Casey has never been an easy baby to put to sleep. I’ve tried many different tactics: nursing him to sleep mostly, but also rocking in a rocking chair, rocking him in my arms as we walk back and forth, walking him in his stroller, driving him around. The other day he was crying- mad that I had brought him inside, overtired and in desperate need of a nap but not wanting to sleep. He wouldn’t nurse, so I was walking around holding him tightly against my shoulder and I just started counting. I counted slowly, my voice steady, soft, monotone. I got to 130 before he was fast asleep on my shoulder, all of his weight given over to me in his relaxed state. I’ve since used this method a few times to calm him down and help him fall asleep. I think it works because it also calms me down, forces me to breath evenly and stay in the moment. Breath easy, stay calm, be in the moment. This is a daily mantra for me, something I have to remind myself to do every day. Sometimes, mentally reminding myself to do this isn’t enough. It takes physical practice, repeated daily exercise to force my body and my mind to calm down.
In my second year as a student at Cal Arts, during a movement class taught by Heather Elhers, we were given the entire 45 minutes to walk from one side of the room to the other. In the beginning, we were all excited, apprehensive and a tiny bit jittery as we started walking. But our giggles and sideways glances soon disappeared as we all fell into the meditation. Our muscles relaxed into our slow pace. Our shoulders fell and we found our balance in each moment, with each tiny, controlled movement, as each muscle did exactly what it was created to do at a minuscule rate.
To this day, this exercise remains one of my favorite from my time at CalArts. It’s an exercise that I revisit occasionally when I need to force myself to slow down. Today, I was having a hard time getting Casey to fall asleep for an afternoon nap. After about 15 minutes of walking and rocking and sitting in a rocking chair and rocking and nursing him, I was becoming frustrated. I knew that if I was going to get him to calm down, I needed to be calm myself. I needed to slow down. So, I started at one end of our hallway and began a slow trek down its length. My shoulders dropped, my spine relaxed and my breathing became slow and steady as I made my way down the hallway with barely perceptible movements. I rocked Casey to the slow and steady pace of each felt heart beat- ta-dum…ta-dum…ta-dum. It took my maybe five minutes to reach his door in the middle of the hallway. By that time, he was fast asleep.
Breath easy, stay calm, be in the moment. It isn’t an easy thing to do with a toddler. It is a daily struggle; a practice I have to start again with each rising sun. But the more I do it, the more I remind myself to drop my shoulders and take a deep breath and be in the moment, the easier it becomes and I am amazed at the easy rhythm with which we are able to move through our days.