Swami Vidyananda said breath control is “your most portable form of stress management.” In a yoga practice, the art of controlling your breath is known as pranayama. “Prana” is your energy and life force. “Ayama” simply means control. So Prana+Ayama=controlling our life force. This powerful practice promotes mental clarity and physical calm, plus awareness and presence. Pranayama is an incredibly effective, important tool to teach children so they can control their energy, their mood and their impulses. Here are 10 pranayama practices to share with the children (and adults) in your life:
- Bumble Bee Breath: Close your eyes and plug your ears. Inhale through your nose and quietly hum as you exhale. You will feel vibrations in your head, calming the nervous system.
- Bunny Breath: Pretend you’re a bunny sniffing a fragrant flower. Take three quick inhales in through your little bunny nose and then one long exhale (like it was the most beautiful smelling flower ever) through your mouth. Repeat at least 3 times.
- Whale Breath: Take a deep breath in through your nose and hold it while you count to five. Then tilt your head up to forcefully exhale through your blow-hole (your mouth). This is good when you are feeling angry and need to calm down.
- Straw Breath: Make your tongue into a “straw” shape by curling both sides up. Deeply inhale through your tongue straw, slurping up whatever cold drink you’d like to imagine. Exhale through your nose. Use this breath in hot weather to cool down.
- Wood Chopper: Stand tall with your legs hip-distance apart. While inhaling through your nose, sweep your arms in a huge circle until they are raised above your head and clasp your fingers together, like you’re holding an axe. You can imagine as you raise your arms that you are gathering all your negative thoughts. As you exhale, loudly say “HA!” and chop wood, swinging arms (still holding the axe) down in a chopping motion, releasing the negativity. Repeat as necessary.
- Snake Breath: Breathe in through your nose, then slowly and smoothly breathe out with a hissing sound for as long as you can. Try this breath seated or in cobra pose, arching up with the inhale and lowering down to your belly on the hissing exhale.
- Hoberman Sphere Breath: A Hoberman Sphere is a toy that starts as a compact ball and expands into a huge sphere. As you breathe in, expand the toy (just like your lungs expand), and as you exhale, shrink the sphere back down. Match the balls expansion/shrinking with your breathing speed.
- Belly Breathing: Lying down, place a hand or a small toy (like a stuffed animal or rubber duck) on your belly. Watch it rise and fall as you inhale and exhale deeply and slowly through your nose.
- Three Part Breathing: This breath promotes very deep breathing. If you don’t breathe deeply, it’s like skimming off the top of the pool without cleaning the bottom. Without exhaling completely, you never really scrub the “algae” off the bottom. Breathe in the bottom third of your body (from below the navel to the base of your ribs) and pause. Then continue filling from the ribs to the heart and pause. Fill the top third (heart to skull) and pause. Then exhale from top to bottom in one long, smooth exhale, squeezing the belly in at the end of the breath to get out that last bit of stale air. Repeat again, filling from bottom to top. Exhale from top to bottom.
- Alternate Nostril Breath: Take a full breath in through your nose. Use your right thumb to plug the right nostril and exhale out the left. Inhale out the left nostril and then use your right pinky to plug the left nostril. Exhale out the right nostril, then inhale through the right nostril. Switch to plug the right nostril with your right thumb again. Repeat the steps, alternating between nostrils. This breath is very effective for stress and anxiety.
As you and your child experiment and practice these pranayama techniques, share how they make you feel – are they energizing or calming? Do they cool you down or warm you up? Happy breathing!