• Mindful Mondays: How Can Our Breath Be A Resource?

    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!


    Click on the image above for a guided 5-minute mindful breathing practice from mindful.org

    Our breath is a wonderful resource because we always have it with us. If we bring kind and curious awareness to our breath, we can get clear information on how we’re feeling. 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.  

    This New York Times article cites Richard P. Brown, MD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath, as saying, “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.” When we bring awareness to our breath we attune inward and can see if our nervous system is in sympathetic (fight or flight) or parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode. In addition, with time, the breath can shift and activate your parasympathetic response. 
                                                                                                                          
    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 help decrease stress.  

    The 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 supports healthy nervous system regulation as well as our ability to focus and manage stress.

    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 there is an abundance or a lack of energy, if students seem confused, or if challenging conversations arise in class. We find that it helps to insert this kind of pause and that it supports everyone’s ability to respond to a situation more skillfully.  

     

     
    Credit: Andrew Rae
     

    Other ways we encourage exploration of the breath is by asking our students to bring curious attention to how they breathe:

    We ask:

        •      Are you breathing primarily through your nose or your mouth?  

        •      Are you breathing quickly or slowly?

        •      Is it a shallow breath or a full breath?

        •      Is there a pattern to your breathing?  

        •      Are you feeling a sensation or emotion in connection with your breath?


    We also ask students to explore long, slow exhalations. In this way, they explore how their breath communicates with them, and they learn to use their breath as a resource to anchor their attention and to soothe their nervous system when they’re feeling unduly stressed or anxious.  


    General Guidelines for Mindfulness of Breath

    • The breath can be a powerful tool to support self awareness and self-regulation. Consider these guidelines when introducing mindfulness of breath activities.
    • Encourage being kind and curious when bringing awareness to the breath. 
    • Using visuals like this video or your hands, or a manipulative like a Hoberman sphere, can be a great scaffold when introducing mindfulness of breath.
    • Remember that the physiology of a child is not the same as that of an adult, so if you’re guiding students, take into account that their lung capacity is probably less than yours.
    • In addition to helping students bring awareness to the breath, encourage slow nasal breathing to help soothe their nervous system.
    • If a child ever feels discomfort or anxiety during a breathing exercise, stop!
    • Avoid breath retention and extremely forceful breathing.
    • If students struggle with sitting still when bringing awareness to their breath, consider aligning the breathing practice with simple movement (for example, inhale and raise an arm, then exhale and lower the arm, then repeat, switching arms).

    Bringing awareness to the breath in the moment can give students insight into how they’re feeling and help them attune to what they need to meet each moment with kindness and curiosity.

     


    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 GONZALEZ:

    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


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    Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports Our Ability to Focus
    Mindful Mondays: Mindfulness Supports an Attitude of Gratitude
    Mindful Mondays: What is Mindfulness and How Can it Support You?
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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