Every breath you take…counts
Breathing is not only instinctive, it’s essential, yet most of us aren’t actually doing it properly or getting the most out of our lungs.
On average an adult will take around 20,000 breaths a day. That’s 12 to 16 breaths per minute. And for children, the rate varies by age, from 30-60 breaths a minute as a newborn, to 18-30 in 6-12 year olds, decreasing again into adulthood. In simple terms, breathing is a vital function of life. The lungs add oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide. Yet for all those daily breaths we are taking, a lot of them aren’t done properly. We know taking a deep breath helps us just by the way we like to sigh, but we don’t practise it enough. We tend to breath shallow breaths, and even hold our breath. Think of all that precious oxygen we are missing out on every few seconds!
Unfortunately, our breathing is affected by environmental and cultural influences, stress and anxiety. We hold our breath to suppress emotions or to deal with physical pain. And anxiety may cause our breath to become shallow and irregular. These are signs that the sympathetic nervous system is triggering our flight or fight response – it’s giving our body a burst of energy to deal with imminent danger. And that’s nature doing its clever thing. We like that. But, and that’s a big breathy but, when the fight or flight response in us or our kids becomes a constant, and shallow breathing the norm, we know something’s up. It’s time to work on our breathing and ensure our parasympathetic nervous system shares the load.
Belly breathing is one of our body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms
The parasympathetic nervous system promotes the ‘rest and digest’ response after the danger has passed. It helps reduce our heart rate and blood pressure. It’s what calms our nerves and helps us to relax. And luckily, diaphragmatic or ‘belly’ breathing is one of the easiest ways to activate and strengthen this part of the nervous system. Other things can help such as yoga, meditation, massage and exercise but by learning how to belly breath we are benefitting from one of our body’s strongest self-healing mechanisms. It’s also a simple and powerful tool to help calm us and our kids, and a great way to manage emotions.
So now that we know there is more to breathing than just survival, how do we get our kids breathing properly?
First things first. If you’ve ever sat through the safety demonstration on an aeroplane (oh to fly right now) you’re always told to place the oxygen mask on your face first, before your kids. It’s tempting to ignore this advice and as parents, we’re not always the best at looking after ourselves. But we need to lead by example. We need to put on our oxygen masks first, and then get to the kids.
Take a deep breath. Just breathe.
Take 5 minutes out of your day to learn the belly breathing technique. That’s all you need to start with. Find a quiet, comfortable place to lie down. Place one hand on your chest, the other on your belly. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, allowing your lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if you prefer). You’ll feel better just after one breath!
Once you’ve got the basics you can move onto the kids. There are plenty of exercises to help with belly breathing for all age groups. You’ll find some fun breathing techniques for you and your child here: Belly-breathing-for-children
Just remember to keep checking in with yourself and your kids. We often think about how important our diet is. Are we eating the right foods, or drinking enough water but how often do we check on our breathing? We have to do it every few seconds so why not get the most out of our lungs? Regular deep breathing provides a whole host of physical and physiological benefits but it’s a great technique to calm your child down when they are fearful or anxious.
Don’t just give belly breathing lip service. Service your lips and breath long and deeply! Every breath counts after all.
Words: Samantha Yetzes
If you’d like to learn more about the belly breathing technique, you can find out a dedicated module in the Parenting Toolbox – Beat Fears & Anxiety app.
We are ParentalEQ – a parenting platform to raise emotionally strong kids. To learn more, download our app in the App Store or Google Play here.