Breathe Like an Elephant…or a Train!

Take a big breath. Inhale, blow up your belly like a balloon. Exhale, pop your balloon. Breathe with your diaphragm…. Whether teaching adults or children, there is a big focus in every yoga class on the breath. So, what’s the big deal?

Pranayama is the word we use when teaching breathing techniques in yoga class. Pranayama is the control or regulation of the life force, or energy of the body-mind. There are many yogis that will rank pranayama as more important than asanas  (poses) in the practice of yoga. We know that breathing can deeply affect our emotions and state of mind.

As a school teacher for children with special needs, I often found myself reminding my students to take slow controlled breaths when they became agitated or frustrated. They would start breathing very fast, their little fists would clench tight, their faces would turn red and they would tell me, or yell or cry, that they couldn’t calm down. And they were right. In that state, they couldn’t. Their sympathetic nervous system was taking over and they were activating a flight-or-flight response. They were losing access to the part of their brain that allows us to think clearly and rationally. Sitting in front of them or next to them I would model taking slow even breaths. Eventually their breathing would start to mimic mine. It would slow down, their fists would unclench, and eventually they could start to verbalize what upset them.

In yoga classes for kids we try to make belly breathing fun. I like to introduce diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, with balloon breaths and with the use of a Hoberman Sphere to illustrate the belly expanding and contracting. Diaphragmatic breathing helps reduce stress, improve sleep, releases the feel-good hormone, serotonin, which can also reduce cravings for those sugary, carb-filled foods, improves focus and mental clarity, and more. There are many engaging ways to teach children diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing.

  • Balloon breaths: Sitting in easy pose, or lying down before Savasana, inhale through the nose slowly, pushing the belly out as if blowing up a balloon. Push your finger to your belly as if popping your balloon, while exhaling slowly through the mouth. The kids love making noises at this point, as if their balloon is deflating.
  • Swimming or flying stuffies: Have your child lie down in corpse pose, or Savasana, and place a small stuffed animal on the child’s belly. Instruct the child to breathe in slowly through their nose, pushing their belly up and making their stuffed animal rise. Slowly exhaling through the nose, their belly will go down as will the stuffed animal as if they are soaring up and down through the air or riding the waves in the ocean. I lucked out at a dollar store and found little love bugs for $1.00 each. I bought everyone they had. I use these love bugs for this breathing exercise. The kids beg for them, to make their love bugs fly!
  • Bumble Bee Breaths (Bhramari breath): Sitting in easy pose, belly breathe through the nose slowly. When exhaling through the nose, make the “mmm” sound. This will make a vibrational feeling. Repeat a few times. Then, instruct your child to plug their ears. They can use their thumbs with elbows pointing out, or plug with the index fingers with elbows down and arms in front of the chest, or arms along head and fingers wrapped around their head. Inhale through the nose slowly, then exhale through the nose while making the “mmmm” sound. This will increase the vibration. Repeat a few times. Do not practice this breath if the child has an ear infection or is bothered by the vibrational feeling.
  • Elephant breaths: This breath is good to energize and help wake up sleepy little yogis. Begin standing in mountain pose. Spread legs wide and stretch arms out in front like an elephant’s trunk, interlacing the fingers together. Tell your child to think of something good to fill their trunk with. I try to suggest feelings like love, kindness, peace, etc. but I always get trunks full of puppies or Legos, too. If it’s something that makes them happy and instills a peaceful and happy feeling, I go with it. We take a big belly breath in through the nose, raising our trunks overhead. Then, exhale through the mouth and swing down with our trunk between legs. Making an elephant noise on the way down always increases the fun! Repeat three more times. On the fourth time, raise arms up and arch back slightly to release all that goodness over ourselves.
  • Train breaths: Sitting in easy pose or on knees, with buttocks back against heels, inhale through nose. On exhale, make a short forceful sniffing sound through the nose like a steam train puffing down the track. Start slow, then increase the speed of the inhales and exhales, speeding up the train. Slow the inhales and exhales back down, to slow the train as approaching the station. This is a stimulating and cleansing breath, great for young kids.

I hope you found a couple new breathing techniques to introduce to your children or kids’ yoga class, giving them tools to last a life time!

Mariann is a certified kids’ yoga teacher through Kidding Around Yoga in south Florida in Martin, St. Lucie and Palm Beach counties. She is also a private tutor for children with special needs and creates yoga sequences with a literacy connection on her Teachers Pay Teachers store, Spoonful of Love and Learning. You can find Mariann at and at


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