Research has revealed that diaphragmatic breathing activates a relaxation response in the brain and body. Deep mindful breathing may improve both physical and mental health. Additionally, mindful breathing effects cognition, emotions, and cortisol responses to stress.
5 Powerful Tips for Mindful Breathing
You might think that breathing is automatic—and to a great extent, it is. But you can teach your children (and yourself) to breathe mindfully using these strategies:
Sit or stand up tall. Mindful breathing can be practiced sitting, standing, or lying down. The key is for your child to be relaxed in whatever posture they choose. If sitting or standing, roll the shoulders up by the ears and let them drop down the back, open the chest through the heart, and push the shoulders back and down. Creating a good posture maximizes the effects of mindful breathing.
Breathe slowly. Slowing the breath initiates the relaxation response. When you teach children to breath slowly and extend the exhale, they begin to become aware of how it changes how they feel.
Breathe through the nose. In mindful breathing, children should breathe through the nose unless otherwise instructed. The nasal passage slows the breathing rate, prolongs the exhalation, and is more efficient for the lungs and heart. Breathing through the nose also requires greater focus, which helps children stay connected to their body when breath is linked to movement.
Breathe from the belly, not the chest. Babies fill their bellies with air completely every time they inhale and exhale, but somewhere along the way this calm, healing style is lost and shallow breathing is substituted. Shallow, partial breathing can result in decreased focus, low energy, and heightened anxiety.
Practice. Mindful breathing is like any skill—it takes practice. Incorporating even a short daily practice can change your child’s brain. As children practice breathing mindfully, their brains create new connections or neural pathways. With repeated practice and experience, the brain makes a pathway that is frequently used, which reinforces the habit of responding to stress with mindful breathing.
What does the research say about Mindful Breathing?
A study in 2016 examined whether deep breathing is capable of improving mood and reducing stress. The results obtained from the research support deep breathing as an effective intervention in mood and stress both in terms of self-reported evaluations and of objective parameters, such as heart rate and salivary cortisol levels.
Teaching children mindful breathing is an important coping skill.
Mindful breathing teaches children that they have control over how they feel, which is something most children do not realize. Mindful breathing allows children to have power over their physical and mental energy, which, in turn, teaches them to self-regulate and engage in mindful behavior.
Mindful Breathing Plays a Fundamental Role in Anxiety Therapy
Teaching children to relax is a an important component of therapy for a variety of disorders such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD. By learning to breathe deeply and rhythmically under controlled conditions such as during occupational therapy sessions or aerial yoga classes, your child will gain the ability to draw on their breath and relax during times of stress. The goal is for the breathing strategies to become an automatic habit to counteract anxiety under a variety of conditions.
Check out our online kid’s aerial yoga classes and online kid’s aerial yoga teacher training or buy my book, Mindfulness for Children, which details effective ways to improve both physical and mental health. Make sure the whole family—even the little ones—are embracing the full range of benefits with physical movement and mindfulness.
Perciavalle V, Blandini M, Fecarotta P, Buscemi A, Di Corrado D, Bertolo L, Fichera F, Coco M. The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurol Sci. 2017 Mar;38(3):451-458. doi: 10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8. Epub 2016 Dec 19. PMID: 27995346.
Ma, X., Yue, Z. Q., Gong, Z. Q., Zhang, H., Duan, N. Y., Shi, Y. T., Wei, G. X., & Li, Y. F. (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 874. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874