• Mindful Mondays: Using the Breath To Explore Mindfulness With Our Kids

    If we bring kind and curious awareness to our breath, we get clear information on how we’re feeling. In addition to getting insight into our emotions, we also get information about our physical state because we connect with our autonomous nervous system. This can help us find balance even when we’re facing challenges or stressful situations. Think of the way the breath shifts when you face a challenge, are excited or nervous, or when you’re sleepy or energized. Moreover, mindfulness research “suggests that mindful breathing may help to reduce reactivity to repetitive thoughts” and “may offer psychological benefits above and beyond other credible brief stress-management exercises.” In other words, mindfulness of breath can also help reduce knee-jerk responses to rumination and decrease stress. 


    One wonderful thing about mindfulness of breath is that it can be practiced in a fairly straightforward way. 


    In the aforementioned research study, participants were “guided to become aware of physical sensations—especially those associated with the process of breathing—and to observe them without the intention of altering them.” Participants were simply asked to bring attention to the sensations of the breath without doing anything to change or manipulate the breath, yet bringing awareness to the breath in this simple way deeply supported healthy nervous system regulation as well as an ability to focus and manage stress.

     

    Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, explains in his book Full Catastrophe Living that “there are two major ways of practicing mindfulness of breathing. One involves the formal discipline of making a specific time in which you stop all activity, assume a special posture, and dwell for some time in moment-to-moment awareness of the inbreathe and the outbreath…. The second way of practicing using the breath is to be mindful from time to time during the day, or even all day long, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.” In other words, mindfulness of breath can support us at any time, as long as we can remember to pause and bring awareness to the breath.

     

    In this spirit, Little Flower Yoga introduces mindfulness of breath to adults and students early on in our classes. As part of our opening routine, we ask participants to bring one hand to their chest and one hand to their belly to support their awareness of the breath as it moves through the body. We get students into the habit of bringing awareness to their breath whenever someone says something thought provoking, when energy is lacking or abundant, if students seem confused, or if challenging conversations arise in class. We find that inserting this kind of pause supports everyone’s ability to respond to a situation more skillfully.

     

    In addition, because we have the ability to manipulate our breath, the breath can be a great tool to explore mindfulness. We can explore how changing our breath or synching it to movement impacts our experience. We can also learn from our breath by gaining familiarity with how our breath changes in response to different situations or stimuli. Because changing how we breathe can change how we feel, the breath can be a playground for mindfulness. That’s why Little Flower Yoga offers students different breath experiences and asks students to check in and notice how the breath is impacting them. Connecting with the breath is a helpful way to interject a sense of experimentation and curiosity, and it also helps students embody the breath experience rather than just think about their breath. Zinn encourages ”becoming aware of the breath by feeling the sensations associated with it, and by attending to the changing qualities of those breath sensations” (emphasis in original).

                     

    It’s important to note that we avoid telling children how a breath will impact them; we simply suggest that a breath practice might change how they feel. We encourage students to report back to the group or a partner so that their experience, whatever it is, can be validated. We don’t tell students that mindfulness of breath will calm them down, because for some children it might have the opposite effect. What we’re more interested in is bringing awareness to whatever shows up. The hope is that once they’ve experienced a certain way of breathing (through their mouth or nose, with a longer or shorter inhalation or exhalation, or by synching movement to the breath), they will gain more insight into what their breath is communicating. Once students have that awareness, they can decide how to proceed and perhaps even use their breath to help support themselves.

     

    For more mindfulness for children and a breathing practice, check out these resources from The New York Times.


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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  • Mindful Mondays: Bringing Awareness To Our Breath Helps Us Be More Embodied


    Our breath is a wonderful resource because we always have it with us.


    When we bring awareness to our breath, we connect with our autonomous nervous system, which in turn can help us find balance, even when we’re facing challenges or stressful situations. Recent research also seems to suggest that mindfulness of breath may actually change the way our minds work.

     

    If we bring kind and curious awareness to our breath, we can get clear information about how we’re feeling. Think of the way your breath shifts when you’re facing a challenge, are excited or nervous, or are sleepy or energized. Oftentimes, our breath can help us know how our nervous system is responding to stimulus, because our breath is part of the autonomic nervous system, which has two main divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. 

     

    In the NPR article “Just Breathe,” the breath-stress connection is explained: “[R]apid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. It’s part of the ‘fight or flight’ response—the part activated by stress. In contrast, slow, deep breathing actually stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction—the one that calms us down.” Physician and author Esther Sternberg is cited as saying, “The relaxation response is controlled by another set of nerves—the main nerve being the Vagus nerve. Think of a car throttling down the highway at 120 miles an hour. That’s the stress response, and the Vagus nerve is the brake. When you are stressed, you have your foot on the gas, pedal to the floor. When you take slow, deep breaths, that is what is engaging the brake.” This highlights the influence our breath can have on the way we respond to stressors.

     

    In a New York Times article about controlled breathing, Columbia University associate clinical professor of psychiatry Richard P. Brown, MD, is cited as stating, “When you take slow, steady breaths, your brain gets the message that all is well and activates the parasympathetic response.... When you take shallow rapid breaths or hold your breath, the sympathetic response is activated.” 

     

    Brown and Patricia L. Gerbarg, MD, in the The Healing Power of the Breath, describe a specialized breath practice called Coherent Breathing. The authors explain that Coherent Breathing supports a higher heart rate variability, which “is associated with a healthier, more flexible cardiovascular system, a more balanced and resilient stress-response system, and overall greater health and longevity.” In other words, our breath supports resiliency, which helps us bounce back even after we encounter challenging or stressful situations. Not surprising, the first step to learning Coherent Breathing is mindfulness of breath.

     

    The Zen poet, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, in Peace Is Every Breath, writes, “The practice of mindful breathing may be very simple, but the effect can be great. Focusing on our in-breath, we release the past, we release the future, we release our projects. We ride on that breath with all our being. Our mind comes back to our body, and we are truly there, alive, in the present moment.” By connecting to our breath, we help our mind and body to more effectively attuned to the present moment and be, as Hanh mentions, “aware of what’s going on inside us and around us.” Having a fuller awareness of what’s going on internally and externally helps us gain greater perspective and find equanimity in the midst of challenges. 

     

    By bringing moments of awareness to our breath, we “engage different parts of our brain,” according to Northwestern University associate professor Moran Cerf. He summarizes the research of a recent study that shows that choosing to control our respiration, “even merely focusing on one’s breathing, yield[s] additional access and synchrony between brain areas.” This greater connection happening between different parts of our brain, and our mind and body, Cerf argues, “may lead to greater control, focus, calmness, and emotional control.” 


    If you’re interested in more mindful breathing exercises, try this guided breathing practice from Stop, Breathe, & Think.


    This article is part of our Mindful Mondays initiative. Receive weekly emails with instructions for the practices of the week, links to guided practices, and suggestions for implementation by registering. The program is free for all. Sign up now to access this week's recorded practices for you and your students!


    ABOUT ARGOS GONZÁLEZ:

    Argos Gonzalez is a teacher, lecturer, and mindfulness and yoga instructor.  He has 13 years of experience teaching high school in the Bronx and teaches pre-service and in-service teachers at Hunter College School of Education in NY.  Argos is certified through both Mindful Schools and Little Flower Yoga (LFY), and currently serves as the director of professional development for The School Yoga Project, a program of LFY. For more information about Little Flower Yoga and The School Yoga Project, visit www.littlefloweryoga.com. Contact Argos by email at argos@littlefloweryoga.com


    We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you are interested in purchasing any of the resources mentioned above, you can help support free programs like Mindful Mondays by navigating to them through the included links. Thank you for your support!

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Mindful Mondays: Using the Breath To Explore Mindfulness With Our Kids
If we bring kind and curious awareness to our breath, we get clear information on how we’re

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Little Flower Yoga is based in New York and provides classes in all five boroughs of New York City and Westchester County.

Tel: (212) 634-7890
Email: info@littlefloweryoga.com