Do me a favor … Take a moment and inhale one deep, full-bellied breath slowly. And then exhale completely letting all the air out entirely. Feels good, right? It’s wonderfully simple and only took approximately 10 seconds to oxygenate all the cells in your body, momentarily resetting your nervous system.
Yet our kids don’t know this effortless technique. They used to; newborns automatically use diaphragmatic breathing – using their diaphragm at the base of the lungs. But this breathing pattern gets lost in the first years of life. By age 10, the normal breath pattern has shifted year over year to predominantly thoracic, shallow breathing in the chest. (Verschaakelen, 1995).
Slow deep breathing is an important intervention tool for children who are distraught or angry, anxious about sports performance or test taking, or who generally feel tense and need to relax .
So, let’s tell children to “just take a deep breath.” Unfortunately, they likely will take a dramatic chest breath, thereby stimulating the fight/flight reaction and causing a downward spiral. Instead, we need to teach children slow diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing by first making them aware of their breathing and empowering them to control it by their actions.
Try one of the following techniques with your child. Start with the first and work your way through to the third technique as they build upon each other in comfort level and familiarity of their breath.
Blowing a Pinwheel or Tissue: Hold a pinwheel or a tissue in front of a child. Instruct the child to take a deep and slow breath in. Then have them release their breath by blowing the pinwheel or tissue. Being able to see the effects of their breath will encourage them to repeat and master this technique.
Candle and Flower: Have your child pretend that they are holding an aromatic flower in one fist and a lit candle in the other. Have them bring the flower to their nose and deeply inhale slowly. Help them transition to the other hand as they release their breath by blowing out the candle through their mouth.
Balloon Breath: With child laying down on their back, have them place one hand on their chest and one hand on their belly. Have them imagine a balloon (any color) in their tummy. As they take a deep breath in, they imagine that balloon expanding and getting bigger. As they exhale, the balloon deflates. You can witness the diaphragmatic breathing by watching their hand rise and fall on their tummy.
Personally, after trying the Balloon Breath with my older child, I saw awareness transform in his eyes and an engaging conversation afterwards. It’s as if he woke up a little. And after trying the Candle and Flower technique, a joyful smile erupted from my daughter’s face. As a mom, if I can get a sparkle in their eyes and a sunny smile from just breathing, you can bet that I’ll be continuing our big breaths frequently!
You will see that by taking meaningful and conscious breaths, they are forced to be silent, and present, in a chronically busy world. A small amount of silence will “… bring peace, healing, joy, simplicity, and truth” says Dr. Helen E. Lees, author of Silence in Our Schools.
Being present with a sliver of silence may help anyone in modern childhood. Today’s children are always-on due to their busy schedules and ever present technology that keeps them ramped up and perpetually worn out. Give them the gift of accessing the present moment through a big, deep breath – a portable tool that is accessible to them anytime, for life.
We begin each Imagination Yoga class with three big, full yoga breaths because we know the numerous positive benefits from this simple action. Please share with us a technique that works for you and your family, as well as any positive results.