We are constantly telling children: “Calm down.” “Be quiet.” “Sit still.” “Focus.” “Pay attention.” We want them to be still, to transition to a never ending string of “next things” quickly and quietly. When children become upset we tell them to “Stop crying.”, that “You’re fine.”, or, the big one:“Just breathe.”
Just breathe, we say….
Science shows us that when our body is in “fight of flight” mode our sympathetic nervous system kicks in – our breathing becomes shallow, our heart rate increases, our emotions are often filled with anger or anxiety. Our body is ready for battle! Our body reacts to stress, anxiety and anger the same way it would react to a lion entering a room. These days our children are constantly facing that lion in the room. They are asked to turn their emotions on and off quickly, they are bombarded with media, opinions, and being told how they should behave. Many are constantly living in this fight or flight mode and it’s exhausting to have their bodies and minds in overdrive all day, every day.
Thankfully, there is a tool that can be taught quite easily and practiced anywhere. It doesn’t cost anything, doesn’t require a plug, doesn’t have screens and we all already have it inside our bodies. Conscious breathing, often called “belly breathing”, is an amazing tool that we have right at our fingertips. When we engage in “belly breathing”, we are slowing down our heart rate, bringing more oxygen into our bloodstream and lowering our bodies reaction to stress. When children learn to engage in belly breathing they have a tool that can help them get control over their emotions and stop that feeling of being “squeezed”.
In Yoga, we teach this idea of belly breathing, but this is certainly not just for the Yoga mat. Life can get hard for the young people of today. They are bullied, left out, toys are taken, they don’t make the team or their parents are fighting. The life of a child can get hard but teaching them how and when to breathe will allow them to pause, direct their attention to their breath and relax.
Case in point: Teaching 3 year olds, there are LOTS of opportunities to stop and breathe. Emotions run high in my classroom! I have one sweet boy who gets worked up every time he feels “wronged”. He begins to hyperventilate with lots of tears. He and I have discovered that if I can sit in front of him – eye to eye – and breathe deep through our nose and out through our mouth, he can relax and manage the situation in front of him without all the stress to his body. Now, I can encourage him from across the room to “Just breathe, in and out.” and he can manage his emotions all on his own! Powerful stuff!
Another example: A child in my classroom began choking on food at snack time. We were able to determine she was safe, but the stress, shock and embarrassment of feeling out of control were too much for her. She also began to hyperventilate, crying and choking once again. My partner tossed my breathing ball to me and I sat in front of her, quietly opening and closing the ball, modeling breathing and asking her to breathe with me. In seconds, she was calm, her breathe returned, tears stopped and the panic in her body subsided.
So yes, belly breathing is great for our Yoga practice, but it is also impactful in our daily life! There are several ways to teach belly breathing. A couple that I use in my Next Generation Yoga classes and in my own classroom are as follows. I invite you to try them in your class or classroom and see what you think!
Examples of how to teach belly breathing:
1) Hoberman’s Sphere: This is a constant go-to in both my school classes and my Yoga classes. Inhale through the nose as the sphere grows and exhale through the mouth as the sphere collapses. If time permits, allow the children to have a turn being the “teacher”. I keep this tool in my classroom at all times and have a “breathing corner” where children can go and use this tool. I will also use it if a child is very upset in class and has trouble calming down.
2) Breathing Buddies: Pass out a small stuffed animal for each child in your class. (I get mine at the dollar store.) Have the children lay down with the buddy on their belly. On the inhale their diaphragm will rise and the exhale it will fall. This gives their buddy a “ride” up and down their breath.
3) Flower Breath: Give each child a flower to hold. Inhale through the nose smelling the flower. Exhale blowing the flower gently with your breath.
Breathing is a natural part of being alive, but conscious breathing is a learned skill. Once mastered it can help children live a life where they feel they have power over their emotions and their reactions to situations. Conscious breathing equips children to manage their stress in a healthy way, a skill that will serve them well in years to come.
Next Generation Yoga Teacher & Trainer
Walnut Grove, CA
Samantha’s love for Yoga spans over 10 years. Yoga has become a way to center herself, clear her mind in order to gain clarity and perspective. Samantha sees the importance of breath work, using it in her own life to settle the chaos that can be all around!
In 2017, Samantha made the decision to dedicate her professional life to sharing Yoga with children and adults . She completed her 200 RYT through Yogaworks and followed up with her 2-7 yr. old, 8-13 yr. old and School-Based Educators trainings through Next Generation Yoga in the spring of 2018. She is thrilled to share her love of Yoga with children and the young at heart!
Samantha is also no stranger to working with kids and teens. She has over 12 years of preschool teaching under her belt and is a mom of two teenagers herself! She feels that given the proper tools, our future will be equipped to handle whatever life brings their way!