Breathing Exercises for Children
The first thing we have to do to survive on entering the world, is to take a big breath and our first breath can often set the pattern for how we breathe throughout our lives. Deep full breaths allow us to feel calm, centred and focused. The way we breathe often fluctuates throughout our lives and our breath pattern is moulded throughout our childhood. From our early years we utilise our breath in learning to talk, expressing our emotions and in moving our bodies. Eventually our breath finds it’s own rhythm and falls into its own unique pattern. We all have unique breathing patterns - some of us our belly breathers, but struggle getting the breath fully into the upper chest and others breathe into the upper chest but not fully into their belly.
Teaching children how to breathe deeply and fully can bring them huge benefits to their overall well being throughout their lives. Here are my top 5 breathing exercises for babies and children.
BABY BREATHS (0 - 4months) It’s lovely to hold your new born baby in your arms and breathe deeply into your belly. This will induce feelings of connection and calmness. Make sure baby's head is on your chest and you have both your bellies touching. This is sometimes best done lying down or supported with pillows behind your back and head to allow the spine to be comfortable. Take some good deep belly breaths to begin with. As you breathe in through the nose your belly should rise. Breathe in for a count of 4. Hold for 2 and exhale for a count of 6. The exhale can be through the nose or mouth, which ever you find easier and more relaxing. Repeat this for up to 5 minutes. Be aware of your babies breathing, this will be a lot quicker than yours but stay focused on counting your inhales, holds and exhales. A calm mum can help your baby feel calm too.
BALLOON BREATHING (2 – 5 years old) Sitting in a cross-legged or kneeling position, ask your child to place both hands on their lower belly, just below their belly button. Ask them to inhale slowly for a count of 4 through the nose. Ask your child to pretend that he or she is blowing up a balloon in their belly. Encourage your child’s belly to inflate on inhaling. Hold for a count of 2 and then slowly exhale through the mouth until the ‘balloon in the belly’ has deflated – for about the count of 6. You can repeat this for between 1 – 3 minutes. This is great for them to do in the car or while travelling to keep them calm and centred.
BUBBLE BREATHING (3 -12 year olds) This is a fun breath work and can help you and your kids feel relaxed with just a few rounds of practice. Make sure you have grasped the deep belly breathing before starting this breath work i.e. breathing in, belly should rise effortlessly and fall softly with the exhale: 1. Begin with a full exhale and then slowly fill your lungs from the bottom to the top. 2. On inhaling, the belly should rise fully and lastly the upper chest. 3. Inhale through the nose for a count of 5. 4. Purse your lips as if you are getting ready to blow bubbles, inflate the cheeks puffer fish style and exhale through the mouth, keeping the cheeks inflated. Exhale for a count of 10. 5. Begin again with a slow deep inhale for a count of 5 through the nose and repeat for between 1 – 5 minutes or until you are feeling calm. By pursing your lips and inflating your cheeks you create pressure on the vagus nerve in the back of your throat, which controls many of anxiety’s telltale symptoms, such as sweating, racing heart, and nausea. By focusing on the count you help keep your mind and breathing calm. You could try this breathing technique, while blowing bubbles too!
‘OM’ HOWLER MONKEY BREATH (3 – 7 years old) The loudest monkey in the forest, the howler monkey is renowned for it’s big voice and large lungs. Their dawn call can be heard up to 3 miles away! Using sound is a great way for children to connect with their breathing in a unique way.
1. Ask your child to sit in a comfortable position, with their spine nice and tall so they can breathe fully. Ask them to imagine they are a howler monkey, sitting on a tree branch waiting for the sun to rise.
2. Take a deep breath in through the nose and then hold the breath for 2 counts.
3. Round the lips much like a howler monkey and make the sound on the exhale of “OOOOOOO” slowly until there is no breath left to carry the sound.
4. Inhale deeply through the nose. Belly-ribs-upper chest fill slowly and mindfully. It can help to place the hands on the lower belly to establish a belly breath.
5. Exhale fully on the sound of “MMMMMM” until there is no breath left to carry the sound.
6. Deep inhale in. Belly rises – ribs inflate – upper chest rises slightly. 7. Exhale. Cup the hands around the lips as if calling across the jungle and join the sounds together on a full out breath “OOOO-MMMM.” 8. Repeat 3 - 5 times. This extended exhalation should bring feelings of calm... and a few giggles!
SUN AND MOON CIRCLE BREATHING (5 – 15 years old) This breathing technique is a great way to get the breath in the belly and connect with a conscious breath. Perfect for helping children feel focused, calm and great for balancing their energies. Great to practice together in the morning and the evenings. Prop yourselves up in at a semi-reclined angle so your chest is higher than your legs. Make sure you are warm and comfortable and that your head and neck are properly supported. Place your hands on your lower abdomen - a few inches below the navel. Relax the jaw and open the mouth wide, but not strained, and take a deep inhalation. You belly should rise like a balloon - exhale with a quick, short sigh. Keep all your focus on the inhalation, which should be about three times as long as the exhalation. The exhalation should be a quiet and relaxed breath. Keep the breath connected, with no pauses between breaths – imagine a circular breath. Repeat this conscious connected breath from between 2 and 5 minutes. Rest for one minute as you return to a normal breathing pattern – breathing through the nose.
originally written by Aimee Hartley for Yoga Magazine 2017
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