Life happens. And for kids that can include scraped knees, sugar rushes, unbridled excitement, and scary situations. These things happen, sometimes they are weathered well and sometimes things seem to downward spiral, leaving everyone feeling unsettled, and out of sorts.
One of the best benefits of yoga for kids (and their parents) are self-regulation and care skills. Using the breath to welcome calm is one of the best tools of the practice. It can be just what is needed to slow or stop the downward spiral when it happens. So, here are three practices you can try with your kids. They are perfect for settling energy and diffusing tense situations kids (and grown-ups) may experience.
When learning breath practices, it’s best to try them when kids are relatively calm and receptive. With regular practice, they can then be used in times of stress, conflict, sadness, or agitation. Pick one method and practice it with your kids every day for about a week. If you can, practice a couple of times of day, like before sitting down to eat, or before bedtime. Once they’ve mastered one practice, then you can move on to learning another.
Pinwheel Breath: Start in a comfortable seated position. Use a pinwheel or other object for focus. You just need something that will move with the breath like a tissue, scarf, dandelion, leaf, or fluffy stuffed animal. Holding your pinwheel or focus item a few inches from you mouth, take a big relaxed inhale, then gently blow all of the air out. Try to have the exhales be longer than the inhales. Practice 3-5 times at first and build up to 5-10 times.
Tapping Breath: From a comfortable seated position, open the hands, turn the palms up, and rest the backs of the hands on thighs or knees. As you inhale, tap the fingers to the thumb: first the pointer, then the middle, then the ring, and then the pinky. As you exhale, tap the fingers again, but this time in the reverse order. The tapping acts a natural metronome, and helps to create a soothing rhythm. Try to tap slower and slower as you practice. Practice 3-5 times at first and build up to 5-10 times.
Bumblebee Breath: Start in a comfortable seated position with your hands in your lap or on your heart. Take a deep breath in and gently hum as you exhale. The hum should be loud enough that someone next to you can hear you, but not so loud that someone across the room can. Practice 3-5 times at first and build up to 5-10 times. With babies and really little kids, you can snuggle them to your chest as you practice the breath. The vibration of the hum is very soothing. When they are ready, they can model your humming.
To make this even more relaxing, create cup shapes with the hands and gently cover the eyes. Make sure the kids are not pressing into the eye socket, they just want to block out the light. To take it one step further, use the thumbs to gently cover the ears. Blocking out light and sound will accentuate the vibration of the hum, increasing the calming effects. Bumblebee breath is also very good for dealing with the discomfort of headaches.
When you can do these breath practices easily sitting down, then try them reclined or standing.
These breathing practices are valuable tools to help kids manage their energy and circumstances. Instead of being pulled into a downward spiral when things get a little out of control, the simple act of breathing can bring calm and peace.