As we enter the season of busy-ness, I crave the inner calm I so easily access on summer mornings when the clock doesn’t tick so fast. And not just for myself. I yearn for my children to handily retrieve their own sense of peace and with it, the ability to focus.
It was desperation that drove me to appreciate Mindful Breathing. My son started suffering from anxiety at age eleven. We used deep breathing exercises during the dark months when he would claw at his blankets and grind his teeth with a stress that seemed to swallow him whole.
His anxiety subsided, thankfully, and he is now equipped to use his breathing to slow down his heart rate and get his mind focused whenever the need arises – maybe before a speech at an Exhibition or when he’s at the free-throw line in a basketball game.
As part of our Learning to Do at Acton Academy, we’ve incorporated these simple breathing exercises into studio life. They equip young people to calm themselves and find focus – two skills that will serve them for life. One of my favorite memories comes from a quiet thirteen year old boy. After a week of leading Mindful Breathing exercises, he came to me and said, “Thank you. I’ve started doing that breathing when I’m stuck in my Khan Academy work. I used to panic. Now I breathe.”
The following three exercises are ones you can practice and share with your children:
Imagine a beautifully big birthday cake in front of you, filled with burning candles. Now breathe in deeply and blow them all out. Do this a few times.
Imagine you are a bear in a cave getting ready for hibernation. It’s time to start slowing down to get your body for the winter. Bears do this by breathing deeply and more slowly in and out of their noses. Try it. Breathe deeply in through your nose. Now let it out slowly and deeply through your nose. Do this six or so times.
Imagine you are wearing mittens and holding a cup of very hot chocolate between your hands. It’s too hot to sip right now so you have to blow on it – back and forth. Breathe in through your nose, now blow across the top of your hot chocolate. It will take five or six times to get it cool enough to drink.
As I breathe more deeply, I remember once again that Learning to Do most often leads to Learning to Be.