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Yoga and the nervous system: helping children with anxiety

by Sesame Lane Admin on 12/03/2019 3:02:51 PM
Most of us know we have two modes to our nervous system: one that produces our rest and digest functions and the opposite that engages our fight or flight capabilities. The system was designed with a few important features in mind. 

1. We can only be in one mode at a time
2. To spend the majority of our time in rest mode
3. To return quickly back to rest mode once a threat has passed

For both children and adults, the biggest issue is returning to rest without lingering in the stress hormones and impaired function of fight/flight mode for too long following a threat.

The most effective way we can influence a quick return is via the breath. Breathing techniques work so well because the two modes display very different breathing characteristics. 

Fight/flight breathing lives in the neck and shoulders and these short, shallow breaths exchange just enough air for survival. Rest mode has slow, deep abdominal breaths. The big difference is in the abdomen. 

If our belly participates in breathing we are having a conversation with the rest mode. With this in mind, encouraging belly breathing in someone who is in their fight/flight mode (anxious, angry, fearful, upset) will help toggle them back to their rest functions. 

For someone with already impaired breathing, perhaps due to asthma, sinus problems, illness, injury or limited awareness, they will spend more time with fight/flight mode activated even without the presence of any threats.

What you need to know about belly breathing.
  • As you inhale, the belly fills and expands.
  • As you exhale, the belly empties and contracts.
  • Air is designed to flow in and out of the nose rather than the mouth. Nose breathing naturally slows the breath, cleans the air and regulates the temperature.

What you can do.

Each day dedicate a few moments to deliberate belly breathing. Try one of the following:

  1. Place your hands on your belly and feel the breath rise and fall, wave in and out, lifting and lowering your hands as it goes.
  2. Imagine you have a balloon in your belly. As you inhale, visualise the balloon filling. As you exhale, visualise the balloon emptying. 

PS Variations of these two techniques are now taught to your children during their days at Sesame Lane.

Belly breathing and low back pain
Another unexpected benefit to belly breathing is for the low back. The diaphragm, which is the muscle in the belly that causes the expansion and contraction is physically attached to the low back. This constant, rhythmic movement in the belly transfers through to the low back and helps to avoid bracing and locking up this area.

Thank you to Paige Enright from Emporium Yoga for sharing your tips.