As with adults, I usually start kids classes with some breathing exercises. Having fun while discovering different methods is key! A few exemples are described in this article - you can try it with your own kids and students!
Why teach a child about their breath?How important are breathing exercises for children? Would they be able to understand or practice the varying methods of breathing that we use during our yoga practice? Well I’ll tell you something – kids love working with the breath!! There is so much fun to be had with breathing exercises. They find inner strength and peace, it uplifts them, calms them, and teaches them how to focus in nerve-wracking or anxiety-inducing situations. Some of my students as young as 7 have used a pranayama technique to calm their mind and nerves before a spelling test. Wow!! Imagine if school teachers had these tools and were able to invite their whole class into a pranayama practice before a major exam, or college interview? But that is a discussion for another day – today let’s look at a few fun breathing practices that we can ‘gift’ to our children or other young adults to empower them early on in life.
1. Steam Train Breath
“Imagine the train is speeding up and going faster!”
Pre-school children love this!! Breathing solely through the nose (as we often do during yoga) is detoxifying and stimulates the brain. Sitting either in easy pose (cross-legged) or rock pose (kneeling) with hands resting on thighs or knees, breathe through the nose slowly with a small sniff forcing the breath to sound like a steam train leaving the station. Then gradually speed up the breath – you could say, “Imagine the train is speeding up and going faster!” Allow the children to get the breath up to a fairly rapid pace and then begin to slow again – “The train is approaching another station.” You can do this a couple of times and allow the children to do an elated “Wooooo Woooo” at the end. A fun exercise, and also effective.
2. Dragon Breath
Another great breathing exercise for younger children is Dragon Breath. This encourages children to open the face, stretch the lips and tongue, and direct the breath out into the universe. Starting in rock pose (kneeling), they stretch their arms up to the sky, fingers spread and take a big inhale through the nose. On the exhale, they fling their arms forwards, fingers spread, exhaling through a wide-open mouth as though breathing fire. With the added arm movements, the kids are stretching their upper torso, allowing for breath movement inside the body and stretching the lungs. The constriction in the back of the throat lays the foundations for teaching Ujjayi breath as they get older. Plus, who doesn’t want to pretend they are a dragon?!
3. Bear Breath
Bear Breath is so named as it creates a feeling of rest and peace – much like a bear hibernating for long periods of time. This particular breathing exercise focuses on breath retention and counting, and is great for children ages 8-9 and up, depending on the breath control abilities they already have. Sitting comfortably, eyes closed, the breath will follow this counting pattern: Inhale for a count of 5 Hold the breath in for a count of 3 Exhale for a count of 5 Hold the breath out for a count of 3 Repeat It may take a few rounds before the breath is actually elongated for the full count, but once this is achieved, the children will experience a feeling of peace, mental clarity and joy. Once they have repeated this for 5-7 rounds, ask them to open their eyes and see how they feel. Notice the beauty in their eyes!! Gotta love yoga.
A simple pranayama exercise to quiet their minds and encourage breath awareness is incorporating a mantra with the breath. A chosen mantra is recited either out loud or in the head as you inhale and exhale mindfully. The mantra can be anything uplifting, empowering or calming. The first part is recited on the inhale and the second part on the exhale. You can use a Sanskrit mantra such as Sat (inhale) Nam (exhale), Nama- (inhale) ste (exhale) or even Yo- (inhale) ga (exhale). Some other examples could be: I (inhale) can (exhale) Power (inhale) in me (exhale) Beauty (inhale) and truth (exhale) I (inhale) am (exhale) This is you and your child’s yoga and any personal mantra that enters your heart or mind today is the perfect one.
Our old favorite! Oh how us yoga lovers adore a bit of Ujjayi breathing. This works the same for our younger yogis as well.Ujjayi, often referred to as Ocean Breath or Darth Vader breath, is a bit more complex to teach, so save this for the older children. When instructing Ujjayi Pranayama, I get the kids to imagine they are fogging up a mirror. They then keep this going with their lips closed. Ujjayi breathing not only encourages mindful breathing and an awareness of the breath; it also tones and stimulates the vagus nerve, which in turn activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Any child or teen suffering with anxiety or (more extreme) depression will thank you for this invaluable tool. Pranayama can be done at anytime of the day and for any length of time. Conscious breathing allows a moment of mindfulness – a moment in the present – and I can’t think of any greater gift than to give a child a one-way ticket to peaceful bliss. So altogether now – big inhale – big exhale. Doesn’t that feel wonderful?!