Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Experiment with which hand feels best in which place. Once you’ve figured that out, come to stillness. Allow your eyes to drift shut...and take a deep breath, in through your nose, filling up your lungs and feeling your belly and ribs expand. Exhale, emptying everything out. Now, do that again….and again.
How do you feel?
In Yo Re Mi we use our breath for all sorts of things: shouting, hissing like snakes, roaring like lions, whispering like leaves. We practice taking deep belly breaths with our Hoberman Sphere, also known as our trusty “breathing ball,” and we modulate our breaths to gust feathers and to float flowers.
We also sing...a lot. Through singing, we learn to control and manipulate our breathing. Every time we hold a long note, we are exhaling slowly and completely. Then our body automatically takes a long, deep breath in. We also make rhythmic sounds with our breath. The ch-ch-ch of a train closely resembles the sharp, staccato exhales in a yoga breathing called "breath of fire."
In yogic thinking, energy or “prana” travels on the breath. When we take a deep belly breath, we are inviting new, healthy energy into our bodies, and when we exhale, we are removing old, stale energy. For this reason there is an entire arm of yoga dedicated to breathing practices, also known as Pranayama.
Why is conscious breathing important for kids?
Children as young as 18 months are able to notice and begin to name emotions. By two years they are able to self regulate and learn to control their emotions by connecting to their breath. Has your toddler ever had a meltdown in Trader Joe’s? Try taking some deep breaths together. I’ve had a meltdown myself in that line.
The key is to practice breathing techniques when things are calm so we are already familiar enough to use them we are stressed, emotional or overwhelmed.
Different ways of breathing offer different benefits. For example, on a frigid winter’s day I may use heating Dragon Breaths with a class to warm up and get our blood flowing. Alternately, when energy is very high and it’s time to cool down and relax our bodies, I may have children practice cooling sitali, or as I like to call it, taco breathing.
Sit comfortably on the ground or on a chair. The key here is to have a nice long spine. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Open your eyes and mouth wide, stick out your tongue, and breath out through your mouth. Is it hot in here?
Find a comfortable seated position with a nice long spine. Relax your shoulders. Curl the edges of your tongue together like a little taco. Disclaimer: this is not genetically possible for everyone, so if you or your kiddo’s tongue doesn’t curl, just make a little round straw with your lips. Take a deep breath in through your taco or your straw. Hold the breath for a second, then gently breathe out through your nose. I feel calmer already.
Breathing with a partner fosters teamwork and communication and enhances little learner’s SEL skills. Why not take a breathing break together? Sit back to back with your child and see if you can feel each-other’s backs and ribs expanding with each breath. To take it up a notch, try this breath work in partner pose, “lizard on a rock.”
Sit back to back and begin to notice your breathing. Then have one partner lean forward while the other leans back, opening their chest and expanding their ribs. Take a few breaths and then switch.
Breathing buddies are a great tool to help your child connect with their breath and wind down after a long day. Place a favorite stuffed animal on their belly. Have them take a deep breath in and watch their buddy rise up, up, up and then down, down, down as they breathe.
We use breath with the children to connect with our emotional lives and to create clarity of mind. We learn to name different emotions and then self regulate. When it’s time to cool down, or if we are upset in class we pass around our breathing ball and everyone has a turn to lead the breath.
Take a few breaths along with this awesome breathing ball animation created by the folks at mindful.org...Just 3-5 minutes of conscious breathing can shift our energy, mood and outlook.
Regular mindful breathing practice teaches emotional awareness and introspection from an early developmental stage. That, in turn, strengthens social and emotional intelligence and helps our children grow to be strong, healthy, compassionate people.
Do you have a favorite breathing practice that always works for you? We would love to hear from you!
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Bridget Saracino is a 200-hour National Yoga Alliance registered Yoga Teacher. She received her teaching certification from YogaWorks and deepened her study by training in musical yoga with Yo Re Mi.
In addition to teaching yoga, Bridget is a professional actress and musician with a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Brown University/Trinity Repertory Co., and a Bachelor's of Arts in Theatre Arts from Cornell University. She acts professionally in theatre, voiceover, and commercials across the country. Bridget is also a theatre educator, specializing in play, voice, dialects, and movement for children and adults.