There’s no doubt that yoga and meditation have positive effects on stress levels and mood for adults. But they work wonders for kids as well. Children may especially benefit from pranayama to help them relax, manage frustrations, and perhaps even prevent meltdowns. But how can parents and teachers interest kids in actually practicing pranayama? When leading children through a pranayama exercise, it helps to use language that targets their interests and images that conjure up specific movements or sensations. For example, using a storytelling approach or analogies to cue and describe different techniques may make them more accessible to children. Of course kids always love the famous “Darth Vader yoga breath,” but here are five other verbal cues that are sure to bring out big, blissful belly breaths.
When leading children through a pranayama exercise, it helps to use language that targets their interests and images that conjure up specific movements or sensations.
The mention of a friendly baby dragon is sure to elicit some happy murmurs when introducing ujjayi (victorious) breath. Ask the children or child you’re working with to pretend to be a baby dragon. Ask them to draw their breath in slowly through the nose to warm it up. Then have them release the breath slowly, making a soft baby dragon growl, imagining that they are releasing gentle, warming baby dragon fire, to “let just enough breath out to toast a marshmallow or melt some cheese on toast.” This will help to temper the exhale and make it more relaxing. To deepen their involvement, and therefore their experience, ask them to consider what color their dragon fire is—purple? Bright green? And what does it smell like—cupcakes? Fresh bread?
This is a great calm-down cue for a yoga class or to help with tantrums in the grocery store. Ask the kiddo to take a deep breath in through their nose and then try to blow out birthday candles by exhaling through their mouth, holding up your fingers to mimic candles. Try a number equalling the child’s age, or just use 2, 5, or 10 candles. Have them pause after inhaling before blowing out to make a wish—this reinforces the benefit of pranayama by introducing breath retention, or kumbhaka (but a wish is easier to pronounce for kids!). You can pretend that one candle was left still lit and ask them to take a deeper breath and try again. Have them make different wishes, and try different candle-blowing-out techniques, such as making the sound “ha,” “hee,” or “ho.”
Many kids have experienced the joy of playing in a group with a large, multicolored parachute. The group stands in a circle, holding the edges of the parachute, and makes waves and ripples in the parachute. Have the kiddos imagine doing this or actually act it out. When it comes time to let the parachute catch an updraft and dome up overhead like a big hot air balloon, cue the kids to inhale deeply. As the parachute slowly settles back down to earth, cue the exhale. Continue to cue the lifting and billowing of the parachute with the inhale and the release with the exhale. Have them picture the bright colors of the parachute in their mind’s eye and imagine feeling the silky parachute material between their fingers.
Now this is a fun yoga prop! Have the children select a stuffed toy that can comfortably rest on their low bellies while they’re lying down. Cue deep diaphragmatic breathing by asking them to make the stuffed toy move up and down with their breath. (They can also imagine that their bellies are trampolines and that the stuffed animal is bouncing up and down slowly.) What if the toy takes a tumble? No problem—that means it was an especially deep belly breath. This whole exercise often leads to lots of giggles, so go with it—it makes a great transition into laughter yoga!
Smell the Noodles, Cool the Noodles
Pick a favorite hot food for the kids— noodles and pizza both seem to work well. Have them imagine smelling the delicious aroma of the food by taking a deep breath in through their nose. Then tell them that the food is too hot to eat so they have to blow on it to cool it off, exhaling through a small pursed-lip O-shape. Repeat “Smell the noodles, cool the noodles” for every breath. Have them try to imagine the smells of the food, and ask them to put their fingers up by their mouths to feel how cool their breath is when they exhale through pursed lips. Bonus: The appreciation of the imagined smells of a favorite food heightens mindfulness.
These five cues can be used in a yoga class, on the playground, at home, or in the park. More breathing, fewer breakdowns. Om!