranayamas, Brahmari (Bee Breath), has been most helpful to me. Basically, during Brahmari, we make a humming, buzzing sound as we exhale. A Yoga Journal article on Brahmari says that anxiety is often associated with "short, tight upper chest breathing". Lengthening the exhalation helps to soothe and relax us. With Brahmari pranayama, the sound helps to soothe the mind, and allow longer exhalations without strain. I adapted this to my own needs -- while I was driving or walking and started to experience anxiety, I'd take a slightly deeper, but easy, inhalation, and exhale as a humming, or buzzing sound. It works very well!
My mother is stabilized, but most likely will never return to her "old" life. She'll need a lot of care for a long time. My grandson is getting stronger, and will be released soon from the hospital. Thank you to all who've sent good wishes and prayers for their well-being! One of my hopes is that my mother and my grandson can sometime meet each other :-)