In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, breathing is as basic as you get. Everyone knows this. It is the first thing we make sure a newborn does! So why is this topic worthy of its own article? Because this is a great example of how knowing something intellectually and owning it behaviorally is light years apart. You know you should not lose your cool and that a great way to keep your cool is breathe. Yet how often do you lose your cool anyway in the heat of the moment?
More importantly lack of sufficient oxygen can hinder learning. We know that lack of oxygen has serious effects on brain function. The problem is when a child is suffering from limited oxygen, but not complete deprivation, we may not recognize the culprit to the lack of learning.
If a learner is busy struggling for oxygen he is in survival mode, not learning mode.
It is rather ironic that in many professions, proper breathing is part of their foundation and yet it gets ignored. Breathing is an integral part of the practice of Lamaze child birth. Personal trainers and exercise instructors will remind you to breathe. Specific exercise routines such as yoga and pilates practice different ways of breathing. The social worker knows to teach their clients breathing to calm anxiety. The speech therapist knows that proper respiration is the foundation of speech. The surprising thing is, even though many of the children I test are coming from a social worker’s or speech therapist’s referral, I find these children are not breathing properly.
I recently heard a theory that what is comforting about smoking is not the nicotine, but rather the type of breathing. (Sorry I don’t remember where I heard it, but I found it fascinating to consider.) Think about that, it is the long deep breath (drag) and nice slow exhale that the smoker is really seeking. Imagine if we teach children to breath like this to calm themselves, without the crutch of the cigarette. How much healthier and calmer would these children be? And in turn how much more available they would be to engage in learning? Isn’t it amazing that something so important and so fundamental is not on the curriculum! Wouldn’t it be a shame if people are so desperate for a calming breath that they seek it in such a harmful way? It reminds me of the sensory seeking child who misbehaves precisely to get hit, because sadly his caregiver does not know that he just needs deep pressure and the misbehavior can easily be disrupted with a bear hug. I would be willing to bet that one of the reasons that laughter is such good medicine is that you get more oxygen in the process.
So, what is “proper” breathing? Inhale through the nose for 8-10 seconds and exhale through the nose for 8-10 seconds. If this is not what you or your learners are doing you can start practicing today. Begin by inhaling nice and slow and count mentally or use a stop watch to track how long you can inhale. If you find that you are only holding at 3 or 4 seconds, make sure your exhale is just as long. For the exhale count out loud. This is especially important if you are training someone else to breathe properly. Practice at your current rate for three days. On the fourth day try and add a second more to your time. Practice this new rate for three days. On the fourth day of your new rate add another second to your time. Keep on practicing for three days and adding another second on the fourth day until you reach 8-10 seconds. Make sure your exhale is always as long as your inhale and that you are breathing through the nose only.