When I was a kid in the 80’s I used to accompany my mom to her yoga class.
This was before yoga was the phenomenon it is today. The class was taught by a Swedish woman named Ulla and it was light on sweating (we never did chaturanga) and heavy on breathing. So for a time in my tweens, Saturdays were spent breathing and posing next to my mom. Sweet memories!
Then in my early 20s, before I became a theater teacher, I toyed with teaching yoga to support my acting habit. My own yoga teacher in Grad School, Annie Piper, was hugely influential in connecting courage, stamina and calm to our theater work at NYU. We would listen to Jeff Buckley, sweat and maybe cry.
And I have since tried to keep up with yoga (albeit with glaring gaps in my practice while in the throes of motherhood). The breathing work specifically feels so important now. I use breath to calm down when the challenges of life-work are overwhelming. But I’m also working to impart how crucial breathing is to Nathaniel and all my students. I do this through playful breath practices.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to breath with kids. You can use them to calm down, to energize, to change-it-up, as a gateway to meditation.
Follow the Leader with Breath
This connects the body with the breath. Play the game Follow the Leader first so kids have an immediate frame-of-reference. Our expert collaborator, Dr Belinda Bellet, turned me onto this gateway to mindfulness and she weighs in on why this breath-game is so helpful for our kids.
-sitting quietly, ask kids to imagine that the brain is the follower and the breath is the leader
Practice simple breathing while side-coaching them through this image
This helps with letting go of thoughts and allows a concrete-yet-playful image for kids to attach to in order to start a meditation practice. Use it before bed to induce calm and groundedness.
Breath of Fire
One of the most central breaths in the pranayama practice. Kids love the idea that they are fanning the flame in their belly. It is a great way to shift your perspective and work on stamina since the longer you can sustain this breath the more benefits you will see.
- Close the mouth
- Breath in half-way
- Vigorously pump the air out again and again through your nose focusing only on the exhale
This breath helps to bring loads of oxygen to the brain, expands lung capacity and balances the nervous system and releases toxins.
The joy of this breath is that you get to tense up like crazy and then release it all in a great big face. The name is also a great way in for our kids who can immediately identify with the lion and his powerful, unapologetic exhale.
- Sit on your knees
- On the inhale clench everything.
- On the exhale let it all go, stick out your tongue, look up at your third eye and make a big sound.
This is a cleansing breath and also pretty hilarious. I love it as a brain-break, or a way to change up the energy if there is friction or clashing in the house. I’ve used it successfully to avoid a timeout!
Enjoy these breathing techniques and let me know which breath you love to help your kids get calm, focused and energized!