What is Belly Breathing?
Diaphragmatic or belly breathing is natural to all mammals. In fact, we mammals are the only animals in the world to do it. It’s a state of deep breathing that’s controlled by a large muscle in our abdomen called the diaphragm.
When you take air in through your nose, it travels into your lungs. If you take a shallow breath, only the chest cavity expands. But when you breathe in deeply, the diaphragm contracts and the belly and chest cavity expand.
Why It Calms You Down?
Ever told someone who was speaking super fast or through rivers of tears, “Okay, take a deep breath?” Why do we turn to breath first? It’s instinct. Breathing deeply into our bellies is what our bodies do when we’re in a state of total relaxation.
Belly breathing and the “fight or flight” response to stress or anxiety (two feelings we all experience) are mutually exclusive, meaning they can’t occur together at the same time. When our bodies switch into “fight or flight” mode, we engage in shallow breathing. We’re ready for battle. On the other hand, belly breathing reduces our heart rate and triggers a relaxation response. It slows us down.
- Start by having your child breathe normally. Ask them if they notice anything about it. What parts of their body move as they breathe? What does it feel like?
- Now have them lie on their backs and place their hand on their bellies.
- With their mouths closed, have them breathe in for four seconds or until they feel their whole chest fill with air all the way down to their belly.
- Have them hold in the air for four seconds.
- Then have them slowly blow all the air out until it’s all gone.
- Repeat until the body feels relaxed.
- It’s important to have children first practice when they are in a relaxed state. Once they have the feel of belly breathing mastered (have them practice it daily), then they can apply it to when they’re feeling stressed. It’s hard to have a child calm down if they don’t know what calm feels like, or they don’t have a well-rehearsed strategy already in place.
- It’s great to practice belly breathing at nap time. It can help children who have trouble falling asleep. And it’s something they can control on their own.
- If your child is having difficulty breathing slowly, have him or her exhale through a straw. You can tell them to pretend they’re snorkeling.
Go ahead and practice with your children. After all, teaching is stressful. You deserve some relaxation vibes too!