Inhale, Exhale – Let’s Breathe Better Together
Breathe with me. In, 2, 3, 4, and out 2, 3, 4. It’s essential to life. In the womb, we practice it. We build muscles and habits. As newborns, our brains quickly learn to do it automatically. As we grow and live, we do more and more things on autopilot: wake up, zip from place to place, check off tasks on our To-Do List, go to bed, and repeat. Living on autopilot, lost in the daily routine, we lose appreciation for the beauty of life. We miss out on the flowers that bloom, their colours, and their perfume. We miss out on how those experiences make us feel: awe, gratitude, peace, connection.
When we only breathe on autopilot, we’re missing out on a superpower. By learning to harness our breath we can use it as another tool to help make life a little more magical, more fulfilling and more peaceful.
With the increasing popularity of mental wellness apps, breathing exercises are readily available. I’d like to offer to you a guide on how to help your little ones learn to harness their breathing. I’ll cover how and when to use breathing to help them regulate their bodies, their emotions, and develop a familiarity with feeling centred and calm.
To succeed with teaching your little ones, it is important to practice a skill (this skill or any other) outside of when they need it. That way, when they need it, it’s familiar and they have a fondness for it. I don’t know about you, but the idea of someone asking me to perform a new task when my brain and emotions are in high gear sends me into greater distress!
The following are my favourite easy breathing techniques with tips on how to help your child engage in them:
Techniques to Perfect Your Focusing or Calming Breath
- 4-second inhale, 4-second hold, 4-second exhale, 4-second hold (repeat)
- Locate a four sided object the room (a mirror, picture, block, tv, desk, shelving unit, etc)
- Trace the shape together with your fingers while performing each segment of the exercise, each 4 second segment last for one side. (insert window graphic with arrows).
This technique is helpful when your child’s emotions are overwhelming them (or you!) If they are not ready to look around the room, they might like you to ‘draw’ the shape in the air, on the floor, on their back, or in their palm. As their breathing calms, have them take over tracing the shape.
How to Breathe for Better Sleep
4-second inhale through the nose, 6-second exhale through the mouth (repeat)
- Do this with your child while tucking them in, or reading a bedtime story
- Make noises on the exhale, a sigh, or a silly snore, a whistle, etc
- A positive affirmation or giving themselves a compliment on the exhale is my favourite!
- “I am” with the inhale
- “Kind, smart, safe, loved, and calm” with the exhale
This technique is excellent for when a child’s emotions or thoughts are making it difficult to settle into sleep. Those times when their brain just won’t “shut off.” Doing this breathing with them for a minute or two does wonder for slowing their heart rate, signalling to their body and brain that it is time to rest.
Breathing for Energy
(4-second inhale, 2-second complete exhale)
I know it seems like children might not need this one very much. I am so envious of their seemingly boundless energy! However, even those little bodies can use a boost sometimes! Have you ever been taking a long walk, or a hike with a little one? Their energy ebbs and flows. First they’re rambunctious and the next, their energy flags and what you hear is complaints like “I don’t want to,” or “I’m tired!” What they’re tellling out is that their legs are tired! Often they don’t know why they suddenly aren’t enjoying this activity anymore, and they have difficulty expressing what they need.
This is a great time to use this breathing exercise:
- Find a spot out of the way to rest
- Give them some water and/or a snack
- Talk them through the brething pattern and emulate it with them.
- Explain how what they are doing is breathing the energy of the world into their mind and body, if you’re feelng creative throw in a little vizualization (engage their imagination!) like they’re a tree! Breathing in the sunlight for energy to go and grow!
After a few short minutes, your little one should be ready to continue on the journey!
Teaching our kids to breath mindfuly and with intetion (to focus, rest and energize) when they’re young and developing will give them more tools to navigate life as they become more independent. They’ll be able to navigate their emotions more easily finding balance no matter what life throws at them!
Our thoughts and emotions can activate our body’s nervous system – which preps us for a distress action response – I’m sure you’ve heard of fight or flight! It’s how our brain tries to keep our body safe, by pushing it to action! It’s found in those moments like the adrenaline rush at the top of a roller coaster, or the panicked heartbeat when you’re about to present your project to a room of peers and superiors.
We can help ourselves return to calm, focus and emotional balance by using our body’s breathing to signal to our brain and emotions that we are safe, capable and ready. Your breath is a super power, and we all have it!