Take a breath. The power of a deep, belly breath is like no other. It can send a signal to the brain and body to let us know we are safe.
When we become stressed, we leave the feeling of safety and start to sneak into flight. The first things that change are our heart rate and breathing - they both speed up. Breathing also moves from the belly to the chest and becomes shallow. Even though the stressor was being told that you would not have time to finish your math, your body begins to prepare to face this threat.
You might also notice an increase in the rate of speech and tightening of the neck muscles.
The whole thing is automatic, and we have very little control over getting into flight. However, we do have a secret override weapon that can help your body settle and get the front part of your brain back on board: breathing.
Although our bodies breathe without even thinking, deep breathing is a skill that needs to be practiced. We need to be really good at it so that it can be called upon when we start to get stressed. When the adults notice that the voice volume is increasing and the muscles are getting tight, it’s time to ask everyone to take a deep breath.
In order to get buy-in from kids, breathing needs to be fun and easy to remember. Channeling my inner David Letterman, here are my Top Ten Ways to Practice Breathing:
10. Dragon Breathing - Get ready to breathe fire! Bring your fists up near your temples and take a deep breath in through your nose. When you breathe out, open your hands wide and stick out your tongue. Make your best dragon noise (mine is kind of like a “blehhhhhh”).
9. Firework Breathing - This one’s quite a show. Bring your fists up near your temples and take a deep breath in through your nose. When you breathe out, make firework shooting noises, and open and shut your hands like bursting lights.
8. Colour Breathing - Think of your favourite colour; the one that makes you most happy. Now, think of the worst colour; the one that makes you feel stressed and worried. Breathe IN your happy colour, and breathe OUT your overwhelmed colour.
7. Chest to Belly Breathing - This one is helpful in practicing body awareness. You’ll be breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth the whole time. When you start, place one hand on your chest. Take a few breaths this way, and then move your hand to your belly. Try to move your breath into your belly, pushing your hand out as you breathe in.
6. Rectangle Breathing - I like to use my finger to trace a square on my leg to help guide me. Making a square, take a deep breath in as I draw one line, then out as you draw the next. Draw another side while you breathe in, and the last line as you breathe out. Continue for a few rounds.
5. Pinwheel Breathing - Grab a pinwheel from the garden and see who can make it spin the longest. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. The trick is to have a long, slow exhale so that the spinning lasts a long time.
4. Windy Day Breathing - This one is especially helpful if your kiddo is feeling overwhelmed. Get down to eye level with the child and cue them to make your hair blow from the ‘wind.’ Remember to breathe in through your nose!
3. Bunny Breathing - With Easter around the corner, this one seems fitting. Take three quick sniffs in through your nose, followed by one long breath out. Scrunch up your nose like a bunny!
2. Shoulder Rolls - This one has nice movement that helps relax the whole body. As you breathe in through your nose, roll your shoulders up towards your ears. As you breathe out, push your shoulders back down. Notice how loose your muscles feel at the end.
1. Deep Dive - I got this one from my SLP Pal. To learn it, you’ll need a sink or bowl full of water; warm water is best. Take a deep breath in through your nose while bringing your hands up by your face. Blow out all your air as your hands ‘dive’ into the water!
Choose a time each day to practice breathing; small habit changes become behaviour changes. Maybe every time you go to the bathroom, you take 3 deep breaths. Or, before each meal or snack. Another great time to take some deep breaths is before instructions are given. Which breathing trick are you excited to try out?
“Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body.” - Thich Nhat Hanh