From mindful consumption to mindful activities and even mindful eating, this word has become commonplace. But how can we achieve mindfulness? It takes a lot of practice and discipline to sit still and resist all the distractions around us. One of the easiest ways to develop a taste for mindfulness is by remembering to breathe. It sounds pretty simple in theory but when you take time out to breathe deeply, inhale fresh air and check in with your body, that stillness can go a long way.
For some children, learning different breathing exercises can equip them with helpful coping mechanisms for when they feel angry, overwhelmed, or anxious. Taking deep breaths can also bring a sense of focus and help draw their attention to or away from something. For instance, imagine this scenario: your child has been trying to solve a math problem before they can play with their friends. However, it’s been over an hour, and the problem isn’t making sense to them. Your child is getting impatient and really would rather be playing. In this case, they might throw an angry fit or burst into tears. Instead, you could encourage your child to take a deep breath and take another stab at it.
The same could be applied in many situations. Here are some breathing exercises for children. They are playful and include visualizations so they can make the most out of their inhales and exhales.
This is a kind of breathing exercise that focuses on breathing only from the nose. It’s a good warm-up or starter exercise before meditation or yoga practice. It means you start by keeping your mouth closed and focus on breathing from your diaphragm. The idea is to inhale and exhale at the same pace. It might feel like the child isn’t able to breathe at first or they might make snoring or hissing noises, but keep going. It gets easier with each breath. This will warm up the core and bring a sense of balance. This could also be a great activity to do before starting school in the mornings or any activity that requires high concentration.
This takes its name from the act of a dragon breathing out fire. It can be a really fun and playful way to engage your child in breathing exercises. Begin in a seated posture- this could be on the floor or a chair. Sit up straight with their heads over their hearts. Encourage them to place both hands on their belly. Take a big breath in and on the exhale push through the nostrils- as if they were breathing out fire. Repeat this 3-4 times and then return to normal breathing. It can be a great way to release tension or frustration.
Nadi Shodhana or Alternate Nose Breathing
Begin in a seated posture (on a chair or the floor) with your back straight. Raise one hand towards your nose and fan out the fingers. Use the thumb to block one nostril and inhale through that, hold for a few seconds, and block it with the little finger. As you do that you can release the thumb from the other nostril to exhale. Repeat a few times before switching nostrils. This works well for headaches and blocked noses. It’s also another calming and balancing breathing exercise. So it’s good for a cool down after an intensive activity.
Yogic breathing or Deep breathing
A bit similar in principle to Dragon Breathing, yogic breathing also encourages breathing from the belly. It can be down seated or lying down flat on the back after/before a savasana. Once the child has picked their posture, ask them to place one hand on their belly and one hand on their chest. Take deep breaths, count to four as they hold before exhaling. With each breath ask the child to imagine releasing stress, anger, emotions, or anything that’s preoccupying them. It takes a few attempts before the child can feel comfortable doing this exercise. Another way to direct them is to ask the child to notice the rising and falling of their stomach and chest with their hands.
Smell the flowers
Ask the child to imagine they are walking through a garden and they see a beautiful or colorful flower– rose perhaps or a jasmine plant. Ask them to stop and bend down to inhale the flower. A big deep breath so they can smell the fragrance. Then exhale as you were gently blowing on the flower. Repeat this cycle of a strong inhale and a slow exhale. Over time they can try to make their exhales longer. This is particularly useful if the child is experiencing anxiety, stress, or increased heart rate. It’s a good distraction that brings their mind at ease.
Other examples of visualizing to encourage a deep breath could be activities like blowing bubbles, blowing out birthday candles, or even blowing on a pinwheel to make it move. It’s best to start simple and with exercises that are fun to visualize before moving on to more complex variations.