snake breath: the importance of an elongated exhale
Not only is Snake Breath a fun way to introduce breathing into a child's self-help tool box, it is also a calming breath. It is a breath that can help your child practice and learn how to elongate the exhale. Why is it important to elongate the exhale? Elongating the exhale activates our parasympathetic nervous system, the part of our brain that helps us self soothe and sends calming signals to the rest of our body.
If we begin with a calm breath, a calm mind follows. When the mind is calm we are able to slow down our thoughts. This is the place where we can think rationally, understand another's point of view, and/or come up with a solution to a problem.
Imagine the mind like a mindfulness jar or a snow globe. When your mind is calm the glitter and snow are settled at the bottom of the jar. This is when one feels most at peace, not threatened, and happy. Unexpectedly, someone steals your favorite toy. Your heart starts to race, your breathing starts to quicken and just like that, your mind shifts to fight or flight mode stressed and panicked about getting your favorite toy back into your possession. The glitter/snow starts to swirl around the jar and it gets difficult to see the person who has your toy. Your vision gets blurred because the feelings of alarm, stress, and anger (glitter/snow) are blocking the way. So we frantically try to push and hit our way back to our toy in desperation. We don't mean to hurt the person who took our toy, we just reacted and tried to fight through all the glitter/snow that was blocking the way.
Now, imagine the scenario again but instead of pushing and hitting our way through the glitter, we use our powerful breath to settle and calm our mind, the glitter/snow. Taking at least 3 big breaths, we start to see the glitter/snow settle towards the bottom of the jar. We can see the person and our toy clearly and no longer have particles distorting our vision or blocking our way. In this calm state, we can approach our problem with a clear and rational mind. Instead of reacting, we can respond. This is where we want to meet our children when they are upset or distressed about a certain situation. Snake breath, or an elongated exhale can help your child get there. Below you will find various steps that you can build up to and take with your child.
Practice snake breath with an elongated exhale. Inhale for a count of 2, exhale for a count of 3. With practice and comfort around the breath, extend the counts of the breath (i.e. inhale for 3, exhale for 4).
Put It Into Practice
Once you have practiced the breath and your child is comfortable, try snake breath when your child is crying. After giving your child a moment to cry it out, model snake breath for them. Encourage them to do it with you.
*It is important to let your child cry it out. This is how we release feelings instead of holding them inside our bodies. Holding in emotions and feelings is how stress, anger and sadness build up inside of us.
*Modeling is also key. Remember last time you tried talking to your child in the middle of a melt down? Right. Not successful! Modeling shows them what to do which is much easier than telling them what to do.
Ready to go further?
Narrate facts in what you notice. For example, I notice after snake breath, your body and breathing is starting to slow down. Can you tell me what you are feeling? Is your child too young to communicate verbally? Narrate what happened prior to the incident. For example, I noticed you fell down and you started to cry. I wonder if you were upset that you fell down? I would feel frustrated and hurt if I fell down. You know what falling down tells us? It tells us that you are growing and trying new things; and that is exciting!
*Why state facts? We don't want to assume or tell a child, or another person for that matter, how they are feeling. From a young age we want to instill agency and ownership of ones own feelings. Starting from birth, many babies are told, Shhhh, don't cry, you are ok. In reality, they are not ok. They are using their cry to communicate a need or want. When a child cries or has a tantrum ask yourself, What are you trying to communicate? What need(s) need to be met? Then use an elongated breath, snake breath, to calm and recenter the mind for resolution.
Honoring + Empowering Our Children
Have older children? Just use an elongated breath and use counting to demonstrate. The important thing is we use the breath to send signals to our parasympathetic system to get out of distressed flight or flight mode when we are crying, upset, or stressed. This allows your child to kick out the hijacking driver, so they can get back into the drivers seat.
Give it a try! And remember these methods take time, practice and most importantly repetition. Let's honor our children (this includes their feelings and emotions), meet them where they are, and provide strategies that encourage them to honor and empower themselves. When we honor ourselves, we have an innate compassion for others as we can see our
struggles and strengths mirrored in our neighbors around us.
Comment below if you have any questions or would like to share your experiences!