As humans, when we perceive that there is a threat of any kind, our brain tells our body to enter the "FFF" mode (Fight, Flight or Freeze). Adrenaline and cortisol are pumped through our system, our heart beats faster, our breathing rate accelerates, and muscles in our bodies tighten up, ready to react. A perceived threat can be anything from actual, imminent danger, to something as simple as thinking about something stressful. Human beings are the only animals that can activate the stress response even just by thinking about something that "could" happen - even if it's not really happening, or likely to happen at all. If our brain can think it, our body can react to it.
If our brain can make our bodies breathe faster as a response to stress, then it makes sense that if we calm our bodies with deep breathing, then our brain may take this as a signal that it is safe to relax. Even if we are not in a state of stress, a few deep breaths can help us quiet our minds for a moment, increase oxygen to our brains and bodies (which can improve energy, focus and attention), and help us start to develop a practice of mindfulness and being present in the moment.
Pausing to take even just three mindful breaths is a simple activity to integrate into the school day, and an easy practice to begin with your students. This could be done in a "no tech" way by ringing a bell when it is time to take 3 breaths, or even by placing post-it notes or other prompts on desks, on books, or in other prominent locations where students will see them as a reminder to pause.
There are some excellent websites and tools that can help with this practice as well. Xhalr.com is a simple, web-based tool that gives a visual to breathe along with. Under the menu at the top, right-hand side of the site, you can change settings to adjust the length of in/out breaths, along with types of breathing patterns. Breathe With Me is another simple tool that offers a cute animal and soothing instrumental music to breathe along to. One of my favourite tools is a Chrome Extension called "Breathe". This can be found in the Chrome web store and installed into your Chrome browser. Once installed, you can click on the icon in your extension bar, and set the tool to pop up on your screen at regular intervals to prompt you to take a set number of breaths. I am going to aim to have it pop up on the large screen or SMARTboard in my classroom every 30 minutes to remind the whole class to pause, be in the moment, and take 3 mindful breaths.
Have you tried doing mindful breathing activities with your students? Do you have any favourite tools that you would like to share? Please feel free to comment below this post, or join our Facebook group and share your ideas there!