Within the School Breathe programme, we focus on THREE fundamentals of breathing well, which are:
1) My Nose Knows
The breath should always enter and leave via the nose. Many children (and adults) are mouth breathers, where they take the air in and out of the mouth. This can have a ripple effect on all other systems of the body – stress and anxiety can rise, immunity can decrease and over-breathing occurs which can leave us feeling drained and exhausted. Try this breathing exercise for adults and children to encourage nasal breath. It’s best for adults to practice this a few times, and then show their child.
- Builds emotional resilience
- Soothes the nervous system
- Regulates body temperature
- Balances left and right sides of the brain
- Increases lung volume
- Reduces blood pressure and heart rate
- Sit in an upright but relaxed position.
- Take a few long slow breaths in and out of the nose: when you breathe in, feel the belly rise and sitting bones connect with the floor or chair. When you breathe out, soften the shoulders, face and jaw. Always allow space between the top jaw and bottom jaw. Relax the hands and face. Over-thinking a situation can make the facial muscles tense – encourage these muscles to soften.
- Raise your right hand to your face and using your index or ring finger, press on the outside of your LEFT NOSTRIL, enough to block 90% of the airflow.
- Inhale slowly through the RIGHT NOSTRIL. Imagine the air ‘climbing the mountain of your nose!’
- Hold the breath in momentarily with your awareness on the expanse of the lower belly.
- With the right thumb, BLOCK THE RIGHT NOSTRIL, and
- BREATHE OUT slowly through the LEFT NOSTRIL. Visualise the air climbing down the mountain/nose. Allow the exhale to be longer than the inhale.
- Now breathe IN THROUGH THE LEFT nostril, hold the breath and (release the thumb) and breathe OUT THROUGH THE RIGHT nostril.
- Then BREATHE IN through the RIGHT nostril. Suspend the breath. BREATHE OUT through the LEFT nostril.
- Repeat this rhythm 5 – 20 rounds. Have this image of the air ‘climbing up and down the mountain as you breathe in and out.
- For the final round, take a few breaths through both nostrils.
- Notice if any of these feelings are lighter, or maybe if this energy starts to move you may notice tears or ripples of energy throughout the body.
2) My Belly Glows
A healthy breath should be where, as you breathe in, the diaphragm is fully engaged and this creates a natural rounding and gentle expansion of the lower belly. So many children hold their bellies in and don’t breathe properly.
- Cultivates a diaphragmatic breath
- Activates the relaxation response
- Encourages a deeper sleep
A simple and quick way of encouraging the belly to rise is to ask the child to lay down on their backs with their arms and legs relaxed and place one of their favourite (make sure it’s very light, soft and about the size of their hand) cuddly toy on their bellies. As they breathe in the toy should rise and as they breathe out the toy should lower. The belly should glow and grow like the summer sun. Practice this before your child goes to sleep – a ‘belly breath’ will trigger the relaxation response and help cultivate a deeper sleep. Or they can practice it first thing in the morning to help them start the day in a calmer state.
3) My Breath Flows
With a rise in hours of children’s screen time, and children being seated for longer than it is healthy, there is an emerging habit of ‘breath holding’ (tech apnea is rising in adults too) whereby children are subconsciously holding their breath that over time, creates unwanted tension within the body. Breath-holding can cause the teeth to clench which results in a tight jaw muscle, built-up tension in the intercostal muscles, shoulder muscles create an ‘Upper Chest’ breath which can cause feelings of stress and anxiety. The breath should always be light and flowing with no extended breath holds.
- Cultivates a nasal breath
- Releases tension in the accessory muscles
- Encourages a healthy belly breath
Ask children to place one hand on their upper chest (just below the clavicles) and one hand on the lower belly (just below the belly button) and ask them which part of their body is moving more. Upper chest or lower belly? The lower belly indicates a healthy breath but there is always room for improvement. If the hand on the upper chest is moving more, regular breath practice will help them reactivate a healthy diaphragmatic breath.
Now ask the children to place both hands on their lower belly and breathe in through the nose for a count of 3 (older children will be able to count to 4 or 5) and breathe out of the nose for the same count. In through the nose. Out through the nose. Make sure the face is relaxed, No clenching of the jaw.
Now ask them to imagine their breath is like the ocean, entering and leaving the body with ease. No pauses between breaths. The belly should rise with each inhale. See if they can connect each breath so that the inhale and the exhale feel like one continuous loop. Like an ocean wave. Practice for just 2 minutes. Then return to a natural breath pattern. Ask them to notice how they feel.