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Breath Patterns to Help Keep Your Cool as an Autism Parent

By David

October 11, 2021


A meditation coach and mom shares how she “gets out of overwhelm” and gets to sleep at night.

A meditation coach and mom shares how she “gets out of overwhelm” and gets to sleep at night.

Are you overwhelmed by parenting your intense kid? 

Are you exhausted, but lying awake at night?

Does the stress of holding it all together make your body tense?

I’m the parent of an autistic kid, and also a meditation coach and inclusive yoga teacher. I specialize in building resilience to stress and anxiety. I help parents like me to not just survive, but to feel calm, present, and connected. 

We need a toolkit of simple strategies. Breath patterns are an effective way to regain emotional balance and an essential part of my toolkit. They are also quick, portable, and free! 

Here are three simple but effective breath patterns that I use to shift myself out of overwhelm and into a calm and connected state. Often, just a few rounds of breathing can bring my nervous system back into balance. Your breathing should never be forced, always at a comfortable pace. Check with your health practitioner before trying any new physical practice.

Everyone’s mind wanders. Please be patient with your mind as you guide it back to your breathing. You can imagine that you’re training a puppy. 

If breathing makes you yawn, that is a good thing! Yawning signals to your body that you are safe enough to relax.


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Here are three simple but effective breath patterns to shift out of overwhelm and into a calm and connected state:

Balanced Breath

  • Put a hand on your belly. Watch the flow of your breath as it goes in and out
  • Imagine fogging a mirror with your slow exhale, through your nose or mouth
  • Begin mentally counting to five as you inhale, five as you exhale. Go at your own comfortable pace
  • Continue counting to five in your mind as you breathe in, softly filling your belly like a balloon, and counting to five as you slowly deflate the balloon, breathing out
  • Repeat for five or more breaths
  • Notice how you feel after practicing Balanced Breath

Cooling Breath

Cooling Breath looks funny. As parents, a sense of humor is our secret weapon against anger. I’m not the most patient, and I yell sometimes. When I’m about to blow up, I try to remember to use this one to keep my cool. If I already exploded, the cooling breath technique helps me chill out. As an added bonus, it helps my jaw feel less tense.

  • Stick out your tongue as far as you comfortably can, and curl up the sides like a U (if genetically possible). Breathe through the straw created by your curled tongue (or over your extended tongue)
  • Bring your tongue in and breathe out slowly through your nose. You may feel a cooling sensation at the back of your throat after a few rounds
  • Repeat for five or more breaths
  • Notice how you feel after practicing Cooling Breath

Calming Breath 

This one is my absolute go-to when my anxiety goes haywire. 

Often, it happens as soon as my head hits the pillow, and my chaotic day finally comes to a close, I wonder: “Why is my heart racing now? I’m so tired, why can’t I just fall right asleep?” 

I start with a few rounds of Balanced Breath before moving on, to help me settle into my natural breath rhythm. Then, I begin.

  • Breathe in, counting to four
  • Suspend your breath gently with a relaxed body for a count of seven
  • Slowly breathe out for a count of eight

Never force any breath pattern, especially holding your breath. Don’t do it to the point of gasping! The main benefit comes from extending your exhale twice as long as your inhale, so focus on that if holding your breath in is hard. 

  • Stop if it makes you feel more anxious, and return to your natural breath
  • Repeat for five or more breaths
  • Notice how you feel after practicing Calming Breath

Try them now, not just when you’re triggered

Breath patterns may seem too simple to be effective, but I encourage you to try them now and repeat a few times over the next few days. As parents of kids with autism, we need all the help we can get. These are quick, free tools that you can bring with you anywhere. 

Yes, you can teach them to your kids after you have mastered them yourself, but for best results keep the focus on your own emotional balance. Our children will benefit from our calm, connected state.

This is self-care that’s more than skin deep. Often, just a few rounds of breathing can shift your nervous system back into balance. Next time you feel overwhelmed, about to lose your cool, or anxious, try one of these three breath patterns to help keep you calm and connected. 

If all else fails, yawn! Remember, yawning signals to your body that you are safe enough to relax.

This article was feature in Issue 123 -Autism in Girls

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