Takin' It Down....
Consciously slowed breathing is a power tool when it comes to emotional self-regulation! (There are countless iterations: deep-breathing; mindful breathing; heart-centered breathing; diaphragmatic breathing; abdominal breathing; belly breathing, the list goes on and on…) Regardless of the label, the objective is to relax, center… “take it down a few!”
Here’s Why: consciously slowed breathing has been shown to evoke a “relaxation response” in the nervous system, sending a signal to the brain and body that you are safe. This in turn, naturally slows the heartbeat, stabilizes blood pressure and helps you to disengage from distracting thoughts and sensations.
For a host of reasons we are a culture of shallow breathers. Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion, robbing the lowest part of the lungs of their full share of oxygenated air. This can make one feel short of breath, anxious and stressed.
The good news is that babies and young children are naturally deep breathers. By encouraging consciously slowed breathing we are simply highlighting and celebrating a natural predisposition!
The Breadcrumbs “Superpower Breathing Practice” was developed by combining centuries-old contemplative breathing practices with the groundbreaking research at the Institute of HeartMath, in a playful easy to assimilate practice for children between the ages of 4-7. To date we’ve been breaking down the Breadcrumbs Superpower Breathing Practice, as follows:
“I place my hands on my heart, and a smile on my face.
I imagine that I am in my quiet, happy place…
I breathe in like a flower, and out like a shower…
Children are naturally conscious of just how they breathe when they are trying to absorb the scent of a flower. Offer them a live flower and enjoy breaking down the process:
INHALE - Do you enjoy having your eyes open or closed? How long is your in-breath? Can you feel your ribs and belly expanding as you slowly take in more and more of the lovely scent? Can you feel the aroma being absorbed by your whole body? How does it feel? When you’ve taken in as much as you can, hold onto it for a moment.
EXHALE - After such a long, slow, deep in-breath, it’s natural to gush-out a big, quick exhale. Do you notice your ribs and belly collapsing as the air rushes out of your body? Do you prefer to breathe out of your mouth or your nose, or both? Work with them to try to make the length and pace of the exhale match that of the inhale.
JUST FOR FUN: As they are exhaling, invite them to imagine that they are whales… swimming peacefully in the deep blue sea. Invite them to imagine that they have a blowhole at the tippy top of their head. Envision all of the energy and beauty of the scent of the flower shooting out the top of their head and pouring down over and around them - “Out Like a Shower.”
TOGETHER - Continue breathing in this fashion. Gently remind them to breathe “In like a flower, and out like a shower. In like a flower and out like a shower. In like a flower and out like a shower.” Be sure to let them know your feelings about this special “Time-out, for Time-in.” How do you feel after you’ve taken it down? Why is this time together so important and special to you?
Try to carve out one time a day to practice this soothing, centering breathing together. Start with one minute and gradually increase to 2 or 3 minutes as interest and attention span allow.
REINFORCE IT - Two wonderful books to help cement these practices are:
Cropsey, Melinda (2018). Penelope’s Superpower, Breadcrumbs Publishing, Longmeadow, MA.; and
Magoon, Scott (2014). Breathe, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, NY, NY.