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4 Breathing Exercises to Help Kids (and Adults) Manage Their Emotions

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Bestselling author Mariam Gates shares breathing techniques to help children manage their emotions through playful illustrations.

Learn these useful techniques to help children deal with emotions.

Have you ever tried to tell a child to calm down? Or a group of children? You may be able to get them to quiet down, but usually whatever was going on is still right there at the surface. To actually help them gain perspective and shift their emotional state requires internal resources they may still be developing. This is where mindfulness practices and resiliency go hand in hand.

For children, when ‘big feelings’ such as anger, frustration or sadness arise, the experience can be overwhelming. Under stress, our body moves into ‘fight or flight or freeze’ mode. Regardless of the threat (real or imagined) our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes shallow and other changes happen to manage the challenge at hand. This is helpful if we are actually escaping a lion, but the stress response is the same even if what we are ‘handling’ is not understanding the directions in class, feeling left out or having to share. It is incredibly empowering to give children a way to move themselves out of these reactive, and at times all-encompassing states, and back to the more relaxed feeling of ‘rest and digest.’

See also 5 Kid-Friendly Animal Poses to Introduce Children to Yoga

Breathe with Me: Using Breath to Feel Strong, Calm, and Happy (Sounds True, January 2019)

The first step for children in developing more skilled responses is learning how to pause and be aware of what they are feeling. When children are able to identify how they feel and feel it, without rushing to react, they are practicing resiliency in action. When they can choose a response, they have a lot more options.

There are very simple tools that kids can start using immediately to build those inner resources. It is important to practice each of these when children are relaxed so that they can use them comfortably when they need them.

See also Discover Why Kids Need Yoga as Much as We Do

For all of us, the fastest way to shift the stress response is by slowing down and focusing on the breath. The following four breathing exercises can help a child access more ease and clarity in any situation. (The good news is, these ancient techniques work equally well at any age.)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

MARIAM GATES is the bestselling author of Good Night Yoga and Good Morning Yoga(Sounds True, 2015 and 2016), and has a new book titled, Breathe with Me: Using Breath to Feel Strong, Calm, and Happy (Sounds True, January 2019). She holds a master’s degree in education from Harvard University, and through her books and Kid Power Yoga™ classes, is a well-known innovator of childhood yoga instruction. Mariam lives in Northern CA with her two children and husband, Rolf Gates. Visit kidpoweryoga.com.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR:

SARAH JANE HINDER, based in the UK, is a yoga and mindfulness teacher, and the illustrator of several bestselling children‘s picture books, including Good Night Yoga and Good Morning Yoga, as well as a yoga board book series for children that includes Yoga Bug and Yoga Bear. Visit sarahjanehinder.com.



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Take a Look Inside The Rady Children's Hospital Yoga Program

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A volunteer yoga program at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego is bettering the lives of its oncology kids.

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How Yoga Helped One Child with Cancer Recovery

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Learn more about Julia’s story.

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How to Avoid Social Media Blues

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Yacht parties and bikini bodies got you down? Here’s how to get out of the funk.

I photoshopped a picture of myself once. Okay, maybe more than once.

I’m not talking about adding filters or erasing stains from my shirt. I’m talking vacuuming away parts of my stomach, arms, and even a little thigh. When I gave my husband a virtual tummy tuck, he finally forced me to check myself.

“You can’t talk about self-love and authenticity and then use photoshop!” He was horrified. And then I was, too.

I whole-heartedly believe we’re each put on this earth in our own unique bodies to express our true Selves. And through platforms such as teaching yoga, writing, and using social media, part of my job is to help people realize this. I teach the self-acceptance and body positivity—but I wasn’t always practicing it.

What the bleep was I doing erasing a few pounds with the swipe of my finger?

For the honest answer, we must take a little trip back in time.

I have been dieting since I was 9 years old. Even now, while I may no longer count calories or weigh my broccoli, I still watch every morsel I put in my mouth. I was a child of the early nineties—the era of the supermodel. Pictures of Claudia Schiffer and Cindy Crawford lined the walls of my room. My mum modeled, too (along with her many other careers), and I coveted her air-brushed headshots, just as I did every single page of Vogue.

I wish I looked like that.

Wow, she’s so beautiful.

Why am I so ugly?

These were the lyrics that played on repeat in my head. Not exactly the anthems we want for our children.

The pressure of perfection is a force so strong it can flatten us, if we let it. Literally. It will drain out our color, wash away our texture, and suck us down to some sort of washed-out, skeletal, carbon copy of a Barbie doll.

Under ever photoshopped picture is a human being. A real person, who’s every pore, every wrinkle, every scar, every pound, tells a unique story.

Unfortunately, these are the stories the media does not want us to hear. If we did, we might never buy another beauty product again. Instead, corporate interest spins a golden yarn of the unattainable: the “perfect” woman, the “perfect” man. And the messaging is so loud and pervasive that we absorb it without even trying. Like a top 20 hit you’ve somehow memorized without ever intentionally listening to the song.

See also 5 Poses to Inspire More Self-Love, Less Self Smack-Talk

One day, you find yourself looking at a picture you just took, and instead of seeing the glory in your unique story, you see all your perceived flaws. So, you download an app on your phone that allows you to become a sliver of that “perfect” ideal with the click of your thumb. And like magic, all of the insecurities, the negativity, erase from the screen. That was easy!

But to truly love ourselves in a world that tells us we are not enough is not easy. It takes great courage. It is a rebellious act. It means ignoring the toxic messages and beauty ideals and accept ourselves as we are in this moment. It means looking yourself in the eye in the mirror saying—and really believing—“You are beautiful.” Not because we are thin or tan or have poreless skin. You are beautiful because there is no one in the entire universe that is like you! And nor will there ever be again.

So, the next time you take a picture that you are going to share to the world, I dare you to not add a filter. I dare you to not adjust or alter the image in any way. To share your story in all of its glorious detail. You do not have to be afraid, for I will stand with you. Or hands held, our faces clear, and our soul’s bright.

See also  5 Ways to Radically Love Yourself Today

Here are some tools to help you avoid the perfection trap:

1. When you take a picture, look at the whole picture. 

How often do we take a picture and immediately zoom in to inspect ourselves? Think about group pictures: What is the first thing people do when they look at one? They focus on themselves and their flaws. But it is our imperfections that make us beautifully who we are. I’m a sucker for a big nose and a crooked smile. As Leonard Cohen says in his song “Anthem,” There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in. When you take a photo, try to see the entire image—the complete scene. Remember where you were, who you were with, and how you felt. Pictures should capture memories not project fantasies.

2. Delete image-editing apps from of your phone. Remove the temptation! 

When I am not being mindful, my desire for perfection can border on obsession. Couple that with social media addiction and it’s a recipe for disaster. At one point, I had 10 different apps on my phone for altering images. 10 different apps! In the same way it is helpful to not have alcohol in the house when you are on a cleanse, removing the apps relieves the temptation. Instead, fill your phone with apps that help you grow creatively. Try learning a new language, playing brain games, and listening to interesting podcasts. Take more pictures of your dog.

3. Unfollow people who trigger you. 

I stopped buying fashion magazines a long time ago because of how bad they made me feel. Even though I knew the images were altered, I could not help comparing myself to supermodels’ stick figures. Nowadays, these types of images pervade social media, and because they appear in someone’s personal feed rather than a magazine, we think they’re real. It’s much harder to deciphering what is fake. If you find yourself constantly feeling bad from looking at someone’s posts, it might be time to stop following them. Instead, find people to follow who leave you feeling empowered and inspired.

4. Get off social media and into the real world. 

One of my favorite things about teaching yoga is looking around the room and seeing all of the different body types. If we all looked or practiced the same, life would be so boring! When I look up from my phone and back out into the world, I find myself in awe of how beautiful everything is, from an 85-year-old walking with their 10-year-old grandchild, to a couple smooching on a park bench. Look around to see just how varied and unique and interesting we all are. Life is beautiful!

5. The next time you take a picture, look for one thing you love. 

As mentioned above, we have a tendency to home in on what we think are flaws. We zoom in, looking for something wrong. The next time you take a picture, instead of looking for what to fix, look for what you love. If you cannot find anything at first, look at the bigger picture. What did you love about that outfit? That location? Who you were with? Start to train your brain to see the beauty. This can (and should) start in the mirror. One of my favorite self-love practices is to say one thing I love about myself every day. It doesn’t have to be physical, either! The more we learn to love ourselves, the more love we have to give others. 



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