By Kimaya Singh
How should we teach breath awareness meditation to children? When teaching classes, almost every yoga instructor agrees that focusing on the breath is the easiest way to help students focus. Depending on the age of the yoga student, teaching children to be aware of their breath can be just as effective as teaching the practice to adults. In fact, many mindfulness meditation programs start with breath awareness techniques. While some may consider mindful breathing to be a beginner’s method, it is definitely effective for all ages.
For children under the age of eight, this is an exercise that you will probably want to skip. While breath awareness is a structured exercise that allows kids to use their imagination (a vital part of designing activities for kids) the mental and spiritual aspects of breath awareness are beyond their abilities to comprehend. It’s better to get them in Shavasana (corpse pose) and have them relax gradually in body parts.
For kids over the age of eight, yoga has a number of fun and effective ways to help kids focus on their breath awareness.
• Guided Visualization: Just like with adults, instruct the kids to take about ten deep breaths. Then have them to imagine a place that feels calming to them, like a beach or a field of grass. As they imagine the calming place, have them “walk” through breath awareness.
• Rhythmic Breathing: The yoga teacher can use a musical instrument, like a hand drum to have the kids count ten breaths. The benefit of the musical instrument is that you activate several parts of the children’s brains while simultaneously teaching them how to relax.
• Imagination Bubbles: For older kids and teens, have them imagine each thought that comes up during the meditation as a bubble. Ask them to imagine that each thought is contained in a bubble, and it as it floats up towards the ski, imagine letting it go without judgment.
• Partner Breathing: For this method of breath awareness, have two kids sit back to back, and instruct one child to pay attention to how her partner’s body moves with the partner’s breath. The benefit of this method is that each child becomes aware not only of their and their partner’s breath, but they eventually relax while supporting each other, and in many cases their breath will eventually become synchronized.
• Rib Awareness Breathing: This method is particularly effective for preteen and teenage students. Have your students lie in corpse pose and ask them to place their fingers flat on their ribcage, fingertips touching. Tell them to monitor how their fingers separate and return with each breath in a nonjudgmental way.
Teaching yoga breath awareness exercises to kids is very similar to how we teach it to adult students. Depending on the child’s age, you may have to change the way that you teach yoga breath awareness, but it is especially effective for teaching to children to focus. One of the first skills children take home from our yoga classes is the ability to concentrate, which leads to meditation.
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