The Power of the Breath
The first cry of a baby after it’s been delivered is beautiful and reassuring. This sound is not only beautiful to the parents that get to experience it for the first time. It’s also the strongest sign that the baby has the ability to breathe on its own to doctors. That newborn cry signifies that there’s a breath, and that breath means the baby has made it into the world alive. If you are a parent, the moment that you heard that cry is one that you will remember for a lifetime.
Breathing is an involuntary function. That means that breathing happens automatically and whether you are awake or asleep. It’s true that when your child breathes involuntarily they have life. What’s also true is when your child breathes voluntarily they have power. When your child takes this involuntary function and turns it into a voluntary action, they have the power to control their emotions and behaviors.
A child’s emotions are able to subconsciously impact their breathing pattern. When a child is calm or free of large emotions their muscles, heart rate, and breathing are normal. When an emotion gets large, or your child becomes stressed their breathing pattern may change. When they are sad, they may sigh. You may notice when your child is angry or frustrated they breathe at a more rapid speed. They may also breathe shallower. A child’s breathing pattern can also change due to other emotions such as anxiety, fear, happiness, and excitement.
Have you ever asked your child to take a few deep breaths when you noticed an emotion caused their breathing pattern to change? Or, perhaps you’ve also learned that pausing and breathing can help you during times when emotions have been heightened. Mindful breathing is an amazing mindfulness exercise to teach kids. Young children can also benefit from this practice as early as toddler hood.
Quick deep breathing practice
Let’s take a few seconds here to demonstrate the power of your breath and practice mindfulness. While your emotions may not be heightened at this moment, you will still be able to feel restorative and calming effects from controlled breathing. Here we go:
- Take a moment to pay attention to your natural breathing pattern without trying to change it. Notice if your breath is shallow or deep; fast or slow.
- Slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of five, if you can. 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand, 4 one thousand, 5 one thousand.
- Hold your breath for three seconds. Don’t inhale or exhale and instead pause holding the air you already have within. 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand.
- It’s time to let that air go. Slowly breathe out through your nose for a count of five. All of the air that was breathed in is to be breathed back out. 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand, 4 one thousand, 5 one thousand.
- Repeat steps 2- 4 four more times.
- Return to your natural breath and bring awareness back to your natural breathing pattern.
How do you feel in your body and mind? You may feel more aware of the present moment. You may feel that a sense of peace has washed over you. And, you may be seeing things from a new perspective.
Teach your child to control their breath through fun
Children of any age can learn mindfulness and deep breathing with practice. And, don’t worry-- you don’t have to be an expert to teach your child these practices. It’s totally okay to practice and learn along with your child. The breathing exercises for kids we are sharing today considered playing with intention. In fact, you’re likely already doing these mindfulness exercises for kids without realizing there’s true benefit in them.
From infancy, many small children love the magic of bubbles. A sudsy wand creates floating bubbles of all sizes for kids to marvel at, chase, and try to pop with their hands and feet. The soapy wand is incapable of producing a bubble without the power of the human breath. And, that breath must be controlled for the bubble to slowly form without popping quickly.
Deep belly breaths help teach children mindful breathing. Ask your child to breathe into their belly for three or four seconds while dipping their wand in bubbles. Then, instruct them to slowly breathe the air out into the bubble wand to make their bubbles. Five to ten repetitions of this breathing exercise for kids will teach mindfulness, bring your child to the present moment, and provide calming benefits. A child’s senses will come alive when they practice bubble-blowing as a mindful breathing exercise.
You may have seen small pinwheels stuck in a yard spinning rapidly from the wind. The human breath can also power up a pinwheel and send it into motion. If you don’t have a pinwheel on hand, which many of us don’t, check out your local dollar or craft store to grab one.
The fun part about this breathing exercise for kids is that they can practice breathing both slowly and quickly, and observe what that does to the pinwheel. First, have your child take a slow and deep breath into their belly for the count of three, hold that breath for two seconds, and breathe it back out to spin the pinwheel. Ask them to do about five more of these breaths as they continue to observe what their breathing does to the pinwheel. Then, have your child breathe in deeply for three seconds, hold it for two, and then quickly expel the air to spin the wheel. The goal is to get the air out not only quickly but completely. Ask them to do five more of these breaths as they observe how their breath moves the pinwheel.
Ribbons are lightweight, which allows them to be a great prop in a breathing exercise for kids. Grab a roll of ribbon and have your child cut ten strips of different sizes around a foot or longer. Find a spot to tape the ribbon where your child will be able to blow them freely. We use our kitchen island for this activity, to provide an example.
Like the pinwheel breathing exercise, this is another activity where your child can practice breathing both slowly and quickly. Your child should sit within a foot of the ribbons. They can breathe into one spot of the ribbon or slowly move their head from one side to the other as they breathe. Have your child start by breathing slowly into their belly for the count of three, hold that breath for two seconds, and slowly breathe it out aiming for the ribbons. Ask them to do five more breaths in the same way. They may want to switch up which ribbons they are aiming for to make it more fun. Then, have your child breathe in deeply for three seconds, hold it for two, and quickly expel the air to really power the ribbons to moving. Their exhaled breath should be fast and also complete. Any air that was taken in also needs to be released. Ask them to do five more of these breaths however they wish.
Deep breathing exercises for kids can be fun while also being truly beneficial. Your child may be able to notice some benefits right away and at the moment, and also have the skill to turn to when their emotions get large. Though these exercises were written for kids, you can also practice mindfulness through them. Have some fun and take turns with your child as you practice mindful breathing together. Remember: practice makes progress. We parents can experience just as many benefits as children.
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