Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Return to Reverence

How often in your life do you practise reverence? In recent times, I have found myself pondering about this very concept. It all started with my yoga practice.

At minimum, I practise yoga four days each week.  Many people would agree that yoga is the ultimate opportunity to practise reverence. Yet, lately, I was finding that my practice had become very physical, focusing on asana and breath as I eased my body into each posture. My focus was upon stretching, flexing, toning and releasing. I was starting to feel a sense of disconnection within my practice.

As I pondered, I realised I was no longer taking the time to set up my yoga space. I was simply unrolling my mat, grabbing my blocks and straps and doing yoga. Previously, I had always taken time to select my playlist, my oils and incense; to find the best location in my house that offered quietude and space; and to focus upon my intention, retreating within at the beginning of each session. Without even realising it, I had stopped engaging in these rituals.  I then realised, these rituals were my opportunity to tune it to spirit, before commencing my practice. Yet, somehow, I had let them dwindle away.

That is when the notion of reverence popped into my head. Ritual enables reverence. It allows me to tune in to spirit as I mindfully prepare for my practice.

I began to wonder how many opportunities to practise reverence arise in daily life? 
How many of these opportunities do I let pass by unnoticed? 

Simple rituals that occur every day:

The connection of my feet on the earth as I take a step
The sounds of nature around me
Watching my children share a joke
The warm embrace of my partner as he offers support
The students who continually allow me to teach them

With this in mind, I have set an intention to take more time to explore the awe of everyday opportunities.

Within my yoga practice, I now take the time to once again create my space. I am mindful as I transition my body from one pose to the next. I tune into my breath. I create flow.

And I give gratitude.

For all that I have and all that I am.

And in doing so, I practise reverence.

         xx Tracey xx

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Helping children to self-regulate through breath

Throughout my teaching, I have come across many children who have difficulties with emotional regulation. This is especially true for children with special needs, such as language disorders, ASD, anxiety and ADD/ADHD.

The scenario will always start with a trigger, which may or may not be obvious to the observer. Once the trigger has set in motion, the child begins to escalate. Sometimes, if intervention is quick, distraction can work a charm and the child’s attention can be diverted onto something else. Other times, however, the escalation continues until the child has no hope of bringing themselves back to a state of calm. The episode takes its course, with child and carer left feeling exhausted and depleted.

A more productive approach to teaching self-regulation is as a preventative, rather than a reactive, mechanism. Use of breath is critical to help a child self-calm and be able to problem-solve in a more methodical, logical and effective manner.

Inhalation provides energy and stimulation. As a child begins to lose control, anxiety sets in, heart rate increases and the inhalations quicken, possibly leading to a state of hyperventilation. This triggers the nervous system and places the body into a state of stress. The key to calmness through breath rests within the exhalation. By controlling the exhalation, the breath can remain long and slow, allowing the heart to steady and the nervous system to settle. Then problems can be dealt with in a more rational manner.

Teaching and learning breath control

For children under six years of age, it is best to practice the exhalation through the mouth. This is easier for young children and will help develop their awareness of breath. Many people are familiar with the concept of ‘milkshake breathing’, which teaches young ones to exhale slowly as if they are blowing bubbles into a milkshake. A slower breath produces ‘bigger bubbles’.

For older children and adults, it is much more effective for both inhalation and exhalation to take place through the nose. The nasal cavity plays an important part in warming, moistening and filtering air, in addition to assisting with oxygen and carbon dioxide regulation. Using the nose to breathe allows the breath to be longer and slower, which also assists in self-regulation.

For initial breathwork, it is helpful to lie down on a firm surface, such as timber flooring or tiles. A blanket can be placed under the body to provide some support if needed. Additionally, if there is any discomfort through the lower back, placing a bolster or pillows under the knees may help. It is important that the body is in a position of total ease, without any tension.

Begin by placing the hands on the belly and inhaling deeply. Become aware of the expansion as the belly rises and the breath moves upwards.

Draw the breath upwards through the rib cage and notice the expansion on both sides of the rib cage as well as the front and back of the body. Notice the back of the spine pressing down into the floor.

Continue to draw the breath up into the very top of the lungs just near the collarbone. The sternum lifts.


With a sense of control, slowly begin to exhale, emptying from the belly first. In developing awareness, it may help to gently contract the abdomen, encouraging the breath to move upwards. Continue by emptying the breath from the rib cage, and then from the top of the chest.


Repeat the cycle several times.

Start by practicing for a few minutes each day and gradually increase as able.

Other suggestions for children:

  • Place your child’s favourite soft toy on their belly and encourage them to watch it moving up and down as they breathe.
  • Use a standing breath technique and ask your child to visualise they are blowing up like a big balloon – using hands to stretch to the sky on the inhale, and back down on the exhale.
  • Use a standing breath technique and ask your child to raise their hands to the sky on an inhale, folding forward as they slowly exhale into a forward bend or ‘ragdoll’ pose.
  • Do a counted inhale / exhale – start with a short count of 2 or 3 seconds and lengthen as breath capacity increases.
  • Humming bee breath – Encourage your child to inhale through the nose, and then ‘hum’ out their exhale. Continue for a few cycles. You can also tell your child to place their hands on their ears to help them internalise.
  • Use feathers or cotton balls and ask your child to ‘make them dance’ with their exhale.
  • Use child’s pose to complete your child’s breathing practice. This is a beautiful self-calming pose in itself. Children love the security within this pose, especially if it is combined with a gentle massage on their back!

Overall, place the emphasis on slow, controlled breathing. This is the breath that will help in times of stress and anxiety. Regular practice of such ‘conscious’ breathing is important so that your child can develop an understanding of breath and its ability to calm both the body and mind. With a calm body and mind, it becomes much more possible to approach problems in a rational manner.

xx Tracey xx

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Teaching Breath Awareness to Young Children

Breath is vital for survival, yet the average human being uses only 7% of their lung capacity with each breath. No wonder so many people suffer from feelings of fatigue and dis-ease.

The impact of the breath upon the body can be life-changing, not only for adults, but also for children. In a society where respiratory conditions, attention disorders, emotional trauma and general stress levels seem to be continually rising, the use of breath is critical in helping young people to cope and invite ease into their lives. Imagine the benefits for your child if they were taught to breathe consciously, with awareness and control. 

What can conscious breathing offer children?

Amongst other things, conscious breathing provides:

  • Increased oxygen delivery to all parts of the body, helping with cellular regeneration and maintenance of health and well-being.
  • Removal of toxins from the body.
  • Increased blood flow, resulting in higher, more sustainable energy levels, enabling focus and concentration.
  • Reduction of stress through inviting calm and a sense of balance into the mind and body.
  • Strengthened immune systems.
  • Improved speech through controlled inhalation and exhalation.
  • Opportunities to self-regulate emotions in times of stress or frustration.

How can you teach your young child to breathe?

Very young children should explore breath through the use of their mouth, however, once a child is around six to eight years of age, focus can change to inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Awareness is best taught through games and fun activities.  Here are some suggestions to get you started:

Blowing feathers:

  • Place a feather in your child’s cupped hands and ask them to use their breath to make it ‘dance’. Breath needs to be slow and gentle so that the feather doesn’t fly out.
  • Ask your child to blow a feather up into the sky and use their breath to keep it floating high.
  • Have races, blowing feathers along the floor or table.
  • Ask your child to lie on their back, hold a feather over their mouth and blow it up into the sky – how long can they keep it there?

Other ideas:

  • Blow bubbles – guide your child to decide what type of breath works best – fast or slow?
  • Balloon breathing – first demonstrate the breath using a real balloon, then tell your child to pretend their belly is a big balloon. Can they make it blow up big and strong? Tell them to breathe out and watch it disappear.
  • Have your child lie down on their back and place a soft toy on their belly – tell them to watch it go up and down as they breathe.
  • Blow a pinwheel – make it go fast and slow.
  • Play humming games – tell your child to take a big breath in and then ‘hum’ it all the way out. Place their hands on their ears so they can feel the vibration as their lips tickle.
  • Practise the lion breath – have your child kneel down with their hands on their knees. Tell them to take a big breath in, stick their tongue out and roar. This is a great breathing practice to help with frustration or anger.

Always remember to chat with your child during the activities. Language is so important in helping to develop your child’s understanding of breath and its connection to the body and mind. As young children might find it difficult to communicate their understanding, it is helpful if you share your personal perspective with them. Talk about how your breath makes you feel big and strong or calm and relaxed.  Tell your child how your breath keeps you healthy as it moves all around your body. 

Overall, remember to have fun. As your child grows older, they can do more formalised breathing practice (pranayama), which will be a much easier transition for a little one who has already developed some awareness.

xx Tracey xx