My own yoga practice has taught me that the breath is a powerful tool when managing emotions. We are often completely unaware of our breath but it is the one thing that is always with us. The simple act of noticing and focusing on your breath can have an immediate calming affect.
As a mother, yoga teacher and pre-service teacher I have been surprised and saddened to see how many children suffer from anxiety. In my experience, teaching children about the breath and different breathing techniques is one way of helping them manage how they are feeling.
“When the breath is unrestrained, so is the mind. On the contrary, when the breath is under control, the mind will be tamed as well” - Hatha Yoga Pradipika
It is never to early to start teaching children about breathing, spine health and posture. In the kindergarten classroom, I would be constantly reminding the kids to ‘sit like pretzels’ - they knew this meant sitting with their legs crossed, hands on knees or in laps, with straight spines and their shoulders back and down.
Good breathing begins with good posture.
What do you think happens if you sit slouched over or? Your chest gets all crunched up and your lungs don’t have room to expand as well as they could. The same goes for walking with a slouch. The best way to practice breathing exercises, and also the best way to sit or stand in general, is by lifting your chest and spine and expanding upward, as if you were being gently lifted by an imaginary cord upward from the crown of your head.
A great cue for children is to ask them to imagine there spine is like a straw. If the straw is crimped or bent, can air move freely through it? Another great cue is to ask the child to visualise a ballon on a string that is attached to the top of their head, the ballon is gently drawing their spine straight. If your lungs, diaphragm, and spinal cord don’t have room to work, you can’t possibly breathe fully and your body can’t work as efficiently.
Before we begin….
In my experience children of all ages can focus on breathing after they have expended a little bit of energy. For toddlers and lower primary age children, you can’t go past the “Yogi Pokey”. The Yogi Pokey is sun to the sound of the Hokey Pokey and is based on the Yogic Sun Salutation which is done to warm up the body and connect with the breath.
You put your hands up high (mountain pose - inhale)
You put your hands down low (exhale)
You look up to the sky (lunge - inhale)
Step back and lower slow (plank - exhale)
You come up to cobra (mini backbend - inhale)
And then back to Downward facing dog (exhale)
Jump up and start again (inhale)
You can view the physical movements here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eCHrcq5wRY
Kids can better understand how to breathe if they have an obvious way to see what they are doing. If you are just starting out with kids and breathing the below has some ideas on how to best demonstrate what the breath is before moving onto breathing exercises. Inexpensive props work really well here especially for younger children.
Grab a straw and some cotton balls and start a game of cotton ball soccer. Move the cotton ball between an adult and a child or two children.
Hold a leaf or feather about 10cm away from the mouth and see it move with your breath.
Go to the bathroom mirror and fog it up with your breath.
Belly Breathing - this exercise uses a prop: any small, sturdy, light object such as a Beanie Bear, rubber duck, or tissue box will do.
Lie on your back, then place your (prop of choice) on your lower tummy.
Breathe normally through your nose and watch your prop rise and fall for a minute or two.
Sit up and discuss what you saw. Was your prop moving a lot, or just a little, or not at all. Proper belly breathing expands the lower tummy, not just the chest, and will make the prop movement obvious. Shallow chest breathing will result in very little movement of the prop.
Try it again. See if you can make the prop move more. Remember to use your breath to move the prop!
Balloon Breathing - this exercise is a good follow-up to Belly Breathing. It helps kids get an even better sense of how deep breathing feels.
Sit on the floor in Pretzel Pose and imagine you have a balloon inside your tummy. Decide what colour it is.
Interlace your fingers, making a basket shape, and place it over your tummy, imagining you are putting your hands on the balloon.
Breathe in through your nose and imagine you are blowing up the balloon.
Breathe out through your nose, imagining the balloon deflating.
Try to feel the “balloon” with your hands. With each inhale, be conscious of blowing up the balloon as large as possible. With each exhale, imagine deflating the balloon as fully as possible.
Continue for a minute or two, then talk about how it felt.
Pretzel Partners - this is a great way for children to FEEL the breath in the body. Kids LOVE this one! It always surprises me how they just drop into a calm and focused state as they concentrate on feeling their partners breath.
Sit in pretzel pose, back to back with your partner.
Sit up tall and feel your spines connect.
As you breath steadily see if you can feel the expansion of your back into your partners back.
Option for one partner to hold the wrists of the other and raise the arms up over head, giving your partner a nice long stretch in the sides.
Lower the arms after a few breaths.
Swap over so the other partner lifts the arms.
“The breath is a mirror of how we feel. Through conscious breathing we can change our tension into relaxation” - Danielle Bersma
Start getting kids to think about their breath. Ask them if they have noticed what happens to their breathing when they are upset, angry or anxious?
I like to demonstrate this with short, shallow, gasping breaths into my upper lungs. Then show them what their breathing may look like when they are happy and calm; slow, even and deep breathing. This is a good segue into following breathing exercises which all have an affect on the nervous system, to either calm or energise.
It is incredibly empowering for children (and adults) to realise they can regulate how they feel with their breath!
Some breathing exercises are incredibly energising. These exercises infuse the body with oxygen, helping everything to work better. They also expel stale air, purifying the system.
Complementary essential oils to diffuse or apply to pulse points
doTERRA Easy Air
doTERRA Arise Enlightening Blend
Wild Orange and Peppermint
doTERRA Elevation blend
doTERRA Cheer blend
Bunny Breathing (designed by Marsha Wenig of YogaKids).
Wriggle your nose like a bunny and use your hands, on top of your head, as floppy ears (or put on a pair of store-bought bunny ears).
Inhale three times in short, consecutive breaths through your nose, then exhale through your mouth as you make a sighing sound.
Repeat several times.
Wood Chopper - this is a personal favourite of mine! It is a great exercise for releasing pent-up anxiety and anger.
Stand tall with your legs spread about hip distance apart.
Raise your arms over your head and clasp your hands together as if you were holding an axe.
Breathe in through your nose and stretch upward, lifting the “axe “ over your head.
Exhale through your mouth, making the sound “ha” as you drop your arms toward the ground as if letting the axe chop at a piece of wood.
Bend at the waist as you lower your arms.
Repeat several times, generating momentum in your chopping motion.
These are perfect when children need to wind down. In the classroom, these are great to practice when children have come in after lunch break or need to de-stress a little. These exercises are also beneficial for children who are feeling overstimulated and would benefit from a grounding activity.
Complementary essential oils to diffuse or apply to pulse points
doTERRA Balance blend
Litsea, Lavender and Frankincense
Balance and Cypress
doTERRA Align Centering Blend
Fly Like a Bird.
Stand straight and tall with feet firmly planted and arms hanging at your sides in Mountain Pose or sit in Hero Pose (kneeling)
Inhale through your nose and extend your arms out to the side, then up over your head.
Keep your arms nice and straight but make the movement graceful, as if your arms were wings.
Then, slowly exhale through your nose as you lower your wings.
Repeat several times until you feel calm and grounded.
Alternate Nostril Breathing - good for older children 6 +
Extend the fingers of your right hand. Bend your pointer finger (first finger) and tall-man finger (middle finger) into your palm. Keep your thumb, ring finger, and pinkie finger extended.
Exhale completely. Press your right nostril closed with your right thumb, and slowly inhale through your left nostril. Close both nostrils and hold for one second.
Then, remove your thumb from the right nostril and slowly exhale through the right nostril.
Upon full exhalation, inhale deeply through the same nostril. Then close both nostrils, hold for one second, and then exhale slowly through the left nostril.
This completes one full round.
Repeat several times.
Bumble bee breathing - another one of my faves!
Begin in Pretzel Pose with a tall, straight spine.
Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose before exhaling out to “Hummmmmm,” as long as possible.
Try it again, but this time with your eyes closed. Focus on the humming sound. Notice the vibration created in your lips.
Try the same breath again with eyes closed and ears blocked with your hands. Notice your focus go inward where there is peace and calm. Repeat this breath several times.
After each session or breathing exercise, always ask how the child feels. Do they notice any differences? What did they like or dislike about the exercise?
Be prepared to try lots of different techniques. We are all individual so what appeals to one child may not appeal to another.
Make breathing fun! Especially with younger children.
Short sessions every day. Make it part of your daily routine
Know that you are giving your child such a wonderful gift. The breath is always with us. When we can tune into that and harness it we are able to feel calm, grounded and centered - how great is that!
If you would like to find out how you can obtain doTERRA essential oils at wholesale prices, please check the ‘essential oil’ and ‘workshop’ page of this website. Alternatively, drop me an email and I will be happy to chat xx
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