by: Kate Murphy
Educate 2B breathing tools are meant to help children balance their nervous system. We describe this to children as helping them to “wake up and calm down.” The use of breath as a tool to help with self-regulation and to optimize performance goes back thousands of years. Athletes, musicians, mystics and others long ago discovered the power latent in a single respiration.
Still today, from the time we take our first breath as infants until our last dying gasps, breath is the gift that keeps on giving, no matter where we are, what time of day, whether we are conscious or unconscious. A well oxygenated bloodstream helps us move our muscles more efficiently and defogs our brain, making us more apt to be able to focus, execute, and remember. And there is even evidence that supports the idea that conscious breathing supports our ability to respond empathetically, making us more compassionate and caring creatures.
Take it from someone who has struggled to breathe her entire life; a full breath is a gift. As an asthmatic child, I became much more aware of what I could do when my lungs and airways were open versus how limited and uncomfortable I became when my breathing was constricted. There was nothing sweeter than the morning after a nocturnal asthma attack, when I awoke released from the tension that had clutched my throat and chest the night before. I remember lying in bed drinking in mouthfuls of delicious air as my limp body recouped from the exhausting ordeal of the night before.
But you don’t have to be an asthmatic to appreciate and benefit from deep breathing. When practiced regularly, conscious breathing can become a reliable tool to help anyone self-regulate, even small children. All it takes is an awareness of what “correct breathing” looks and feels like and the willingness to practice techniques which support it. Notice, “time” is not required. You will breathe whether or not you have the time. Consider the alternative. So why not breathe consciously?
Put your hands on your belly. As you inhale slowly through your nose, feel your belly expand outward. As you exhale through your mouth slowly, feel your belly pull back toward your spine. Here is a great video that we share with students to help them get the idea. It’s part of our video library which schools use to help implement mindfulness with great ease.
If you don’t “get it” at first, practice patience and try a few more times until you do. Sometimes accumulated stress in our bodies, inactivity, or even poor posture results in shallow disengaged habits of breathing which take time to unlearn. But you will find your “belly breathing” if you just keep trying; this, I guarantee.
After assisting elementary school students learn and practice yogic breathing tools over the past decade, I am continually amazed at the positive influence it can have on the ability of little bodies and minds to self-regulate. Every week, I guide hundreds of students to get comfortable with their breath and use it to focus, reflect, energize and replenish. And when I walk out the classroom door, I know they are left with a gift they can develop and use the rest of their lives.
Interested in learning more about how to integrate yoga and mindfulness into clinical therapeutic work? Or your classroom? Our comprehensive manuals can help you daily infuse our signature breath, movement and mindfulness activities. We also have lots of free resources.