It’s not just an old wives’ tale – taking a few deep breaths really does help you regain control in stressful or angering situations. Not only does it give you a moment to hit the pause button before you explode (or implode), but deep breaths also physiologically alter the state of your brain!
While you are just sitting here, reading this blog, your body is in what is called “rest and digest” mode. Your breathing is normal, your heart rate is calm, and your muscles are relaxed. But when you experience something startling, worrisome, or anger-inducing, your brain kicks your body into the “fight or flight” response. Your heart rate immediately increases. Your breaths grow rapid and shallow. Your stomach even stops digesting food. While biologically important to keep us alive (especially back when we had to watch out for saber-tooth tigers and other natural dangers), if turned on too often, this stress response can be very unhealthy for us in the long-term. It puts us (and our kids) at risk of anxiety disorders, depression, digestive and sleep problems, headaches, and memory impairment.
So how do we teach children to turn off the fight-or-flight response? Simple! Breathing. As Swami Vidyananda says, our breath is our most portable form of stress management. And when working with children, there are so many fun, creative ways to teach big belly breathing. We want children to breathe all the way into their bellies, not just in their chest. This is called diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. So watch to see if their bellies are expanding on the inhales and sinking on the exhales. Here are a few of my favorites belly breaths for kids:
- Snake Breath: Sitting or standing (or in Cobra Pose), inhale through your nose and exhale with a long, slow hissing sound. Repeat a couple times, trying to extend the exhale each time.
- Volcano Breath: Sitting or standing, bring palms together in front of your chest. Keeping your hands together, reach up and breathe in (like lava rising in the volcano). Exhale, separate your hands, and move your arms down and to the sides (like lava flowing down the mountain). Repeat a few times.
- 5-5-10 Breath: Inhale to the count of 5. Hold for the count of 5. Exhale for a count of 10. This extra-long exhale really helps your body and brain calm down and get back to the rest-and-digest mode. Repeat a couple of times.
- Ocean Wave Breath: Resting on your back, place a small stuffed animal on your belly. Your breath is going to create waves on the ocean that your animal friend will ride. Inhale deeply, blowing your belly up (your animal will rise up on the wave) and then slowly exhale and watch your animal sink down. Breathe in another wave into your belly again. Exhale and let your belly sink. Repeat as long as you’d like.
- Lazy 8 Breath: You can do this breath with paper and pencil, with a print out of an ‘8’ on its side, or with an imaginary paint brush in the air or on a desk. You’ll be drawing the number ‘8’ on its side, like the infinity sign. Start in the middle of the 8. As you inhale, trace the 8 around the left loop. When you get to the middle of the 8 again, start your exhale as you trace around the right loop of the 8. Continue for a while.