4 WAYS TO SNEAK IN SEL AT EVERY GRADE LEVEL: PART 3 DEEP BREATHS

We weren’t born to follow

Deep Breaths: It’s no secret that deep breathing is nature’s best anti-stress medicine. It has stood the test of time as an old wives tale, primarily because there is some very powerful science behind why it is effective. One analogy used by Matthew MacKinnon MD in Psychology Today, describes it as a biological brake that can help lead to resilience and happiness.

 “…in a state of petroleum-fueled anxiety there is no better remedy than a biological brake.”

Come on and get up off your knees

Frequently, I have high school students under different levels of stress for a variety of reasons. Life is complicated, and sometimes that builds up until it has to find some release. When I see the tension or stress building, I get face to face with the student, interrupt him or her, and calmly and quietly tell them to breathe. If I haven’t trained them yet, then I tell them to take a deep breath. I don’t wait for them to finish a sentence or tirade. The deep breathing is of the utmost importance for a child or adult in distress. Simple. Effective.

When life is a bitter pill to swallow

If you aren’t comfortable or experienced with breathing techniques, you can spend some time training yourself first. If you want to dive right in, start by breathing in slowly through your nose for a count of four, then exhaling slowly for a count of six. Repeat this for up to at least six times. If you and your students can do this six times, they will reap the full benefits.

You gotta hold on to what you believe

How This Looks At Each Grade Level:

Elementary

Take Five Breathing Technique: Tell students to fan out one of their hands like a star, and place it atop a table, knee, other surface, or hold it in the air. Next, direct students to take their pointer finger from the opposite hand and begin to trace along the hand that is fanned out. They should inhale through the nose as they trace the outside of their thumb, then exhale through the mouth as they trace along the inside of their thumb. Have students inhale again as they trace the outside of their pointer finger, exhale as they trace the inside of their pointer finger…and so on and so forth until all of their fingers have been traced.

Middle/High School

An adaptation of this for older students or even adults, though the Take Five original technique also works well for all ages, is to start with the hand in a fist. As students release a finger from the fist, they are to complete the one slow deep breath in and one out. They are to repeat this for each finger until the hand is fully open, signalling that they’re finished. This is a discrete way to get the breaths in, hiding the hand under their desk, and can be used before tests as well as when students are feeling very anxious, angry, sad, or any other moderate to extreme emotion.

Teachers:

Another good activity to do with the class instead of just directing it. You can reap just as many benefits with this as your students, and everyone will function much better together as a unit. Even high school students will be able see immediate benefits, so dive in with them. Take those deep breaths, let them out slowly, and feel your body release some of the stress you carry daily as an educator, parent, spouse, adult. You should even model it at times that you feel you need to calm down or refocus. This will reinforce the importance of taking those breaths when you need to with your students.

Believe that the sun will shine tomorrow

While breathing isn’t the remedy for everything, those deep breaths can be surprisingly effective. After directing a student to breath who has frequent self-regulation struggles, you will soon see that student taking the initiative and breathing deeply to calm down all on his or her own. That, my friends, is when you do your happy dance. Getting students on the path to regulating their own emotions will pay huge dividends for them as they grow, mature, and live the life they are supposed to live.  

Resources:

Yoga Pretzels Different yoga breathing and movement exercises are presented on colorful and cute cards.

Yoga Sparks 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less.

Headings are comprised of partial song lyrics from We Weren’t Born To Follow by Bon Jovi.

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