When my children—three boys—were little (they are now young adults), we had a bit of an anger issue in our home. Don’t get me wrong; my boys are incredibly sweet and well mannered most of the time. But they had a lot of energy and there was some sibling rivalry, too. This often resulted in footballs thrown through windows, broken lamps, and more than a few holes punched or kicked into walls.
Fortunately, they never hurt one another, but I was often exasperated by their behavior. Though I have two siblings they are a decade or more older than I, and we never fought. My childhood was spent outside with friends or playing indoors with paper dolls, marbles, or reading and drawing. So when I became the mother of three boisterous sons, I was shocked to find so much pent up energy, and though I often took them to the park to play, encouraged them to engage in sports like basketball and fencing, and read numerous parenting books, I could never find an acceptable solution. As was suggested by parenting “experts” I’d tell them to hit a pillow or a punching bag or go for a run when they were angry. Unfortunately, all this punching and activity seemed only to worsen the problem.
As the boys grew older the anger grew in a different direction—instead of hurling toys, on several occasions they harmed themselves (though not seriously). Again, I was dismayed, but apparently the phenomenon is not uncommon. When I took one son to the emergency room after injured his hand by punching a wall (he was angry at a curfew I’d imposed), the doctor dryly commented, “Oh. Mother anger? A common cause of self-inflicted broken bones in male teens.” On another occasion, I brought another son to the orthopedist to have a broken wrist examined. His anger was over a girl and though he would never harm a female, he’d punched a door and hurt himself. When I explained what had happened, again the physician commented, “Oh! Angry about a girl? A common cause of self-inflicted broken bones in boys.” I was astonished, but at least I knew I wasn’t the only mom facing this dilemma.
As a peaceful and peace-loving mother, I wanted my sons to find a way to deal with their emotions that would not be harmful to themselves, to others, or to my furniture. But it was not until I began practicing Kundalini yoga last year that I found a tactic that actually worked. In yoga class, I learned that we can control our emotions by controlling our breath, and was taught a wonderful technique called One-Minute Breath. I used the technique on many occasions, but it didn’t occur to me that this might be the answer I’d been seeking for my boys all these years.
One day, however, one of my sons (whom I will call Jeffrey to safeguard his privacy) came into the house in a terrible state. He said that he’d become so angry because of some frustrating developments at work that he’d thrown his laptop against his apartment wall, damaging it beyond repair (as well as the wall). He then had kicked a nearby chair and hurt his foot!
Automatically, I now knew what to do. I took Jeffrey’s hand and told him I wanted to teach him a breathing pattern he could use when he felt angry or upset.
He laughed incredulously, looked away and tried to pry his hand from mine, but I held firm. “Just listen to me,” I said. “Breathe in for twenty seconds, or as long as you can. Hold the breath for 20 seconds. And then breathe out for 20 seconds. Just make sure you keep the three sections of breath even. So if you breathe in for ten seconds, suspend the breath for ten seconds and then let it out for ten. When you control your breath, you control your emotions. I want you to know this.”
Yes, my son was skeptical at first, but he tried it. Soon, he stopped laughing at me, and met my gaze with a look of relief and gratitude.
I knew then that he’d accepted my gift: the amazingly simple yet dramatically effective technique of One-Minute Breath. It’s a gift I intend to share with as many people as I can, but particularly with a certain three sometimes-angry young men.