Updated: Jul 14, 2021
We’re all born breathing. But do we really know how to breathe in ways that promote calm and wellness? Most of us spend our days breathing on auto-pilot - in/out, in/out. These breaths are usually pretty quick and shallow and don’t do a whole lot for us - other than keep us alive and, I guess that’s actually pretty important so, “Way to go breath!”
But what if we could help our immune systems, memory, digestion, and other bodily processes work better and reduce our stress all just by paying attention to how we breathe? Seems like a good thing, right?
Belly breathing or, more technically, diaphragmatic breathing is a method of breathing that triggers the “relaxation response” in our bodies, benefitting both our physical and mental well-being. For more on this, including a short video, please check out my previous blog,
Even better, what if we could teach young children how to use belly breathing to calm themselves when they feel overwhelmed with emotion? They would have this powerful tool with them wherever they go. The poems in my book "Remind Me to Breathe" offer a fun and gentle introduction to this practice by talking children through the process of mindful breathing while exploring feelings within the safety of the mindfulness framework.
The first two poems in the book address feelings of fear and anger. Fear and anger trigger the fight or flight response in the brain, causing our breathing and heart rate to speed up so we can either fight or flee. Belly breathing can help us intentionally calm the body's physical response to both fear and anger by stimulating the vagus nerve (also called the wandering nerve). The vagus nerve travels from our brains to most of our major organs and then travels back up to the brain. When stimulated through belly breathing, it triggers the relaxation response signaling heart rate, digestion, and other long-term survival mechanisms to return to normal. As we become more familiar with this practice and able to see that we have a tool to calm ourselves, we can feel more empowered to manage our emotions instead of mechanically reacting to them.
The poems in Remind Me to Breathe offer adults an opportunity to practice this breathing and help children and teens practice. When you come to the stanzas referencing breathing, you can practice breathing in through your nose, allowing first your belly and then your chest to fill with air while counting slowly and silently to three. Then you can practice slowly releasing the air through the nostrils to a slightly longer count of four. The next stanza will suggest inhaling to a count of four and exhaling to five to practice extending the lengths of your breaths a bit.
Have fun reading the poems and practicing the breathing yourself or with a child or teen so that you have this powerful tool at the ready the next time you are feeling anger or fear. Eventually, you will be well equipped to handle whatever life throws at you by simply remembering to breathe.
You can also check out the short video below that brings rapper Common and singer Colbie Caillait together with Elmo to sing a catchy little song about how belly breathing helps us tame the little emotion monsters that live in all of us. Remember to belly breathe gently for several breaths and then return to normal breathing. Your breathing will slow down naturally. Enjoy!