There is a lot of information about the benefits of meditation for kids, meditation for adults, for teens and so on. And meditation is an amazing tool. But not everyone wants to or can take the time to for meditation. What tools does that leave the non-meditating population? I believe there is still the best tool of all, breathing.
How young can you start breathing?
My daughter started very young with breathing exercises. Even as an infant, whenever she got upset, I would sit her up and move her arms slowly up and down to the rhythm of a slow and even breath. While this didn’t always work, it was surprisingly effective, so I continued to encourage it.
As she got older, she started doing the breath control on her own when she got upset (sometimes she needed to be prompted, but she would do them). One Christmas while out at the mall with her cousin, the two of them were feeding off of each other in a store. I scooped them up (4 and 6 at the time) took them out of the store and had them start breathing. The cousin didn’t understand, so my daughter stood in front of her and started moving her arms up and down in a slow rhythm.It worked like a charm. The two of them, in the middle of a crowded mall and just days before Christmas, stood there and breathed together. They went from manic destructo-kids to the sweet (mostly) calm kids I recognized. It was an amazing transformation, and all from just breathing.
Who can practice breathing?
One of the great things about using breath like this is that it works when you are alone, it works in groups and it works when multiple people in a situation just need a moment. I use it when teaching Tae Kwon Do classes. Some days the kids (and even the adults) are just so fragmented and focus challenged that getting them moving in a single direction is like herding cats.
When that happens, I get their heart rate up with a little cardio and then I slow the class down and bring them back to their center by having them just breathe. Granted it’s in the guise of lowering their heart rate, but it works and best of all it gives me a minute to focus on my breath and center myself before returning to teaching the class.
When to breathe?
Breathing happens whether or not we pay attention to it (unless you are holding your breath). The benefit comes from consciously guiding your breathing. It hooks you into your body, into the present moment and allows for space to be created so that whatever is causing the stress/imbalance/irritation can be recognized. And once it’s recognized, a conscious choice in how to react to that stimulus can be made. So I encourage conscious breathing whenever possible, even if just sitting at a computer or watching tv.
Where to breathe?
Anywhere and everywhere. Probably one of the best aspects of using breathing as a calming technique is that you can do it anywhere and nobody looks at you like you’re crazy. If you’re in a meeting and someone is just getting under your skin, it isn’t so easy to get up and do some calming yoga postures. But as you are listening to them, you can focus on your breath and use that time to center yourself and allow for a considered and conscious choice of what to do or say next.
Even if you have no interest in a consistent meditation practice, and the thought of spending hours on end sitting and trying to not think drives shivers up your spine, you can still get many benefits from simply breathing. I encourage you to try it. If it works for you, share it. Whether you are young, old or somewhere in between, breathing consciously is calming and centering; try it for yourself and see.