Pranayama is the practice of breathing in yoga. We breathe because very literally, our breath is oe of the biggest components to our life (or prana). We breathe to meditate, to practice asana, and to relax. Without our breath, our brains and bodies wouldn’t function properly. In yoga, we learn different ways to breathe for different purposes and for different results. But first, we have to get to where we are actively practicing and actively aware of our breath. Teaching kids pranayama is an opportunity to get creative so that they can add pranayama exercises to their stress-management toolbox.
One way to illustrate breathing is to use pinwheels. Use pinwheels at the start of spring when you can compare your breath to the breath of the earth – the wind! Make sure you get an assortment of bright and fun colors, too. Kids love pinwheels, in part, because they recognize that they can control the pinwheel’s movement, and adults love them because they remind us of our childhood!
Starting with each child holding a pinwheel, instruct them to sit nice and tall in easy pose (“criss-cross applesauce). Tell them to notice how the pinwheel is still and quiet. Have them close their eyes and ask them if their bodies are still and quiet. Next, instruct them to spin the pinwheel with their hands (after they open their eyes). Ask them about what is happening, and if time allows, encourage each child to answer what happens and how their pinwheel looks. Hint: the students, especially younger ones won’t be able to make the pinwheels move terribly fast with just their hands. Now tell that they are going to make their lungs do all the work. Have them sit up tall again and take a big breath in. Encourage them to blow into the pinwheels to make their blades move. Do this one time because they are bound to expel a lot of air and it is important that they do not hyperventilate and become dizzy. Now tell them to close their eyes and to refill their lungs and body until they feel still again. This time, instruct them to blow the pinwheel while their eyes are closed. Ask them what they hear. Have them describe the sounds and let some of them tell you why they think it is making that sound. On the next time, which will be the third breath, have them open their eyes and tell them to breathe in and on their next breath out, watch each blade as it spins. Encourage them to listen to their chest and belly while they watch their pinwheels.
As they become mesmerized by the spinning colors and patterns, their breath will become slower again. Let the class sit in the stillness of the pranayama activity that has now evolved into their meditation. After a few minutes, have them describe how they felt when they took breaths inward and have them describe what happened to the pinwheel as they released their own air to make the blades spin. You could spend time experimenting with the strength and length of the breath on the pinwheel’s movement. Ask them how they felt after they exhaled as they watched the wheels go round and round.
Finally, instruct the students to put the pinwheels down next to them and close their eyes. Now do the breath activity in your mind. Close your eyes and visualize holding the pinwheel – verbally direct them through this exercise. Once everyone can “see” their pinwheel, tell them to visualize it still and on their next breath, they fill their bodies with air and then they exhale to make the pinwheels spin with colorful delight and happiness. Repeat two more times. Describe the colors and the feelings of happiness. Ask your students to share how they feel too. If feasible, let the students take the pinwheels home so that they can practice this exercise.
To make your own pinwheels as a craft, visit this site.
For more ideas on teaching breath control and pranayama to children, check out these other blogs.