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Children come into this world breathing like yogis; inhaling through the nose, letting the breath expand the stomach and then the chest. Somewhere along the path to adulthood most of us begin to stifle the breath, turning it into a shallow, empty and intention-less bodily function and many people don’t learn to really breathe again until beginning a yoga practice.
There are numerous benefits experienced by practicing Pranayama for individuals of any age and they include:
- Increasing the amount of oxygen in the body
- Reducing anxiety, tension and stress
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving circulation, digestion and many other organ functions
- Increasing lung capacity and heart and lung health
These are all benefits that you can never be too young to experience and by helping our children develop yogic breathing practices we provide them with a new tool for regulating their feelings and calming themselves down when excited or upset.
Pranayama practice at every stage:
Breathe with your Baby: Holding baby belly to belly and taking full, intentional abdominal breaths (Inhale through the nose, expanding the stomach, then chest and then engaging the diaphragm as you exhale moving it up and in). Not only will this practice facilitate bonding between you and your child, but it also demonstrates an intentional and rhythmic breath that your baby can feel while you breathe. Baby will also benefit from the calming effects this breathing has on you.
Tame your Toddler:As your baby grows, breathing becomes a way to teach toddlers to nurture themselves and can even help to prevent tantrums. Practice breathing with your child to help them calm down when upset or excited and verbally remind them to “take deep breaths” while breathing with them, which will also help you to stay calm. In addition, practice breathing as you put your toddler to sleep which will help them to transition and settle. This practice can be continued with or shared with older children who find self-soothing challenging.
Play with your Preschooler: Keeping children at this age engaged in any activity requires patience, creativity and of course, fun. Depending on the maturity and development of a child at this stage introducing more rhythmic breathing practices modeled after more traditional Pranayama is something to consider. I have found that one way to do this is by making it into a game where we count our inhalations and exhalations. You can count for your child as they breathe, or you can breathe together and count on your fingers. Have fun with it, “Lets see if we can breathe in slowly for a count of four and then breathe out even slower for a count of six.” Controlled inhalations and exhalations are difficult for many adults, so let go of any expectations you may have and remember to have fun. This stage of development is about play-learning and planting the seeds for nourishment in the future.
These are all techniques that I have personally used with success, at home with my own child as well as in the classrooms. By sharing the power of breath with children we guide them towards a life-long practice that can help to heal, reduce stress and self regulate. You are their first teacher and children learn by example, practice yoga Asana and Pranayama where your kids can see. Share with them the reasons why you practice and invite them to join you.
I look forward to sharing more about my own parenting and yoga experiences, until next time,
Ashley Freeman is a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance. Certified in Raja Yoga, her experience includes private in-home lessons, workplace wellness programs, and group instruction teaching various class formats and yoga styles. Find her on Google+