My goal this summer was to use my time to improve my own mindfulness practice and to learn more about it in general so that I could be a better teacher for my students. I recently attended a workshop on yoga and mindfulness for children. It was amazing, like all of the workshops that I have attended on the topic so far have been. I have been able to walk away from each one with such a new perspective and so much new information that affirms that this is where I am supposed to be putting my energy.
During this particular workshop, I learned so much about the mind and body connection. There is so much research out there now that talks about our brains and the link to anxiety and stress. It is both overwhelming and fascinating at the same time. The most interesting part for me is wondering why we are not paying enough attention to this in our schools. Why are we not taking this information into consideration when we are making the decisions we are making?
One of the many things that I took from this workshop was the idea of breathing. Now, I know what you thinking…well duh..we all know you have to breathe! Yes, I was very aware of that before attending the workshop. However, what I learned was the real science behind why certain types of breathing really help us to calm ourselves and get brains ready to learn. One of the best activities that we did was one where the instructor asked to us to breathe through our mouths for 30 seconds and really pay attention to how our bodies felt. Then, she asked us to breathe through our noses for 30 seconds and again pay attention to how we felt. For me, the 30 seconds of mouth breathing was torture. I felt as though I could not breathe, my mouth went dry, and I could feel myself getting anxious for the 30 seconds to be over. When we talked about how we felt during this exercise, there was an overwhelming majority that described their feelings the same way.
The science of it is that mouth breathing actually triggers our sympathetic nervous system. This is our flight, fright, and freeze system. This will increase adrenaline, your heart rate and make you frigidity and maybe even irritable (totally the case for me!) This explained why when I get a cold or have congestion, I can be easily irritated and miserable. For those who are chronic mouth breathers (people with high stress jobs, people with sleep apnea, etc), their bodies tend to live in this heightened state. This is also why when people who are having a panic attack start to hyperventilate, it is so helpful to get them to breathe through their nose. The fact that they are doing so much mouth breathing during the attack is assisting the body to continue to be in the heightened state.
Besides being a practice of positional holds and stretching, yoga also teaches students how to breathe. While I am sure that stopping each day to do yoga in the classroom may not always be an option, it does make sense to see if we can make a part of a child’s education. To think that the simple task of taking deep breaths or regular breathing through the nose could be the simple fix to so much anxiety is really very exciting. One suggestion that was given to us to try to inhale normally through the nose and then exhale longer than the inhale. Trying that just a few times a day could greatly lower our stress levels. So take some time today and just breathe!
**For more great information about yoga and mindfulness for children, check out www.littlefloweryoga.com.