09/01/2013 08:35 am ET Updated Nov 01, 2013

Mothers And Worry: Breathe Your Way Through

Recently, I spent a marvelous week on vacation with my family (our eldest son was working out of the country, but the younger two, 25, and 22, were able to join my husband and me). The scene was an idyllic cabin beside a lake filled with bass, osprey soaring the skies, and golden sunsets. It would have been perfect, except for one thing: Worry. Somehow, it stalks me wherever I go.

One particular evening, my sons set out on a fishing expedition that took them up a deserted channel. When they returned they told me all about it (big mistake!) It turned out it was nearly impossible to paddle their kayaks because of the thick weeds, but there were occasional deep, cold pools where they threw in their lines. They didn't have cell phones for fear of losing them in the water. Though it sounded as if there was no imminent danger, I couldn't help imagining what might have happened if an emergency had arisen. Deep phones...darkness get the picture.

So the next day, when they announced they were returning to that very spot to catch "the big one" I was horrified. Not wanting to express (and pass down) my fears, I tried to keep my mouth shut (though I couldn't resist warning to get home before dark). I nixed the urge to yell out "Be careful!" as my mother had to me when I was a child every time I went out the door. To my relief, my husband decided to go along with them in the canoe.

Nevertheless, I spent most of that evening worrying, just as my mother used to do. I sat on the dock and worried. I did my yoga postures and worried. I read and worried. When my husband called I scrambled for the phone. Alas, his report was that he couldn't get through the weeds in the canoe and he had lost sight of our sons. He was waiting at the mouth of the channel, it was getting dark, and there was no sign of them.

During the next hour, I realized once again how fruitless, useless and painful worry really is. Yet, it's something mothers do easily, instinctively, and effortlessly. Nothing comes more naturally to most of the mothers I know than worry. And yet, logically, we know that worry won't change the outcome. Concern and caution are good, of course and worry can be beneficial to the survival of the species because it keeps us from taking stupid risks. But to make yourself sick imagining all kinds of grim scenarios is pointless.

I've found that when I revert to this pattern of worry a yogic technique called one-minute breath seems to help. After a couple hours of worrying I remembered the technique and pulled it out of my yogic toolbox.

Here are the instructions, straight from my Kundalini yoga teacher, Akalsukh Singh of Montclair, NJ: Sit with the spine straight, in a comfortable position such as Easy Pose (seated with legs crossed, or you can sit in a chair, feet on the floor). Close your eyes and inhale slowly, to a count of 20, through the nose. Suspend the breath for 20 seconds. Exhale slowly and gradually for 20 seconds through your nose. Continue the cycle; you can start with three minutes and build to 31 minutes. It's best to begin with a short duration and gradually work up to a longer practice.

If you find it difficult to inhale for a count of 20 begin with a shorter interval such as ten or 12 seconds. All sections of the breath are even, so if you begin with ten seconds, hold for ten seconds and then exhale for ten seconds. As you become more adept at one-minute breath you'll be able to gradually increase the duration of your inhalations and exhalations.

While engaged in this breathing technique (aka pranayama), ticking away the seconds in my brain, I found it difficult to ruminate about disaster. I did a lot of this breathing the night my kids were out fishing, and when I finally got the call that they were spotted and on the way home I was already feeling much calmer.

Worry and motherhood seem like natural partners, and frankly, I don't have the answers on how to sever the relationship. And certainly, enough horrible things happen to kids everyday so who can blame us? On the other hand, worry neither caused these events nor prevented them. Worry, really, just makes us suffer.

For me, yoga helps. I'm sure for others, prayer, trust or belief in a higher power is helpful. Some moms may cope with worry by denying it or chugging a bottle of chardonnay. And perhaps a few just don't feel it.

After thirty years of worrying about my kids, however, I've come to the conclusion that it's utterly pointless. (When real problems have occurred, either I wasn't worrying, or I didn't even know that there was something to worry about; i.e., when my middle son suffered a concussion playing rugby at college, I wasn't even aware that he was at a game.)

Worry is a fear-based way of viewing life and it's something I don't want to pass onto my kids. On the other hand, I'm not going to needlessly worry about it if I do (you can be sure I've taught them all one-minute breath, however!).

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