Would you like to know about a ritual I have when I want my kids to settle down, which also helps them to be mindful? And what if this ritual also helped them internalize the importance of having a healthy body, healthy brain, and healthy lungs? Would you be interested? I thought so.
This post was originally sponsored by CVS Health.
It's called breathing. I know, it seems so simple. So overlooked. Still, it is hugely important. But I don't just tell my kids to:
If you knew my kids, you would know that that would be pretty ineffective. Instead, I have to make it entertaining with game-like breathing exercises and some fun chatter. My 11-year-old loves facts so I might even say to him, "Keep those cilia healthy!" To which he would say, "What are cilia, Mom?" Then I have the chance to oh-so-casually mention, "Cilia are fine hairs in the lungs. Poisonous chemicals in things like tobacco smoke damage the cilia. That makes it difficult to breathe and increases the risk of serious illnesses." I'm telling you, he eats information like that up.
OK, I'm just about to get to the exercises, but before I do I want to confess something else. Despite all I knew about the benefits of mindfulness and breathing exercises for kids, I started late in the game. I was lazy. I didn't do it. I tell you this because it means you can do it too. Whether your kids are 2 or 11 or 16. Just start now. Teaching our kids about how to treat themselves well—like eating right, exercising, and yes, deep breathing, can start anytime, anywhere. So just do it.
Belly-button breathing exercise
I do this most often at bedtime. When my son has been bouncing around, usually during our read-aloud, I want to make sure he is settled for the last few pages. He lies on his back and I ask him to take a deep breath in, "all the way down to your belly button." Then I tell him to let it out as slowly as he can. I like the way I can see him being mindful of how his lungs work, and how much he enjoys filling them up as much as possible.
Yoga-nose breathing exercise
"Yoga nose," that's what I call this. It probably has an official name. I used to do it—or something similar—in yoga, and the kids get a kick out of it because it seems so silly. Close one nostril with your thumb and breathe in through the other nostril. Then switch so that you are closing the other nostril and breathe out. Alternate in that way for five breaths. This is not really good when you are stuffed up, but otherwise the alternations help my kids to concentrate, which is always a good thing.
"Stop to smell the flowers" breathing exercise
This is super informal, and rather sneaky on my part. We live in the big dirty city (New York) and so we walk everywhere. There are cars kicking up dust, we pass by the occasional smoker, and then there is the pollen! To get my kids to be mindful of the natural world instead of the pavement, I often stop and stick my nose in the flowers on the neighbors' stoops or in tree-pit gardens. Breathing deeply, I encourage my kids to do the same.
During these exercises (but not all the time, because I don't want to be a nag!), I also remind my kids that maintaining a healthy set of lungs is imperative to our well-being. How can we breathe in the scents of flowers or down into our belly buttons if we don't treat ourselves well and maintain a healthy set of lungs?