“When you feel like life is out of focus, always return to the basics of life—breathing. No breath, no life.”Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid
Breath is life. By returning to the basic act of breathing, we can calm our nervous system and regain focus. Here we show you 5 ways to teach breathing techniques to kids.
Breathing deeply and slowly, whether through the practice of meditation, mindfulness, or yoga or simply through the act of taking a deep breath, we trigger our parasympathetic nervous system—the “rest and relax” response of the nervous system. This shift slows down the heart rate and increases blood flow and oxygenation throughout our bodies. The parasympathetic response is responsible for decreasing the presence of stress hormones, like cortisol!
Taking deep breaths relaxes our mind and body.
But… it doesn’t just stop there!
When our body isn’t wasting energy battling stressors, it has a surplus of energy to distribute to areas of the body that need it.
When we are calm and aren’t worried about stressors or threats in our environment, our focus also improves.
Breathing exercises are important for children to learn.
But it starts with us.
As adults, we hold an important job. What we do matters more that what we say. Kids are sponges. They watch everything we do and mimic our traits.
This is a real opportunity to make a real difference in our kids’ lives—an opportunity to teach them regulation skills and improve their focus and their ability to be present.
Our children can tell when we’re stressed. They can feel it. Our stress can trigger their stress and vice versa. While we can pass on our stress to them, it’s also important to remember that we can pass on our emotion regulation skills to them too. Through role modeling!
We can practice taking deep breaths in front of them. We can use our self-regulation breathing techniques to calm ourselves down and proceed mindfully with our kids. They will take it all in!
We can create calmer homes and classrooms and more meaningful conversations by simply returning to the breath.
Below, you will find creative ways to learn about and practice breathing exercises with your children in your home, classroom, or studio. Use these breathing techniques as a springboard to encourage your child’s creativity. My daughter teaches me new breaths all the time, using her imagination.
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5 WAYS TO PRACTICE BREATHING TECHNIQUES WITH CHILDREN FOR CALM AND FOCUS
At Kids Yoga Stories, we are on a mission to help children (and adults) learn to breathe well–for self-regulation, emotional regulation, anxiety relief, and anger management, and many other benefits.
After more than a decade, the one thing we hear repeatedly from our Kids Yoga Stories community is that teaching children how to breathe well has the biggest impact on their social, emotional, and cognitive wellbeing.
Below, you will find five creative ways to learn fun and easy breathing techniques—catering to various learning styles:
#1: READ : 5 Breathing Exercises for Kids
Find five kid-friendly breathing exercises to bring calm and focus to your children’s busy life, including Loving-Kindness Breath, Flower Breath, Woodchopper Breath, Bee Breath, and Deep Belly Breath.
“Since introducing these yoga resources to the class, they are eager to do yoga and incorporate breathing since it helps them to be calmer. They are able to sit for longer and are more regulated after doing yoga. Parents have noticed, too. One parent in particular reported that her child now reminds her to take a deep breath every time she gets mad or upset.”Bakula
#2: WATCH: Breathing Exercises for Kids Videos
You will find a playlist of videos of how to practice various breathing techniques for children. And you will also hear from a group of children about their favorite breath and why they think breathing well is important for young people.
A success story from KCee, a mom of a child in the videos:
“One success story is from a few weeks ago when the cards had been recently introduced. Maximus was putting together a very advanced Lego kit he received as a gift from his grandparents. He was almost finished but was having some difficulty with the final few pieces. He began to pout and whine and was quickly escalating. I praised him for doing so well with the kit and then encouraged him to take a break and chose a breath card. He hesitated and protested, wanting to continue his project, but soon came and chose a card from the deck. The card he chose, he said he chose because the boy on the card “looked like him.” He tried the breaths, sat quietly for a few minutes, then calmly returned to his project.”
#3: PLAY: Breathing Exercise Cards for Kids
Practice any one of these 30 breathing techniques to help children release stress and tension. The handy cards come in digital or print format to best suit your needs!
A story from Amy, a guidance counselor, who introduced the breathing exercises to the whole school community:
“We had a pretty severe accident on our playground on Wednesday. It was traumatizing, and the student had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
School administration asked me as the school counselor to go up to the classrooms because a lot of the children had witnessed the accident, and a lot of the kids were crying. I had close to fifty kids in one area, just trying to process the whole thing. I first talked about the accident a little bit.
One kid said his heart was beating really fast. And then I said, “You remember that we do our Mindful Monday, so let’s just do our Figure 8 Breathing.
Everybody put their finger up in the air at the same time. We started doing it together. For that brief second, they got it. I could see and feel the release of tension and stress. Everybody took a deep breath.
In that moment, I found a way to show my students, regardless of where we live, what they’ve gone through, or their family dynamics, they can start building and putting these tools in their toolbox. It was incredible! I now have a clear purpose and know that I’m doing the right work.”
#4: LEARN: Breathing Resources for Adults
Breath, by James Nestor
Written by a journalist, this engaging book is packed with research and stories about the history and benefits of breathing. There are great stories to share with children about breathing well to make it relevant and meaningful to them. I highly recommend adding this book to your toolkit!
For example, with my family, I talked to my daughter about the focus on your breath for faster swim times in her swim competitions. I learned more about the sinus issues that husband has and gained more compassion for his breathing and snoring issues. And my dad now uses deep breathing during his daily hill walks to walk steady and with ease without taking breaks.
The Breathing Cure, by Patrick McKeown
Written by a breathing coach, this book takes a scientific approach to share specific breathing exercises beneficial for various situations or ailments, including stress reduction, anxiety relief, calming or energizing your calm nervous, and for sicknesses.
The section on “Exercises for Adults and Children” would be most useful for yoga teachers, parents, and educators to learn more about the mechanics of breathing science. I’d suggest seeing if your library has this book first so you can see if it’s a good fit for your needs.
15 Hour Anatomy of Breath course, by Your Yoga Flow
Presented by Juan Villegas, this informative course takes a deep dive into the anatomy of breathing if you are looking for further examples and evidence of the benefits of breathing well. You will learn more about the anatomy of the diaphragm, muscles used for breathing, and ways to teach breathing exercises.
For visual learners, this course is an accessible way to learn about the anatomy of breath through visuals, lecture, and practice—from the comfort of your home!
#5: PRINT: Breathing Poster
Click the link below to download the Pause Breath Poster to post in your classroom, on your bulletin board, or on your fridge. Having a quick visual reminder of the breath has proven to be a valuable reference for children to come back to time and time again when they need a moment to pause and regulate their minds.
“A student was angry and kicked me under the table. I said, ‘I can see that you are angry. Is that correct? Are you angry?’ The student nodded. I said, ‘I am too. How about both of us go to the Pause Breath poster and practice to help us calm down?’ He nodded again, and I followed him over to the poster. I gave him a three-minute timer, and we practiced. When the buzzer went off, we talked about what had happened, how we felt, and how to be safer and more mindful in the future. He cleaned everything up and got back to his small group work. We both felt so much more regulated!”– May