Breathing. It seems so easy. Breathe in. Breathe out. We’ve been breathing every moment of every day since birth. How hard can it be?
We may call that instinctual movement of air “breathing”, but true breathing, conscious breathing does more than keep us alive. Purposeful breathing can change our mood, our health, and our lives. Conscious breathing is an important life-long skill for children to learn, and luckily it’s a fun skill to practice! In Yoga, we call breathing practice pranayama. Prana means “life energy” and yama translates to “discipline”. So the practice of pranayama is the practice of controlling your life energy.
Hoberman Spheres are a wonderful tool for demonstrating how we breathe. It is a plastic toy with hinges that allow it to fold into a compact ball and expand into a large sphere. Also referred to as a “breathing ball”, a Hoberman Sphere is a simple visual reference for children to connect to their breath because its movement is similar to our lungs’ movement. Demonstrate with one Hoberman Sphere, or let your child use her own. As you exhale, slowly collapse the sphere, pointing out that your lungs and belly are contracting, too. Then inhale and open the sphere, noting the expansion. Encourage your child to match the length of their inhales and exhales, using the Hoberman Sphere as a visual reference.
Even the calmest among us can get caught up in moments of anger, selfishness, and fear, children especially. Once again, breathing is the doorway to positive change. Try a few rounds of Dragon Breath. In this case, you are the dragon and you breathe out your fire (all those angry, negative feelings). Breathe in through your nose and fill your huge dragon body with cooling energy. Exhale through your mouth, making a “hah” sound, like you are breathing fire. The longer the sound, the bigger the flame. You can even imagine the color and feel the heat of your flame spreading through the room. A few rounds of Dragon Breath and you’ll feel strong, brave, and full of positive energy.
Another kinesthetic breath awareness practice is Fireworks Breath. Sitting cross-legged or tall in a chair, inhale through your nose and raise your arms over your head, hands in tight fists. Your hands are the fireworks shooting up into the sky. At the top of the inhale, pause for a moment, and then spread your fingers wide as the fireworks explode. Slowly lower the arms while you exhale through your nose. Your fingers can wiggle, like flickering sparks floating back to earth. Pause again, as you light another round of fireworks. Inhale the arms overhead, pause, and exhale the firework lights back down. This is a really fun breath to do in a darkened room, so kids can easily imagine their fireworks slowly expanding and falling.
Finally, a powerful bit of wisdom to share with your children is that they can breathe how they want to feel. Want to calm down before a test? Slow your breath down. Smooth it out. Need a burst of energy during soccer practice? Make your breath dynamic and big! The next time your child feels angry, point out how short and tight their breathing feels (you could show this on the Hoberman Sphere). Then demonstrate long, smooth, calming breaths. Their shoulders will drop, fists unclench, and eyebrows unfurrow. And all it usually takes is three purposeful breaths!