Every Mindful Storytelling session starts with the breath. I use these moments throughout the class. Instead of classroom management I use Mindful Management. By creating mindful moments, or breath breaks, throughout the session two things happen;
- These mindful moments allow the students and I to experience a moment of calm, quiet and connection. The increase of oxygen to our bodies and brains gives us the perfect reset.
- Regular practise means that students will be able to use this tool when they really need it. Such as, before bed to help them relax or situations where they are experiencing intense emotions.
Deep Full Breathing
When we practise deep full breathing we breathe into the bottom of our lungs fully. Our stomach fills up with oxygen, like a balloon, which is why I sometimes call it belly breathing. Most of the time, particularly when we are stressed, we only use the top half of our lungs. However, mindful breathing teaches us to use our full lunge capacity.
When we are only using part of our lungs stale air gets stuck. On the exhale, during deep full breathing, we use our diaphragm and stomach muscles to slowly, or fast depending on the breathing exercise, release all the stale air, releasing toxins and carbon dioxide from the lungs.
Deep full breathing leads to increased oxygen in the blood stream. This oxygenated blood travels to the brain, helps to regulate hormone levels and ensures that the pathway between the amygdala (also called the brains security dog) and the pre-frontal Cortex is operating.
Fight, Flight or Freeze
When the body senses danger it sends messages to the amygdala which triggers the bodies flight, fight or freeze response. Two things then happen. Stress hormones get released into the blood stream and the amygdala stops relaying messages to the pre-frontal cortex, the critical thinking part of your brain.
You can use mindful breathing at this point to help you calm down but the reality is, depending on the level of extreme emotions experienced, the stress hormones could be in the blood stream for weeks.
Another point worth mentioning with regards to fight, flight or freeze is the brain cannot distinguish between an actually event happening in the present moment or whether the event is a memory. You could literally think your way into a situation where the amygdala sounds the alarm.
This is why, teaching students to connect to the present moment and regular mindfulness practise is so important. If you have a situation where your body is constantly in a high stress mode it is extremely difficult to be focused, learn new things and connect with others (to name a few). For young children experiencing stress for long periods of time, this can lead to interrupted growth and development of the body, and anxiety which may lead to depression later on.
The Importance of Practise
Regular practise while our body and mind are relatively calm is essential. You don’t go into a marathon without training. The training that is necessary happens in increments over a long period of time. You learn about endurance and other facets of the process to look out for and use when the race begins.
Mindful breathing, as I said earlier, does not come naturally. Five year olds mostly use the top part of their lungs and breathe more rapidly, which is why they get tired more quickly. It is not something that you teach once and it is remembered forever. Therefore, regular practise is required to ensure it is a tool that people of all ages can use when high level negative emotions are being experienced.
Mindful Breathing is only one of the steps to becoming more present and aware of this moment. There is also mindful listening, sensing, eating, feeling and smelling. Learning to use all our senses to experience the present moment is important because it leads to a greater appreciation of life in general.
During Mindful Storytelling, I incorporate a new mindfulness tool each week. Then I send home material that help students share with their family this learning. It is only through practice that students will start to use mindfulness as a self-regulating tool.
In a Ted Talk by Anne Marie Rossi, titled ‘Why Aren’t We Teaching You Mindfulness‘, she sighted a Harvard study, spanning over 30-years, that looked at what made people achieve success. The study found that “The number one indicator of success, in all areas of life, is childhood self-control”. A child’s ability to regulate their behavior was a stronger indicator of success than race, gender, and socio economic status.
This gave me hope when I look at both of my girls whose anxiety gets the better of them at times.
With practise we will get there one deep breath at time…
Mindful Breathing Activities: to practise and prepare for when children are experiencing big emotions.
Mindful ‘Belly’ Breathing- Sitting up nice and tall, inhale slowly through your nose. Let your breath fill up your stomach. Watch as it fills up like a balloon. Then exhale slowly through your mouth, pulling your stomach muscles in, like the balloon is deflating. Repeat five times.
Blowing out our candle: Making our flame above our head. Take a slow deep breath through your nose. Head back looking at your flame. Then blow out the candle. You can practise this while singing Happy Birthday or I like the daffodils. During moments when your little person is upset you can say “Would you like to help me blow out the candles?”
Starfish fingers- Using our 5 fingers spread wide like a starfish. We trace our fingers slowly. Going up the first finger breathing in through your nose. Going down the finger breathing out. Repeat for the rest of your fingers. This is a nice activity for bed time.
Other examples: Blowing on hot cocoa, Blowing on a toy windmill (shown in the picture above) and blowing out the candles using our fingers.
Some Sources that inspire much of my mindfulness work:
Mindful Schools- http://www.mindfulschools.org
Mindful Movements:Ten Exercises For Well-Being by Thich Nhat Hanh