Belly Breathe

On Thursday mornings I volunteer in a first grade classroom at my daughter's school. It is an ICT class, which stands for "Integrated Co Teaching", and basically means the class has two head teachers, plus an aide. The students are a mixed population of special ed kids, or more accurately kids who have an IEP (individual education plan) and have been identified to need some extra help, and general ed kids. Every public school classroom has a variety of learners in it, but this ICT class also includes a boy who cries frequently and most of the time would rather lie underneath his desk than sit at it. It is a tough environment for these teachers and they are all absolutely fantastic.

Yesterday one of them showed the class a short video from Sesame Street, that starred Elmo and a rapper named Common singing about "belly breathing". You may have seen it on my Facebook page but I shared the link at the end of this post just in case.

This is not the first time I have seen the idea of deep breathing and meditation presented to children. When Maya was in kindergarten a woman would come to their classroom periodically to teach the kids things like closing their eyes and counting to ten when they were mad and taking deep breaths to relax. She was from a program called Mind Up but Maya referred to her as the "calming down lady." 

Just this morning, on Nick Jr., there was a clip between shows where some little boxes were singing about breathing. It seems to be the new thing. Sophia the princess, Jake the pirate, Sponge Bob, that annoying Peppa Pig...and mindfulness.

I think teaching young children how to calm their minds and bodies is a fantastic thing. In fact, I often end my kids karate classes with a minute or two of "meditation", although it is usually explained as a lesson in "being still and doing nothing", rather than a way to combat stress.Still, as someone who occasionally suffers from panic attacks and anxiety, I can certainly get on board the deep breathing train. 


Focusing on your breath can be useful for a whole slew of ailments, from stiff sore muscles and headaches, to stress and depression. This kind of meditation is a skill that I certainly need to work on, as do most adults I know. Life can be really, really stressful. But why do our children need this? What are today's youth so stressed out about anyway?

Young children get easily overwhelmed, and child therapists have long advocated deep breathing as a way to combat sobbing fits, tantrums and normal childhood fears. But why are we teaching this stuff in schools now? Perhaps it is because our kids are being expected to sit still for a completely unreasonable amount of time each day. Maybe it is because kindergarteners are expected to perform like second graders and second graders like middle schoolers. Or that recess is twenty minutes long and in the winter often includes little more than standing behind their chairs and wiggling to a couple of songs before being herded back to their classrooms for more sitting. Maybe it is because gym is once a week at best, and half the year is spent preparing for some kind of test. Or maybe its that our children's food, which is supposed to come from the fields and the earth and a warm oven, instead often comes from a plastic wrapper or a frozen tray or the drive through on the way to swim team practice. Maybe it is parents who watch too much news and read too many Facebook posts. Maybe our kids need belly breathing exercises because Ebola Newtown flu season measles at Disneyworld Nigeria Isis Russia that autistic boy that rape case that missing plane the fire trucks down the street and did I mention how important the grade on your third grade reading test is?????

Sweet Jesus I need me some more Elmo videos!

Or maybe it is because we need to prepare our kids for a life of 9 hour work days in an office doing some mundane mind-sucking task while chatting with the guys, refreshing your fantasy baseball stats and counting the days till your next vacation. But that is a whole other blog post.

Ironically, this week has been a particularly stressful one for me, a week where for the most part I completely failed at all attempts of "breathing and letting go." When you are a grownup, like I pretend to be anyway, sometimes life just throws random, completely unexpected things at you. Since I am a person who likes to plan for everything, it is these unplanned surprises that hit me the hardest. The things that come out of nowhere and take a long time to resolve. A sudden death of a family member. The loss of a job. Waiting for a doctor to call with test results. All of these things that are out of my control scare the living crap out of me.

Kids are more resilient. They are braver than us. They worry less. They can surrender control because they do not yet care if they have it or not. They don't look before they leap and that is exactly what makes childhood so beautiful.

We do need to teach our kids some coping skills for the scary monsters that lurk underneath the bed. For tummy aches and broken bones and bad dreams. There will be stress and some of it will be unexpected, because life is both beautiful and brutal, or as Glennon of would say, brutiful.  But school is not supposed to be one of the stressors in a child's life. School is supposed to be a place of wonder and discovery and friendship and success. If it isn't, than we, as a society are doing it WRONG. Plain and simple.

We are doing it wrong.

So lets teach our kids how to breath deeply because damn it, it feels really good to do so. Because it makes you slow down and be in the world and that is a good thing. And yeah, because at some point they might need it. 

But not today. They don't need it today. 
The sun is out here in NYC. 
Can't we just let them run around?

Want to learn how to "belly breathe"? Let Elmo teach you. He's just as good as that yoga teacher you pay $200 a month for.