By Adam & Kristin Kleinert
Last month, we briefly illustrated the effects stress often has on our family. If you didn’t catch that particular column, just know that the role stress plays in our household is significant, both individually and as a family unit. And, because we agreed that our current stressors are simply a reality of a lifestyle we love, we decided to explore and employ some new management and coping skills.
First, we took a look into the concept of visualization and, particularly, how it relates to personal focus and anxiety management. We spoke with a local expert to learn about benefits of a visualization practice and we researched methods for application. This month, we began trying out some of the methods we learned. Additionally, we discovered and utilized several other concepts that proved to be effective.
Visualization, Guided Relaxation & Simple Meditation
Visualization practice was an appealing jumping off point for us. Proponent studies have shown very positive results for people who sought improvement in multiple areas in which our family struggles. Because we each deal with stress a bit differently and also are each seeking results for varying issues, we decided this method might be a great place to start.
We began with basics such as sitting in a quiet space and simply imagining success in
an area where we needed improvement. These areas obviously vary among the individuals in our clan (for instance, Dad isn’t searching for test-taking focus, nor is Mom looking to improve her performance on the basketball court) but the concept is the same. Quiet space, open mind, visualizing a tangible, desired outcome.
As we sought more information and delved a bit deeper, we added other elements to the practice. List-making, strategy building, goal setting, reflection. We began coupling these exercises with the practice of a concept called “Crocodile Breathing” and, before we knew it, we began seeing results.
For our two youngest children, we downloaded several different free apps that offered guided relaxation and simple meditation. (We felt the above mentioned practices might still be a bit above their heads for now.) Both have seemed to enjoy giving these a try, especially at bedtime. As time passes, we’d like to add a brief meditation they can employ to calm and center themselves when they are personally overwhelmed, but for now, we’re satisfied with the improved ease of relaxation.
… DAD ISN’T SEARCHING FOR TEST-TAKING FOCUS, (NOR IS MOM LOOKING TO IMPROVE HER PERFORMANCE ON THE BASKETBALL COURT) BUT THE CONCEPT IS THE SAME.
We stumbled onto the idea of journaling as kind of a side note. It was suggested to us by two different facets, almost the same time. The program our son Eli has been utilizing to gain focus and reduce performance anxiety recommends journaling as an integral portion of its exercises. Coincidentally, our daughter Molly was added to a program at her elementary school in which students begin their morning with quiet journaling before joining the hustle and bustle of the school day.
We were aware of the therapeutic benefits journaling can offer those who partake in it, but we overlooked the additional perks that can be experienced. Both kids (and the adults with whom they interact) noticed a reduction in stress level after each journal session. However, they also seemed to feel more in control of their own anxieties. In addition, Eli’s journal assignments have seemed to help him to become more organized and maintain his focus surrounding important tasks.
Another – and quite possibly the most important – skill we’ve put into practice is that of “Crocodile Breathing.” While the concept itself is nothing new, the proper way to employ this method of intentional breath has become more well-known as both mental and physical health professionals are widely recognizing its certain benefits. This breath practice is a key element in meditative visualization and relaxation, and can also be an important catalyst for achieving the physical well-being of one’s body core. (See box for details on Crocodile Breath.)
How It’s Working for Us
As with most of the endeavors we’ve undertaken, we are still a work in progress. We aren’t living a stress-free life, but we’re making definite improvements. Admittedly, several members of our crew are currently more invested than others, and obviously, our younger two aren’t as capable of understanding some of the concepts quite yet. But overall, we’re seeing better coping skills and a more proactive mentality. For now, that feels like success. At the very least, this has already become one of our most enlightening adventures and we’ve only just begun.
CROCODILE BREATH BASICS
We had heard the term “Crocodile Breathing” many times, but decided to reach out to a local professional for some instruction and advice. Renee Belcher of Four Barrel CrossFit is not only trained in this type of instruction but also is an enthusiastic proponent of this concept. She stresses the physical benefits, as well as the importance, of breath focus.
“We’re chest-breathers, and that’s not what’s healthiest for our bodies. We need to put more focus into using our diaphragms. It’s so important to activate those core muscles with breath that expands our core in a 360-degree function,” Renee said.
She explained that practicing the proper mechanics of the “Crocodile Breath” is the most effective, corrective exercise for retraining ourselves to breath properly. She added that, with regular mindful practice, this type of breath will become habitual. Finally, she emphasized how beneficial diaphragmatic breathing can be for physical and mental well-being.
Renee elaborated, “When you use the crocodile breath model for breathing, you’re encouraging greater thoracic mobilization. You’re enhancing all of the key core muscles, you’re stabilizing your spine, you’re preparing your body for healthy movement. This is ideal to utilize pre-workout as well as for mindful breath sessions, like visualization or relaxation. ”
Here is a brief explanation of the basic steps involved in Crocodile Breathing. The link at the bottom is a great (and very short) online video that can provide audio and visual advice to easily let you try the concept out with your family.
Start in a prone (lying on your stomach) position on the floor.
Bring your fists together and rest your forehead gently on your hands. This creates neutral position of the head and neck, for both a clear airway as well as relaxed neck and shoulder muscles.
Keep legs straight and toes pointed down.
Relax into this position.
Inhale 4-6 seconds, Hold 2-4 secaonds, Exhale 4-6 seconds.
As you breath, focus on the expansion of your belly into the floor as well through the diaphragm.
Finally, bring focus to a 360-degree expansion on the inhale: belly into the floor, through the sides of the torso, as well as into the lower back.
Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ibSb6jQ3Ec for video and more information!