Breathing with Children

Every night my three-year-old daughter, Amy, sleeps cuddled up next to me. Every morning she wakes up, flings her little arms around my neck, kisses me, and says, "I love you, Mommy. It's time to rise and shine!" One morning, Amy sat up in bed, rubbed her eyes, and came over to whisper something into my ear. I yawned, wondering what secret my little girl had for me this time.  Her words came, soft and gentle as a lullaby: "Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment." I blinked, wondering if I was dreaming. But there was Amy in her nightgown, grinning proudly. "That was beautiful, sweetheart," I said. "Please say it again." Amy put her mouth to my ear and whispered the verse again. Still amazed, I hugged her and said, "Thank you for starting Mommy's day in such a nice way!" Amy smiled and kissed me again.

It's amazing how naturally children learn. I had been using this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh to help my child calm down. Whenever she was angry or frightened or frustrated, I would hold her close to me and whisper the poem in her ear.  It served to calm the both of us. In time, Amy memorized its soothing lines, in the same natural way that she learned songs and nursery rhymes.

Today this poem is one of our favorites. Sometimes we recite it together. Sometimes we create our own melodies and sing it. Amy cannot possibly understand its full meaning, but she has been able to connect the acts of breathing in and out with feeling happy and peaceful. She especially likes the part. "I smile," because it signals the moment when we always smile at each other and hug.

Mary Beth Nakade Berkeley, California

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