In the last issue, I wrote about how to think about classroom movement breaks by assessing how it is working, adjusting the movements to support all children’s needs, and always ending with deep breathing. This issue will be focus on the why and how to use breathing as a self-regulation tool.
Brainwaves is a monthly newsletter designed to create some “brainwaves” within my community of colleagues, friends and clients.
What happens when we breathe?
We breath so often, we don’t even think about it! We can go for days without eating but we can’t go for minutes without breathing!
We breath to supply our body with oxygen which is needed to create energy in our body’s cells. When we inhale, the diaphragm muscle flexes and draws air into our lungs. This is the beginning of the process that converts oxygen into energy. In the process of making that energy, carbon dioxide is created. Your body needs to get rid of carbon dioxide, so it breathes it out!
We have two styles of breathing
1) Relaxed Abdominal Breathing – This is a slow, calm style of breathing where we breathe mainly from our abdomen. There is very little movement in our chest. Practicing this style of breathing reduces muscle tension and anxiety levels within 60 seconds because it stimulates the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).
2) Stressed Chest Breathing – When we are stressed, we experience the fight/flight response. This speeds up the amount of breaths we take resulting in faster, shallower, chest breathing. This helps us in the short term but if we are constantly triggering the fight/flight response, we can begin to habitually breathe with our upper chest even though the stress may be over. This style of breathing sends signals to the brain and stimulates the Sympathetic (the fight/flight) Nervous System (ANS).
Research has shown that the way we breathe can have a very powerful effect on how stressed we feel.
Recent brain research states that inhaling and exhaling through the nose is most beneficial. Extending the exhalation is critical as the brain registers the act of exhaling as calming.
Children can be taught how to breathe from their abdomen. It can be helpful to have children lie down and place something on their belly, such as a stuffie, toy, or something weighted that will help them to feel the sensation of their abdomen rising and falling with the breath. Try to help them to slow their rate of breathing. Some children will want to close their eyes and some will need to keep their eyes open. Here are some great you tube clips:
Swimming Stuffies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSShnzaz-8A&t=5s
Sesame Street: Common and Colbie Caillat – “Belly Breathe” with Elmo
“Just Breathe” by Julie Bayer Salzman & Josh Salzman (Wavecrest Films) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVA2N6tX2cg
Breath Meditation for Kids https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CvF9AEe-ozc
Anxiety web site breathing handout https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/calm_breathing.pdf
Children who need more support?
Some children have poor interoception and literally can not feel their abdomen rising and falling. They will benefit from a slightly weighted object on their abdomen. They may also require a clear structure while breathing (e.g. counting or sound cues) and an external environmental focus (eg. background nature sounds, ambient music, white noise).