One of my favorite methods for introducing breath awareness and diaphragmatic breathing to kids is a technique I learned during my teacher training in Toronto with Rainbow Kids Yoga. I call it Rock-A-Bye breathing; bringing awareness to the rise and fall of the belly by placing a small stuffed animal on a child’s stomach and noticing as the animal moves up and down to the rhythm of the breath. By teaching kids to breathe fully and deeply (diaphragmatic breathing) we teach them how to activate their parasympathetic nervous system, which induces relaxation and receptivity. This is a great awareness technique that kids can use when they are experiencing stress and worry, and a great way to help calm the mind before bedtime.
With younger children, I often capture their interest by sharing that I have a friend (small stuffed animal) that is ready for a nap and that I need their help rocking the animal to sleep. Older children enjoy when they are offered a stuffed animal and learn to notice the effects of breathing fully, watching the small animal rise and fall.
With each full inhale through the nostrils, the animal rises with the belly, and with each slow extended exhale the animal gently rides the breath back down. To assist in extending the exhale, I often ask children to imagining that they’re exhaling air all the way down their legs to their toes.
Rock-A-Bye breathing can be used at the end of a yoga session during shavasana or on it’s own coupled with quite music and dimmed lights. In my experience this technique works wonders with even younger preschool-aged children, keeping them in shavasana for up to five minutes!
Once introduced, this tends to become a favorite and is often requested during my yoga sessions. It no longer amazes me that children favor shavasana and Rock-A-Bye breathing. When we teach children how to cultivate calmness by simply coming back to the body and paying attention to their breath we are empowering them to go within to find their own calm and relaxation. What a gift!
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Below is a great video for young children that teaches belly breathing with Elmo. Check it out!