Breathing is one of the most powerful bodily functions—one which we take for granted. Since it is involuntary and an effortless constant in our lives, many humans do not focus on it. Unfortunately breathing and meditation have been perceived and judged as boring, or as alternative health therapies. This comes from a gross misunderstanding of the advantages of breath work.

The phrase "fight or flight" is also known as the body’s natural stress response. It's what the body instinctively does to confront or escape danger. While in the short term, stress response can help us survive and rise up to challenges, when this response is constantly provoked by less serious day-to-day events, it can lead to several health concerns. This response suppresses the immune system, contributes to illnesses, anxiety and depression.

On the other hand, breathing can help energise and relax the body, in a way that can help increase focus and neural health. It reduces the impact of cortisol, and helps us with wellness and growth, quite literally by balancing the release of growth hormone.

Unfortunately this awareness and knowledge is not imparted early on in life. So many of us have memories from our childhood of being panic-stricken before going on stage on forgetting our lines, of throwing up or blanking out during exams. Can you imagine how we might have dealt with things differently if we knew how to use our breathing to relax, to think, solve problems and to stay focussed? I believe that equipping children with tools along with gradual exposure of regulating the functions of the body and mind through breathing can help build confidence, coping skills and overall wellness.

Researchers have established and continue to invest in exploring the mind-lung relationship. To help children get a grip on this one can be a challenge, so be patient and realistic. The first important and crucial achievement worth celebrating is helping them with nasal breathing. Pretending as if you are both smelling a flower, helping them become conscious about breathing in through the nose, and then pushing out a tiny petal stuck in the nostril by blowing air out, can help realisation and awareness of nasal breathing, which is the basic groundwork of effective breathing.

At the risk of over simplifying breath work but a great place to start with, let's say there are two kinds: inhalation-focused and the other, exhalation-focused. The former involves spending more time to inhale oxygen than the release of carbon-dioxide and is an energiser. The latter focuses on releasing carbon-dioxide for far longer than inhalation, and tends to calm, relax and restore.

Pretending to smell flowers, blowing away feathers, sniffing like a bunny and then exhaling like a snake with a hiss—you can be as creative as you and your kids like.

As parents we jump into preventing, analysing or solving problems for our children, often without remembering to breathe. Breathing in the ultimate and bitter truth that our children will have to face and suffer their own challenges, holding the breath with acceptance of it and then exhaling deeply while letting go and embracing their individual journey, will be a “breath work out” for us worth investing in. Since children learn better from demonstration and modelling, it might be worthwhile for us to practice good breath work ourselves, making this a consistent conversation and culture in the family.

Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.

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