A Yogi’s Breath-Kept Secret

How would you help your teen-aged self make decisions for themselves - not for parents, for friends, for society or anything else? 

It’s the same way your hippie cousin commits to bringing their own mason jar packed meal to a big family dinner. It’s how your friend can enjoy the club - without the cocktails. It’s why some people manage to wake up for a morning run no matter what time they went to sleep. 

Being mindful means practicing a heightened self awareness that acts a reminder of your true self - removed from other influences, blocking out other voices. 

Whether you call it meditation or breathing, need to calm down or perk up, there’s a breathing exercise for you and your students. 

To avoid spring roar turning into a summer bore, seniors especially need to take time to think about their future plans. Bridge programs and internships need to be mapped out ahead of time - not buried among the excitement of graduation. Seniors also need to take a step back as they deep dive into college admissions and financial aid offers.  

As a rule of thumb, the longer the breath, the more relaxed one is. Short sharp breaths trigger one’s “fight or flight” response, preparing one from an imminent threat or danger. But if this is the norm for how we breathe - likely for those who have or are experiencing trauma - we’re keeping our body in constant stress. Deep breathing using the full diaphragm helps trigger one’s relaxation response. 

Here are a few breathing exercises to get you, your kids or your students started.

Stepping away from the hiss-terical

From the easter bunny to Mickey Mouse, animals have a way of lighting up and engaging young kids. Help students extend their exhales by breathing out like an animal. Inhale through the nose and slowly exhale by buzzing like a bee or hissing like a snake. For bunny rabbit breath, students sniff in through their nose three times and then take a long exhale through the mouth. 

After practicing this a few times sitting up, have students practice this with their heads down, forehead rested. Placing the forehead onto a desk or two clenched fists on top of each other applies light pressure to the forehead, connected to the pineal gland, producing melatonin - a “feel good” hormone. 

E-cool breath

This is a great introduction for students to be aware of their breath, feel comfortable timing their breath and understand what they can do when they've been told to "Just calm down!" for the tenth time that day. 

Counting out the breath or snapping your fingers as a time marker may work in your gym classes - but this can be a confusing distraction for some younger students. Play a repetitive sound on a loop, like this wave crashing, and ask students to inhale for the duration of the wave crash and exhale for the duration of another wave crash. 

The slower one breathes, the longer the breath will be. Senior students may try, without strain, to inhale for the duration of two waves crashes and exhale for the same. All students can drop their chin to their chest and look at how they can fill their "stomachs" (actually their full diaphragm) with air first and then fill their chest up - avoiding shallow chest-only breathing. 

Breathe outside the box

I would only recommend this to some middle school students and high school students,  depending on your sense of how aware students are in monitoring their body and level of comfort. 

Research has shown mastering breath retention can help one voluntarily activate the sympathetic nervous system - controlling that “fight or flight” state. 

Draw a square on the board, using a different color for each of the vertical lines and a separate color for  both the horizontal lines. The right vertical line represents an inhale, retain the breath along the first horizontal line, exhale coming down the left vertical line, retain the breath along the base horizontal line. Continue in this cyclic motion. I recommend starting at two or three seconds for each side of the square. 

Calming breath

Some studies have found 2-to-1 conscious breathing can lower blood pressure. This is where the exhale is twice as long as the inhale breath. 

Students should be seated in an upright position, comfortably in their chairs. Eyes can be closed or focused on a stationary point. Remind students that a slower breath lasts longer. 

Snap or clap as you instruct students to inhale for three seconds - then snap or clap to exhale for six seconds. Continue at this rate and allow an opportunity for silence where students count on their own. 

Energizing breath

Students who may need a pick-me-up can benefit from this. 

Stand with bent arms, elbows by your sides and palms facing up. Take sharp inhales through the nose and as you quickly exhale through your mouth making “Ha!” sound, stretch your arms our straight in front. Rebend the arms on an inhale and repeat. 

Play around with the pace and encourage students to speed up their breathing before simultaneously, as class, slowing down the breath work and arm movements to end the practice.