Using the Breath

It can be difficult settling into the breath as a beginner. Try to have no expectations, and view the exercises as an experiment.

Core Breathing Practice

Breathing PracticeThe breathing practice is just about cultivating awareness. So whether your mind wanders one time or a thousand times, each time you become aware of your mind wandering, you are wiring your brain to pay attention to the moment. That is an important part of the practice. You might even say that the more your mind wanders, the more practice you get of waking up and choosing to bring attention back to the breath.

The point of mindful breathing is to calm and focus the mind while bringing awareness to the body. With practice, a child can learn to calm down during a moment of anxiety or stress and refocus the attention. Over time, child who uses mindful breathing on a regular basis will be calmer, more relaxed, more focused, and ready to learn.

Beginning Cues: 

  1. I stop (palms up like a stop sign)
  2. And feel my breathing (hands on belly)
  3. Peaceful and calm I’m ready to…(eat, play, nap, etc.)
  4. Practice 3 times a day!

Advanced Cues:

  1. Be aware of the breath coming in and going out for a count of 3. 1 - breathe in and out, 2 - breathe in and out, 3 - breathe in and out.
  2. When the mind wanders, just notice the thought, and gently start over counting breaths.
  3. As you practice this, you may see some important changes taking place, like taking more breaths and counting to a higher number.

Belly Breathing

Most of us breathe only to our upper chest, which restricts how much oxygen is getting to the rest of our body. Practice bringing the breath to the belly, filling it so that it is round like a balloon.

  1. Breathe in through the nose slowly until your tummy feels full.
  2. Release your breath through the mouth slowly until your belly feels empty.
  3. Repeat ten times.
  4. When you lose your focus, start counting over again.
  5. Keep trying to get to 10!

Show kids the Belly Breathing with Elmo video below. Let them move with it and have the brain puppets join in. After the video, talk about how they could tell Elmo was angry. Have Guard Dog puppet confirm and demonstrate calm and angry.

Count Your Breaths

  1. In this exercise the exhale is longer than the inhale. It helps your body turn on the “relaxation response” to help you feel calmer. You may want to close your eyes, or look down.
  2. Now count: 1 in and out, 2 in and out, 3 in and out. Repeat 2 more times.
  3. Have Guard Dog puppet breath with you.

Horse Prancing

This exercise is based loosely on a horse’s gait and wild breath, but it’s also about feeling free and strong, like a wild horse. Guaranteed to get blood and oxygen flowing to all parts of the body.

  1. Start by having the kids “prance” in place.
  2. Lift knees high, move the head up and down like a proud horse, and breathe in and out deep breaths.
  3. While prancing, lift arms like a horse rearing back. Whinny if you want!
  4. Pick up the prancing pace to a trot, lifting legs higher, swinging arms, and shaking head, panting short, fast breaths.
  5. Ok. Time to gallop! Use your imagination!
  6. Return to slow prance, slowing movements down: head back and forth, legs lower, arms swinging at sides, and slow the breathing.
  7. Finish by having your "herd" move around each other saying “thank you for the wake-up call.”

Elephant Shower

Elephant Shower BreathA favorite with kids, Elephant Shower Breath, involves both the breath and the body. It is especially effective at both calming the nervous system while energizing the body. Children love the motion and the shower sounds made during the exercise. Raising the arms over the body allows room in the torso for deeper breaths. All that oxygen is brain and body food, and also brings the stress hormone, cortisol, down!

  1. Begin in standing position, feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Take three deep breaths (you lead).
  2. Ask the children if they know how an elephant takes a shower. You may get some silly responses!
  3. Demonstrate: Drop your arms clasping your hands together. Allow your head to drop and hang loose.
  4. Take a deep breath, slurping if you want, like you are taking a drink of water.
  5. Stand up quickly, allowing your arms to come up over, and behind your head (like a trunk) and release the air with a loud, long, s-w-i-s-h. Invite the class to do it with you.
  6. Repeat as many times as you want.
  7. Ask your students about their experience while practicing the Elephant Shower breath.
    • How did it feel to be upside down full of air?
    • Could you imagine your breath as water pouring over your back?
    • What other feeling did you have? Where?
    • How does your brain feel right now?

Brain Button

Brain ButtonTime: 1 Minute

Materials: Just yourself!

Why it Works:

This exercise was offered by a local preschool teacher as a very quick reset when kids are spinning out of control. She quietly says “brain button!” and the kids stop what they are doing, place their index finger on each temple, massage the area, and take a deep breath. It disrupts the frenzy by engaging the breath, the body, and the senses. Kids immediately pull themselves under control. Brilliant!

What to Say:

Explain that we are going to set up a signal for when it looks like our brain is getting too full or too active. Have the kids place their fingers on each temple and rub a little bit. Explain that this is our brain button, and when they need to calm their brain they can just touch and rub this spot. Let them know that you will help them from time to time to practice the ‘brain button’ activity. That you will do this when you see that it might be helpful to them. Practice doing the activity together with the kids now.


Children will learn a quick and easy strategy for helping them regulate their behavior and thoughts.


Not all children will have the ability to respond positively to this activity on first try. With gentle reminders and practice most children can do this, and like it.

The Smile Breath

What to Say:

  • Breathing in, I calm my body.
  • Breathing out, I smile.

The Silent Sigh

What to Say:

  • Take in a deep breath.
  • Let out a long, deep, slightly audible breath with a sigh.

The Hissing Breath

It’s wonderful to connect kids to their exhale to help them learn to slow themselves down, mentally and physically. The hiss provides a focal point.

  • Altogether, breathe in through the nose, a long deep inhale.
  • Breathe out through the mouth with a hissing sound, slow and long.
  • Extending the exhale will allow kids to slow down their inner speed.
  • Repeat this process, increasing or decreasing the sound of the hiss.

Breathing Stick

    Breathing SticksBreathing StickThe "breathing stick" exercise is fun, interactive, allows the child to practice counting, and strengthens focusing ability. When a student is using the breathing stick, it helps her to focus on the present moment and pulls her away from any stimulus in her environment. You can either make the sticks ahead or, if time permits, have students make their own which requires focusing on its own!

    • Taking a pipe cleaner, knot one end to secure the beads.
    • String 6 beads onto it. They should fit loosely and slide easily.
    • Twist the other end to secure.
    • Move all the beads to one end of the pipe cleaner.
    • Invite students to breathe in as they slowly move one bead to the other end of the pipe cleaner, matching movement and breath.
    • On the exhale, move another bead. Repeat for the remaining beads.
    • Move the beads back, one by one, to the beginning. Repeat if desired.
    • Invite the students to place the breathing stick on their wrists as a reminder to breathe when they need to pay attention.

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