And Breathe . . .
Recently I had to write out some simple breathing exercises for teachers, and it suddenly struck me - why aren’t these more readily taught to young children?
Whilst I was writing and noting how most of us maintain a fairly shallow breathing pattern that takes place in the upper part of the ribcage and that fails to utilise full capacity, I realised that no-one had ever taught me how to breathe.
As I mentioned last week, I am an asthmatic and have been since childhood, including the excitement of an intense attack when I was six, during a half term break on Guernsey. My ‘What I did on Holiday’ assignment when I got back to school consisted of a drawing of myself in a hospital bed and the words, 'I went on holiday to Guernsey. I nearly died.'!
And yet still, no-one ever taught me to breathe, or even tried to teach me how to breathe. I guess at the time pretty much all grown-ups thought breathing was just an instinctive process and you either knew how to do it, or you didn’t, and if you were one of the latter, then hard cheese.
It was only in my mid-teens when I attended a part-time drama school, that I became aware that breathing was something to which you could apply learned technique. My awareness of breath and how to maximise lung capacity didn’t solve all my respiratory problems, but it did help, and I’m sure it could help today’s youngsters too. And it's not just beneficial for those with weakly lungs, everyone benefits from an additional boost of oxygen.
Children tend to be fascinated with their bodies and bodily functions, and they readily get into a few simple, fun, breathing exercises. For very young children, I like to have them lying on their backs with a beanie baby or similar toy balanced on their stomach, then they can try to raise and lower the toy by extending and contracting their stomach as they breathe. And for older children, it's fairly easy to adapt exercises for actors that are available online. Like any other kind of physical discipline, whatever they learn at an early age should benefit them as they grow, even into adulthood.
I may be behind the curve, and perhaps there are schools that are incorporating breath work into their day, not just for the children’s health, but to help them in their ability to stay calm when needed. I’ve not witnessed it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening of course - if you have any experience of this, or indeed if you ever engage your own children in breathing exercises, I’d love to hear from you.