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Mindful Breathing in the Classroom

Woman Breathing and Meditating (by Joellepearson) gerokee
[CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Breathe in–I know I am breathing in. Breathe out–I know I am breathing out. Breathe in–I know I am breathing in. Breathe out–I know I am breathing out. Breathe in–I know I am breathing in. Breathe out–I know I am breathing out.

How many times a day are you aware of your breathing?

Our breath connects our bodies with our minds.

Try the above exercise for a minute and feel the truth of that statement.

Breathing is a physical action that occurs instinctively…over and over and over and over and over again. Our breath connects us to life. Without it, we do not bring oxygen into our lungs, our blood cells do not absorb it and transport this essential element to our organs and other cells, our bodies no longer sustain themselves and their animation.

Our breath connects us to each other.

Imagine the infinity sign: You breathe out, I breathe in. I breathe out, you breathe in.

Breathing is integral to many religious and spiritual practices. Beautiful philosophies about the spiritual impact of breathing abound. Some spiritual leaders, including Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn, believe that taking control of one’s breath will lead to healing and enlightenment. Proper breathing is part of a practice called “mindfulness” in the Buddhist tradition.

Mindful breathing is an integral part of mindfulness practice.

Imagine a classroom in which the teacher and all of the students are breathing together, aware of their breath. They are in control of their bodies and minds in a way that others, who not aware of their breathing, are not. Because they are in control of their bodies and minds, these students are calm, open, balanced, ready to engage, prepared to learn.

There have been many studies conducted to prove the beneficial impact of controlled breathing on students and in the classroom. Check out this one from the University of Ontario, which concluded that the classroom practice of mindful breathing improves academic success. Other studies show the same, and also document other favorable effects, such as reduced stress, improved social behavior, and even increased feelings of happiness.

So learning to breathe, or more accurately, learning to breathe properly, is a life skill that is taught with enormously successful results in classrooms. Deep belly breathing, paying attention to one’s breath, following the breath in and out, practicing movement (such as yoga) while breathing, incorporating guided meditations while breathing, using sound to punctuate the breath—these are all ways educators incorporate mindful breathing into their classrooms.

Try the super-simple breathing technique at the top of this post again. Breathe in–I know I am breathing in. Breathe out–I know I am breathing out. Breathe low into your lungs, exercising your diaphragm and expanding your belly. Can you feel the power in your breath? When I am anxious, stressed, feeling out of control, or generally not OK, I feel my breath turn shallow and somewhat erratic. Mindful breathing brings me back to myself, back to my center physically and emotionally.

I am not an educator, nor a yoga or breath-work practitioner. But I found a few very useful resources that can help any teacher—or anyone, really—get started with proper breathing techniques.

This five-minute guided breathing meditation from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center encourages listeners to sit, listen to and feel their bodies, and breathe. Five minutes can do a world of wonder for anxiety and other stress-related issues.

The Mindful Classroom is an educator’s blog about mindfulness in the classroom. This post on deep breathing discusses why this practice is so important to classroom efficacy. It provides a script for teachers to guide students in breathing and offers tips and techniques in leading healthy breathing exercises.

Teacher Meena Srinivasan’s book Teach, Breathe, Learn offers guidance to teachers on ways to bring mindfulness into the classroom. Breathing is one of the tools she utilizes to create a calm and compassionate classroom.

Let’s all learn to breathe. Not just for our students, but for ourselves.

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