I am pleased to introduce yoga therapist Mira Binzen to you today on Mama OT! Mira is going to share with us why conscious breathing is one of the best tools we have to help children regulate their nervous systems, and how we can use a few simple yet powerful breathing exercises to help kids calm and focus their bodies and minds.
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Full, even breathing can soothe the mind and body while evoking a sense of calm. It’s an easy, effective strategy that is often overlooked.
Conscious breathing (simply being aware of the breath) is one of the best tools we have to regulate the nervous system, the home base of sensory processing. We all feel “dis-regulated” at times and it makes sense to have breathing strategies in place. The more they are practiced, the easier it is to turn to one in time of need. When a child feels overwhelmed from sensory input, is frustrated with a task, has low energy or too much energy for the situation, or is just feeling a little grumpy, a few conscious breaths can make a big difference.
This is not news to most, but anyone who has asked a child to “take a deep breath” may have come upon some resistance. It’s kind of like trying to feed a child broccoli. There has to be a little enticement, a little fun…a little magic. Here are three simple ways to get your child breathing better.
1. Be a Balloon
Crouch down and hug your knees. Reach the arms up and out as you come up to standing, filling your balloon (that’s you). Then, let all the air out as you flutter to the ground like a deflated balloon. Repeat a few times. Fluttering and flopping to the floor adds proprioceptive input (body awareness) that can also be soothing to the nervous system. Engage your child by asking what color the balloon is or what you may be celebrating with balloons.
2. Open Your Wings
This can be done sitting or standing. Just as the name suggests, invite your child to reach their arms out to the sides and up overhead just as a majestic bird opens its wings. This process stretches the intercostal muscles and invites in a fuller breath. The breath comes in as the wings go up. The breath moves out as wings come down. Repeat several times. You don’t even need to mention the breath. The movement facilitates breathing. Engage your child by asking what color her wings are, what kind of a bird he is or to where she might fly.
3. Sleeping Crocodile
A crocodile waits, still and quiet by the edge of the lake. He looks like he is sleeping but he is waiting patiently for a snack! Lie down on the floor on your tummy. A bed is too soft for this and not recommended. Stack one hand on top of the other and turn the head to rest a cheek on your stacked hands. The floor gives great feedback for deep, abdominal breathing. It’s this kind of breathing that sends a message to the nervous system to relax. Technically deep, even breathing shifts the nervous system from sympathetic dominance (“Fight or flight”) to parasympathetic dominance (“Rest and digest).
While lying on the floor, it’s easy to feel your tummy spread out on the floor as you breathe in and to feel your whole body settle into the ground as you breathe out. I often suggest to the children in my yoga classes that they can choose to practice this sleeping crocodile breathing anytime, like when a brother or sister is bugging them. They can calm their mind instead of getting in a fight. Its their choice. Engage your child by asking if she can feel her tummy on the floor and if it makes her mind feel busy or quiet.
Conscious breathing for just a few minutes a day, several times a day can empower both you and your child to handle fluctuating moods, energy and focus. Full, even breathing is the foundation of well-being.
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Mira Binzen, E-RYT, RCYT, has been sharing the practice of yoga with families since 1999. She is a registered Yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance, a certified iRest Yoga Nidra teacher and a professional Integrative Yoga Therapist. She holds a degree in Child Psychology from The University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and is co-founder of Global Family Yoga. Their Therapeutic Yoga for Children training course is approved for AOTA CEUs.
To find out more visit: http://globalfamilyyoga.com/therapeutic_yoga_for_children/