Bringing awareness to the breath is a fundamental part of any yoga practice, but it is also important for our lives off of our mats. As adults, we feel the physiological and emotional benefits of breath awareness, but children can also benefit from conscious breathing.
Pranayama practices encourage us to elongate our breath. The way that a person manipulates breathing dictates the way that energy flows through the body. For children, who are bombarded with over stimulating environments, mastery of the breath can allow them to self-regulate their behavior. Anxiety reduction and impulse-control are two of a multitude of benefits that children can receive from understanding how to use their breath.
Many of the same pranayama practices that are beneficial for adults can be helpful for children. When teaching breathing techniques to children, the presentation is important. The techniques can be taught as part of a kid's yoga sequence, or they may be explored independently of a physical practice. Keep the information light and fun to make it more accessible for young minds. Assess whether the complexity of the breathing technique is age-appropriate. For very young children, teaching them to slow the breath is more important than focusing on whether they are breathing through their mouth or nostrils. Layers of complexity can be added later.
A common way to encourage diaphragmatic breathing for children is through the help of a small stuffed animal. Ask the child to lie flat on his or her back. Place the stuffed animal on the belly and encourage him or her to try to lift the toy with their breath without allowing it to topple. After the child masters deep breathing like this, call attention to how this breath affects his or her feelings. Through this simple technique, children can learn to harness the power of the breath to handle any number of stressful situations.
Another useful breathing technique to teach children is Brahmari (Bee) Breath. To teach children to adopt this method, they need only to sit up straight, inhale deeply, and then exhale with a buzzing sound. This pranayama will reduce anxiety. The longer they can buzz like bees on the exhale, the greater the calming effect of this breath will be.
Breath is a life-giving and life-living tool. A child that is capable of regulating his or her breath can control his or her energy. Brahmari Breath and deep breathing with a stuffed animal helper are two of many breathing exercises appropriate for children. Learning pranayama at an early age gives children the opportunity to reap the benefits of breath awareness for a lifetime.