Kids are under a lot of pressure. Not only are there rules and limitations everywhere, there are an equal amount of expectations and responsibilities. From fulfilling their roles as a child, a team player, a student, a leader, a follower, kids are susceptible to stress (physical and emotional), from various strong emotions such as worry, fear, anger and sadness. These feelings are a natural part of life, and the sooner we can give our children tools to manage the roller coaster of emotions, the better they not only cope, but thrive, in their environment.
Below are three simple breath techniques I have done when teaching yoga to children that can be done anywhere to help relieve tension, relax the body and mind, and slow down the physical symptoms of stress.
1.) DOUBLE EXHALE BREATH
Benefits: calms the nervous system, slows down racing thoughts, slows heart rate, brings focus to breath
How to do it: With eyes closed, inhale deeply and slowly for 4 counts, and then slowly exhale for 8 (whatever the inhale, double the number for exhales). Sometimes, it's best to start small, with 2 inhales and 4 exhales, then slowly increase the amount. Inhales and exhales are done through the nose, if possible. Otherwise, inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. *Sometimes keeping the mouth closed is anxiety-provoking to younger children, or they just don’t understand.
Good for: anxiety, fears, trouble getting to sleep, children that appreciate numbers and logic, times you aren’t able to lay down, before a big presentation or game
2.) BALLOON BELLY BREATH
Benefits: calms the nervous system, helps release tightness in stomach (especially related to fears and worry), helps with digestion, brings focus to breath
How to do it: While lying on the back with eyes closed, place both hands (together or apart) on the stomach. On the inhale, push out the belly, visualizing a balloon (ask the child for their favorite color, and make this the balloon color). The “balloon” (belly) slowly fills up on the inhale, and slowly releases on the exhale. Just as you slowly blow up a balloon, you slowly blow up the belly. Slow and steady is key. Can be done standing, but the preference is lying down for all muscles to be completely relaxed.
Good for: anxiety and worries, holding body tight due to anger or anxiety, children that need the visual techniques of relaxation, times you can lay down
3.) LION’S ROAR BREATH
Benefits: helps release frustration and anger, assists in reducing tension in the jaw and neck
How to do it: Take a deep inhale, puffing up the chest and raising the head (looking straight ahead). On the exhale, open the mouth as wide as possible, stick out the tongue (flat out in front) and roar (or give a hearty breath). Additionally on the exhale, release the shoulders and chest down as the breath comes out. Repeat at least 3 times, but can continue if child finds it beneficial.
Good for: oncoming tantrums, frustrations in play, younger kids who can’t count
Now, don't let the title fool you. Any of these breaths can be used for adults. Even if you can count, you still are human and experience frustration and anger. The above breath techniques are excellent strategies to cope with stress and anxiety.
*Updated April 20, 2016