I like to start all of my yoga sessions with kids with a breathing exercise. Incorporating mindfulness and breathing exercises at the beginning of the class helps the kiddos to calm down and connect to their bodies. Mindfulness is key for managing stress, regulating emotions, and giving children space to feel an sort out their emotions.
These exercises are great not only for yoga teachers, but for classroom teachers and parents. They are ideal for transition times, like when students have just come in from recess and need a minute to wind down. They can also be a handy tool for parents in the place of time out. Given the resources, children are capable of self-regulating their moods and emotions, they just need to be shown how! The following are my favorite mindful breathing exercises for kids:
1. One Finger, one breath
All you need for this exercise is your own two hands. Instruct the children to hold their right hand out in front of them with their palm facing out. First, touch the forefinger to the thumb and take a deep breath in and out. Then, move on to the middle finger. Continue this way through all the fingers, and back if you still have their attention. This can be done on one or both hands depending on the age and attention span of the group. Not only does this breath work encourage quiet, calm, and self-awareness, but it also creates a connection with the body that helps prepare for a yoga class.
2. Up the Mountain, Down the Mountain:
This is another exercise that requires no materials whatsoever. With their right hands extended, instruct the kiddos to bring the pointer finger of their left hand to the base of their thumb, They will then start tracing their finger, moving the pointer finger up to the tip of each finger and down the other side. As they do, they will breath in and out in sync with the movement of their finger. Explain to the children that their pointer finger is going to be going up and down the mountain. They should breath in as them climb up, and breath out as they slide down.
3. Breathing Beads:
This is one of my favorite activities because it not only teaches mindfulness, but also gratitude, love, and happiness. You'll need some string and beads so each child can make their breathing bracelet. While making them, explain that each bead has a "super power". They can think of one word or one thing that makes them happy for each bead. Whenever they feel scared, mad, sad, or overwhelmed, they can use the super powers from their beads to help them feel better. Beads can take on qualities like love, happiness, friendship. Or, they can be specific things that the kids love like mom and dad, their dog, or even ice cream. When then bracelets are completed, you can use them for a breathing exercise. Holding the bracelet in one hand, pinch a bead between the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. Have the kiddos take one deep breath in and out for each bead. As they move their fingers around the bracelet, they can recall the meaning that each bead has, and remember the super powers that live within them!
Although mindfulness may seem like an adult, abstract concept, it is very easy to get kids on board. Giving them the tools to find inner peace is an incredible gift that will serve them as they grow into adults. Beyond that, these exercises are fun, and let's face it, that's what kids really care about!