Breathing is the bridge between our mind and body. It is a very powerful force to heal and to be more aware. In yoga, we call breathing practices pranayama and it is a big part of a yoga practice. In Sanskrit prana means breath or vital energy and yama is the control or expansion of it. Put it together and pranayama means “control of the breath.”
If we learn to be more conscious of our breath and start practice more pranayama techniques to learn a proper way to breathe slowly and deeply, we will increase the capacity of the lungs which may bring more oxygen into the body. Pranayama practice may also effect our emotions. Some breathing techniques can make us feel more relaxed and calm while others build energy.
With all of these benefits, breathing is a very powerful practice to teach kids! Here are some easy and effective ways to practice pranayama with kids at home or in their classroom to help them feel calmer and be more mindful and focused.
Pranayama with fingers. Open one hand. With the other, extend the pointer finger. Starting with your pointer finger touching your open hand at the base of the thumb. As you inhale, trace up the thumb and exhale tracing down the thumb. Breathe in and continue to trace up the index finger and exhale down the index finger. Each inhale you trace up and each exhale, you go down. Do that with the five fingers. You could even go back the other way for 10 full breaths.
Smell the flower. This technique also includes a mudra, which are symbolic gestures with your hands that have connections with your brain. First, make a padma mudra,
(representing a lotus flower – see photo). Then ask kids what color their flower is. To apply some mindfulness, tell them to close their eyes and imagine the smell of the flower as they inhale through their noses, pause one second, and then exhale through their mouths with an “aaaahhhh.”
Infinity breath or Lazy 8. Print an infinity symbol (or have kids draw their own). Demonstrate how to trace the picture with an inhale going one direction and the exhale going the other direction. You can add more fun by using different textured papers to trace so they are more mindful of their finger moving over the picture (whiteboard, sandpaper, sand table, etc.).
Breathing with mantras. Wherever you are, you can close your eyes. Each time you inhale, you can repeat a mantra in your mind. For example, inhale and say to yourself, “I feel calm.” When you exhale, think, “I let go of bad things.” Repeat a few times. Another simple example of a mantra is, “Inhale peace. Exhale stress.” You can breathe that way as many as you need.
Savasana Stick. Before going into savasana, or the final guided meditation, have children close their eyes and on the count of three they are going to stiffen their bodies as hard as they can (like a stick) holding their breath for three seconds and then exhale with a big breath and relax the body. That helps them release the accumulated stress they can have and it is a great start for savasana because they are likely a bit more relaxed and ready for you to guide them more deeply into their meditation.
Pompom Basketball. In the Kidding Around Yoga (KAY) family we love to play with pompoms and it is very common to use them in our classes. Put a bowl or basket in front of the kids, and as they sit in their Easy pose (criss-cross applesauce), they take a pompom, put in their hands, palms up, take a big breath in through their nose and exhale through their mouths, trying to blow the pompom into the bowl. It is vey fun and kids love it!
There are a lot of different and simple ways to introduce breathing and mindfulness exercises into a child’s yoga practice (and yours, too). Try them and see the magic happen!
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