The theme of this month’s blog articles has been all about emotional experiences and regulation. In closing this chapter, this blog will focus on using breathwork as a means of promoting self-soothing and regulation for children.
Breathing is not just about taking in enough oxygen to survive and releasing the carbon dioxide that is not needed. An act so closely tied to our very state of survival implies that it is inextricable from our emotional centre and state of being. There is a wealth of research that exists regarding this link and how breathing and emotions have a cyclical relationship. Our emotional state can influence our breathing pattern, which in turn can either heighten or reduce the intensity of what we are feeling. Think about it- when you feel relaxed, your breathing is deep, regular and gentle, however when you are anxious or angry, your breath may feel more choppy, irregular and shallow.
Well then, what is breathwork? Breathwork refers to the act of using breathing exercises as a means of producing a sense of wellness, calm and regulation. And this is something that can easily be done in any setting and is child friendly! In fact, breathwork can be immensely beneficial as a self-soothing tool for children, as it is an action that they can control with their own bodies, encouraging them to become more attuned to themselves.
Breathing is connected to the nervous system, which is responsible for regulating our responses to our internal and external environments. When we are in a relaxed state, our breathing is being regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our rest and relaxation state of being.
However, when we feel anxious, afraid or uncomfortable, our breathing is being influenced by the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-flight-freeze reaction to stress. This redirects our body’s entire system of functioning into focusing solely on survival, shutting down higher order functions such as thought, reason and emotional regulation.
This is why is is difficult to “talk” a child out of a stressed or anxious state- it is important for children to first return to feeling safe before anything else can be processed. Breathwork offers one such tool.
Here are 3 exercises that may be helpful to you and your child as a means of soothing and returning to a place of feeling safe. As with any other practice, it is useful to practice these exercises first when you and your child are in a calm and regulated state to become familiar with how that feels. This will encourage them to become comfortable with using breathwork as a way to self-soothe.
1. Belly Breathing:
Also called diaphragmatic breathing, this is simply the act of deepening your breath by fully utilising the abdominal muscles- expanding the belly while breathing in and flattening the belly while breathing out.
Make a game out of it! You and your little one can lie down on a soft and comfortable surface next to each other. Place a book on your bellies and make a game out of trying to balance the book while breathing. Each of you take a deep breath in through the nose, seeing how big you can fill out your belly within your own levels of comfort. Breathe out fully through the nose, pushing the air out with your belly, feeling the book rise and fall with each breath.
2. Resonant Breathing:
This breathing exercise reduces the rate of breathing by encouraging you to take 5 full breaths per minute by inhaling and exhaling at a count of 5. This is helpful during times of heightened emotion to help your little one come down from a tantrum or anxious period.
Sit somewhere quiet and comfortable with legs crossed and body upright or supported. Take a deep inhale through the nose, counting to 5. Exhale slowly through the mouth for a count of 5. Continue this pattern until it comes naturally and your child feels relaxed.
3. Visualisation Breathing:
This breathing exercise is more suitable for children who are slightly older, and is helpful with reducing anxious or worried feelings and encouraging emotional release.
Sit or lie down somewhere quiet and safe, with eyes closed. As you inhale deeply and slowly, imagine yourself breathing in a warm stream of light in their favourite colour. Hold this breath for a count of 3. As you exhale through the mouth, they visualise yourself blowing out a thick black smoke (representing the anxiety, worry, anger etc.). With each exhale, imagine that the breath becomes lighter and lighter, until eventually you are breathing out clear, clean air.
This exercise is aimed at encouraging slow regulation and calming, and so assure your child that there is no need to rush through the exercise in 3 breath cycles if they need a little longer to soothe themselves.
Breathwork offers a gentle and easy way to soothe, but also a beautiful way to connect and bond with your little one by just being and breathing.
With joy and light,