Blog

Breathing to Help Kids With Anxiety

If you are a parent, grandparent, teacher, work with children or just know a child then stop and take a moment to read this…

As more children and teens seem to be suffering with anxiety and panic attacks, it becomes more important than ever to equip them with the skill of using the breath to become calm once more.

Even if your child doesn’t suffer with anxiety or panic attacks it’s worth doing this with them. These are LIFE SKILLS people!

What I can’t emphasise enough is that you need to make this a regular practice. Don’t wait until anxiety has taken hold or a full blown panic attack has descended, ever tried teaching someone to take deep breaths during a panic attack? It’s like trying to teach someone to swim whilst they are drowning!

Young Childre

So, here are a few tips to help do this with young children – by young I would say up to the age of about 8 or 9 but this depends on understanding and maturity.

Ask your child to lie down – do this with them, there is nothing more powerful than a parent modelling behaviour. Choose a toy to place on their belly, it doesn’t really matter what it is as long as it’s not too heavy!

Breathing Buddies

Encourage your child to take deep, slow breaths to make the ‘breathing buddy’ move up and down. This helps bring awareness to the breath and encourages them to take deeper breaths. Emphasise that the breath is to come in and out of the nostrils.

If this is really tricky for your child then see if you can get hold of some light fabric, these ‘silks’ are ideal…

 

Breathing Silks

Place the silks over their mouth and nose (with care obviously!!) This time you can ask them to exhale through their mouth and see if they can make it move. Once they can do this, progress to nasal breathing and perhaps to the breathing buddies.

Once they have mastered awareness of the breath you can work on taking deeper breaths.

Do this by counting as they inhale – perhaps to 4, but vary the number as necessary – and then counting as they exhale. After a while, if they are able to,  you can get them to do the counting in their heads.

Try to practise this with them for five minutes a day, before bed or in bed is a great time. After a while they may develop their own practice without you!

Older Children and Teens 

When approaching this with older children, particularly teens, you may experience a little resistance. Explaining the reason for it and the fact it is only for five minutes may help. If this fails then getting another trusted adult to do it with them may be the answer.

 

breathing teens

Older children may wish to lie down but there’s no reason for them not to be seated, whichever feels most comfortable for them. Bed time is a good opportunity for stillness and is often a time when older children feel more communicative or ready to relax anyway.

Ask them to place a hand on their belly to feel the breath coming in and out. After five or more DEEP, SLOW breaths encourage them to count to 4 or 6 on the inhale, then to the same number on the exhale. A long exhale is the key!

After some practise they may feel able to do the following:

Inhale for a count of 6

Hold the breath in for a count of 2

Exhale for a count of 6

Hold the breath out for a count of 2 

 

With older children you might even want to talk about the mind wandering . Tell them that it’s ok for thoughts to arise, notice the thought, maybe label it (e.g. school, friends etc) and then return to counting the breath. Emphasise that we are NOT trying to empty the mind or push thoughts away – just to not become engaged by them.  You could even liken the experience to sitting at a train station – trains come and go, you see them but you don’t get on any of the trains, you remain on the platform just observing.

If your child needs more help then I’m going to share the link to the breathing shape which I’ve share before and regularly recommend to adults and children…

Inhale as the shape grows, exhale as it shrinks. This one takes just one minute, there are longer ones too.

 

All this takes lots of practise! As with any skill it needs to be done regularly to get used to it. This goes for adults as well as children!

Do be aware that when the mind quietens, some repressed emotions and thoughts may rise to the surface that your child might want to talk about. Be ready to listen without judgement if this happens.

Good luck and remember to practise what you preach!

Where Is My Mind?

I thought I’d address something I used to, and still sometimes do, struggle with – my mind!  Or more precisely, the thoughts within it.

It’s also something I’ve been asked a lot about, something I’ve focused on when teaching meditation and something I bring into the beginning of each yoga class I teach.

How do we quieten our mind?

busy mind

It’s busy in there isn’t it? There are memories that we like and dislike, concerns about possible future events, fantasy stories we are making up for ourselves. The mind likes to be busy!

So let’s not try to quieten it.

Let’s observe it. Let’s train it.

With the kindness and patience that you would offer to a child.

Sit comfortably and close your eyes.

Allow yourself to fidget so you can be comfortable and then settle into stillness. No rush.

Breathe in and out and focus on this inhale and exhale.

Within moments you can guarantee the mind will get fed up of the stillness and wander off to entertain itself….what shall I have for dinner? I must remember to service the car…Oo here comes Tom Hardy, he’s so handsome…..and we’re gone!

So the key to this is to notice that your mind has wandered off. It’s often labelled ‘The Monkey Mind’ for obvious reasons – swinging around between trees, jumping from branch to branch, never still. When you notice that the mind has drifted off don’t scold yourself or judge yourself, instead, with the kindness and reassurance of an adult to a child, bring its attention back to the breath…’inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale’ etc.

This will probably happen again and again and AGAIN!

It doesn’t matter.

The fact that you are noticing that it drifted off is half of the job done. It really doesn’t matter if you have to bring it back a  hundred times.

However, it’s important to note that we are not trying to squash these thoughts or create an empty mind. They are still there, we are just taking our attention away from them at the present moment. Perhaps even becoming at peace with them.

where is my mind

After a while you may feel ready for the next stage where you notice what thoughts you are having.

When a thought pops into your head try to view it as an outsider looking in, rather than a participant in the thought. This is a skill to practise but is particularly helpful when the thought is upsetting or stressful. Then take a moment to investigate – is this a re-occurring thought? Something that may need to be addressed? Is it a daydream or an unnecessary thought that you can allow yourself to let go?

Once you’ve briefly investigated you can then practise non-attachment – allow the thought to drift away like a cloud passing by in the sky. And then it’s back to the breath. Repeat as many times as necessary!

After a while of practising sitting in stillness, you may notice certain patterns within your thoughts – ones which always appear, or that your own monologue takes rather an unkind tone with yourself. Maybe you realise you’re always daydreaming. It’s a way to learn quite a lot about yourself!

It takes practise to get a grip of this and the best thing to do is little and often. Daily for five minutes is a good, set a timer, sit on a chair and close your eyes. You have nothing to lose.

Namaste

 

Just Breathe

If you’ve been to any of my classes you’ll know I talk about the breath rather a lot! As do most yoga teachers.

There are good reasons for this; attention on the breath keeps you present and therefore allows for a mindful practice, but also, keeping a focus on and a control of your breath gives you control of the energy in your body and not just during a yoga class…

It’s fairly simple – when we feel anxious we tend to take rapid, shallow breaths focusing mainly on the nose and throat. Your oxygen intake rises, blood pressure increases and your body begins to become ready to take action. If this continues then the body starts to produce adrenaline to help kick start our ‘fight or flight’ mode and we drop into a stressed state. This is great if we do need to react quickly to save ourselves from danger but if we feel unable to remove ourselves from this state then adrenaline along with another hormone called cortisol starts to take their toll on the body. Negative affects can include suppressed immune system, increased blood pressure, acne, insomnia and it can even contribute to obesity.

It’s easy to feel helpless as anxiety takes over but the secret is in the breath and harnessing its power.

breathe

I’m going to suggest a simple breathing techniques which helps with anything from feeling anxious in the dentist’s chair, to job interview nerves to calming down after a traumatic event. It can also help you to get to sleep!

The complete yogic breath. 

This can be done either seated or lying down, just make sure that you are comfortable first. When you breathe you are going to keep the mouth closed and breathe in and out of the nostrils. If the nose is blocked then open the mouth just a fraction to help breathe fully.

  1. Take a deep breath into the belly, making it expand as you inhale like a balloon filling up.
  2. Then the lower ribs begin to fill with air expanding in the same way.
  3. Finally the breath reaches the collar bones which also move outward as you breath in.
  4. Now you exhale from the collar bones, then lower ribs and finally the belly.
  5. Repeat. Try to make the breaths long, deep and with control.

You can take just a few breaths like this or keep it going for as long as you feel comfortable. Maybe you can visualize the breath going in and out of the body, it can be affective to see the torso as a completely empty vessel and the air filling it up from the bottom to the top like a glass being filled with water and then emptying out like someone is sucking water out of the glass with a straw so it empties from the top to the bottom.

It’s so incredibly simple and so incredibly powerful. Changing the breath in this way can alter your physical and mental state within minutes.

It’s a great technique to teach to children, maybe even do it together, if they see you doing it and using it to help yourself then they will also take it on board.

It’s a fantastic tool to have at your fingertips and it’s always there with you no matter where you go!

Now sit down for one minute, close your eyes and just breathe…

 

 

Sugar Free or Not Sugar Free? That is the question.

Sugar free, surely? Is the answer.

So I did sugar free September along with a lovely support group of friends on a Facebook group.

I’m lucky enough to have been brought up with a fairly low sugar diet – thank you hippy parents – but I’ve still learnt a lot.

So this is meant to be helpful post – tips to help change habits and a few facts that you may not know.

Some basic facts:

Recommended Daily Amounts of sugar:

🍭Adults and children over 11years- 30g (7 teaspoons)

🍭Children aged 7-10 years – 24g (6 teaspoons)

🍭Children aged 4-6 years – 19g (5 teaspoons)

There are no current guidelines for children under 4 years.

Just one can of Coca Cola is approximately 39g, one snickers bar is 24g and one pouch of Capri sun is 19g.

To help when looking at labels in food look for ‘carbohydrates (of which sugars)’ to give you an idea of how much you’re going to be consuming. As a guideline anything over 22.5g of sugars per 100g is too high!

Don’t forget to check bread, cereal, yogurt and baked beans – foods we don’t always think of when it comes to sugar.

Also be aware that the sugars in fruit juice count too!

Sugar gives us energy but without nutrients so we get a high level of energy followed by a crash which is when we go looking for more food to satisfy our appetite.

So if we’re going to get practical then let’s look at how to make swaps and changes…

🌟Cereal – Lidl sell ‘Mini Wheats’ which are cheap and sugar free:

🌟Also, their cheapest wholemeal bread is sugar free too! Hurray!

🌟 Heinz do ‘no added sugar’ beans which does have sweetener but is still considerably better than normal beans.

🌟Peanut butter – look for sugar free varieties like Whole Earth or Meridian. In addition to which Whole Earth only uses sustainable palm oil and Meridian contains no palm oil. Bonus!

🌟If you still want the occasional sweet ‘treat’ (although getting away from calling it a ‘treat’ could be helpful!) then try making date and nut based protein balls which can be as simple or complex as you wish. Here’s a link to variety of recipes –

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/food-recipes/healthy/g4892/protein-ball-recipes/

🌟 But here’s a life saver and a little gem given to me by a friend – a recipe for vegan sugar free chocolate!

🍫Half a cup of coconut oil – melt in pan.

🍫Remove from heat and stir in 4 tablespoons of maple syrup and half a cup of cocoa powder.

🍫Pour into ice cube moulds and freeze for 20 minutes.

Easy peasy! And you can add in whatever you like to jazz them up – mint essence, orange zest, nuts etc.

🍸 So what about alcohol? 🍸

Spirits seem to be the best option as they are usually sugar free so it’s the mixer that you need to be careful with – slimline tonics are abundant and are either reduced in sugar or use a sweetener instead.

There is so much more to talk about when it comes to sugar.

I’ve found a really interesting article on ‘healthy sugars’ which are marketed as a better alternative but in some ways can be worse…

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-healthy-sugars-that-can-kill-you

Good luck if you intend to cut down. After watching my six year old sob in the dentists chair whilst she had to have a filling – we are definitely looking more carefully at what we consume as a family.

Ultimately it’s about changing our palettes. To try to stop the craving for the need for something sweet in the first place.

I’d love to hear your opinions and tips!

Yoga For Lower Back Pain

If you are one of the many with a constant achey or stiff back then this is for you.

This kind of back pain is often caused by bad posture, long periods of sitting, tight hamstrings, tight hips or a combination of the above.

However, before we go any further let’s do the sensible bit…

Before you attempt any postures here, these suggestions are not aimed at people recovering from surgery and anyone with a back injury must consult a doctor before undertaking any form of exercise.

Just common sense really.

Ok let’s move on…

1. Start by lying on your back. Draw your knees in towards your chest then drop them over to floor on the right, arms come out the the side either straight or bent at the elbows and your head turns to the left. Try to keep the right shoulder in contact with the floor but don’t worry if this doesn’t happen for you. Close your eyes, take at least five deep breaths here.

Now repeat going in the opposite direction.

Roll up to seated along your spine or roll on to your side to push yourself up.

2. Next we’re going to take a seated twist. Sit with both legs straight out, feet flexed. Make sure you are on your sitting bones and the spine is lifting up.

Bend your right knee bringing the heel as close to the right buttock as is comfortable making sure your back doesn’t curve making you collapse onto your tailbone.

The right hand goes onto the floor behind you and the left arm can wrap round the right thigh. Turn to look over your right shoulder.

Take five deep breaths here.

On an inhale rotate to look forward, straighten out your right leg and repeat on the left side.

Now bring yourself into your hands and knees.

3. Leading with the pelvis, tipping it so the bottom sticks in the air, drop the mid back and gently raise the head, all done on an INHALE.

As you EXHALE tip the pelvis under, arch the back upwards and drop the head. Press firmly through the palms to get an extra stretch between the shoulder blades that feels amazing!

4. From all fours draw your buttocks back down to your heels into child’s pose. Don’t worry if your buttocks don’t meet the heels, this will come with practise. You can make a pillow with your hands or rest your forehead in the floor.

Take AT LEAST ten deep breaths here paying particular attention to the expansion of the ribs on your back as you inhale.

5. Stretch your arms forward spread your fingers wide, tuck your toes under and bring yourself up into downward dog.

The priority here is the back and NOT whether your legs are straight. Try to avoid any curves in the back and aim for a straight line from the buttocks to the crown of the head. It’s very important to bend your legs as much as you need to.

Walk your feet forward and sit down. Roll onto your back and bend your knees bringing the soles of your feet to the floor and your heels in towards your buttocks.

6. Bridge – tuck the pelvis under and roll the spine up off the floor as if you were lifting up one vertebrae at a time.

If you are able to, tuck you shoulders under slightly and clasp your hands pushing the arms down into the floor.

Aim for five breaths here and then til the spine down with control.

So, if you were ever worried about farting during a yoga class then this is the pose that it’s going to happen in – ‘happy baby’…

7. Staying on your back, lift your legs into the air, bend them at the knee and draw the knees down as if trying to plug them into the armpits. You may be able to hold behind the knees like so…

Or, you might be able to grab the feet…

Now there’s a photo just waiting for a ‘parp’ to be written on it if ever I saw one.

Last of all, and if you have no time to do the others then just skip to the end and do this one…

8. Lie on your back and put your feet up the wall, or on the sofa – the latter is a little gentler. As well as helping out with back pain this helps with high blood pressure, lymphatic drainage, anxiety and depression.

So enjoy!

Tense Upper Back and Shoulders?…

Make ten minutes and I’ll help you out.

Right now…

1.Sit tall with your spine lifting upwards and begin to rotate the shoulders backwards exploring the full range of movement available to you. Don’t rush and you’re aiming for a minimum of five. Now repeat going forwards.

2. Take your arms out to the sides bent at 90 degrees as if you were under arrest. Now take right elbow over the left like this…

Close your eyes and take some deep breaths into the space you’ve made between your shoulder blades, aim for a minimum of five breaths.

Now take your arms out to the side on an inhale and repeat with the left arm on top.

If this feels too much here is an alternative option..

You’re basically giving yourself a hug! Hands on opposite shoulders if you can.

Now we’ll work in the opposite direction and open up across the chest.

3. Take the right arm up by the ear, bend at the elbow and drop the hand down between the shoulder blades.

Now you can either put the left hand on the right elbow to gently stretch or you can put your left hand behind your back to reach towards your right hand like this…

If you can’t reach then you can use a belt or even a sock between the hands to help stretch.

Try to keep the spine lifting up and not hunch over.

Repeat in the opposite side.

4. Let’s stretch out the shoulders like so..

Put gentle pressure above or below the elbow but not on the elbow.

Repeat on the opposite side.

Still got time?

Ok let’s do two more! You’ll need to lie on your front for this one.

5. Leaning on your forearms you’re going to bring one in front of the other below your face.

If you’re able to, slowly walk the hands away from the centre so your arms stretch out and your head lowers…

Maybe you can even bend your elbow and bring your hands together at the back of your head like this…

I know. I look ridiculous. So will you.

Feels good though.

Ease your way out gently and repeat on the opposite side.

Saving the best ’til last.

6. Come to all fours. Lower onto your forearms and keeping your thighs as upright as you can walk your hands forward. Lower your forehead to the floor and then maybe your chin if you want an extra challenge!

Take some deep breaths here, again aiming for a minimum of five.

Walk your hands back, come to your knees and you’re all done!

Most important here, is to be aware of WHY you have tension in this area of your body.

Take a look at your posture, do you use a computer or a phone a lot where you are hunched over? Maybe you spend long hours driving?

See where you can correct posture and minimise or change these activities where possible.

Mindfulness for when your mind is full.

Mindfulness is everywhere at the moment and there’s no denying its benefits, from dealing with anxiety and depression to helping stress and addiction, but how does a busy person realistically make this a regular part of life?

This is something close to my heart, I am constantly working on mindfulness; which is challenging when you have three children, a huge ‘to do’ list and a busy mind! I am regularly asked about it at class or through people messaging me for tips.

It’s equally as simple as it is challenging in my opinion. The premise is straight forward, keeping the mind focused upon one thing, but maintaining that is quite another.

First of all let’s clarify what it is. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, Hinduism and yoga and all the places where they cross. It is also argued that it exists in many other religions too albeit in different forms.

There is nothing to say that mindfulness needs to be religious or spiritual in any way and most recently it has re-emerged as a secular rebranded practice to deal with the craziness of western life.

The idea of mindfulness is simple – to keep the mind focused upon the present moment, often using the breath as a tool to do so. However, doing this takes practise and commitment. It is a skill, but once you have it, it’s a tool for life.

First of all, the biggest enemy of mindfulness, in my opinion, are our phones/screens. As soon as we enter the world of a game or fall down a Facebook hole then we are lost to those around us and what surrounds us (I am aware of the irony here as I type staring at my screen and you read this on your device).

Absorption into the screen, for whatever reason, removes us from the present. Our minds are elsewhere and we are disconnected – demonstrated by that ‘foggy’ feeling when you put down your device and blink your way back to the real world.

So, therefore my first suggestion would be…

1.Leave your phone downstairs at night (we all know it disrupts sleep so I won’t go on) and buy an alarm clock!

One step further than that: leave it by the front door as you enter your house. You’ll hear it if it rings or beckons you over in some other way don’t worry!

2. Watch the film Christopher Robin! Seriously, Winnie The Pooh knows a lot about mindfulness. Sitting in a train, Pooh Bear names the things he can see out of the window as they pass by – try it. Perhaps not out loud if you’re alone though. If you’re walking somewhere with your kids get them to do it or maybe count how many of each colour car you see.

3. Choose a simple task to do mindfully- brushing your teeth is a good one. Concentrate on what you’re doing for the whole two minutes and nothing else, not the day ahead or what happened earlier, just brushing.

4. Walk barefoot in nature. On grass, on sand, wherever works for you. Be aware of the ground beneath you and what it feels like on the soles of your feet. Be completely present.

5. No phones at the dinner table! Taste your food, chew each mouthful carefully. Look someone in the eyes if there is a conversation going on.

6. If you’re waiting for someone or something then don’t immediately get your phone out, look around you, take in your surroundings. I’m not sure what we all used to do before phones when we had to wait for something?…smoke?…read the paper? Let’s not smoke. That’s not good either.

All of these skills can be passed on to children, if we are modelling these good habits and talking to them about them then maybe we can raise a more mindful generation.

This short ‘breathing shape’ video is great for both children and adults:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Q8D6n-3qw

So if you do find yourself with a few minutes at hand, a little stressed or anxiety is creeping up on you then do this:

-Stop whatever you were doing.

-Sit down.

-Close your eyes.

-Feel the ground beneath you and its contact with your body.

-Take ten deep, slow breaths in and out of your nose.

-Open your eyes.

Even if you have to wait until you’re on the toilet! And even then if you have toddlers they’ll be shouting through the door! Make a few minutes for yourself.

‘Be here now’ Ram Dass