Two things changed this. Firstly I used Eddied Sterns breathing app set at 4 sec inhales / exhales timed breathing, setting a coherent breathing pattern in place that was appropriate for a child. Using the organ resonant sound as an organ to tune into acted as the initial anchor. Secondly I sat opposite the child and asked him to hold my hands. This acted as the second anchor as gentle physical contact provided a sense of safety. Then we begun to breathe in time together. Initially the child’s right leg was jittering uncontrollably, his body internalising the anxiety and having to process the nervous energy in some way shape or form. I watched as his breathing tuned into the sound from the app. Occasionally his mouth would begin to open, so I would remind him to close his mouth to allow him to breathe through his nose and use his diaphragm. After 90 seconds I begun to loosen my hold on his hands and asked him to relax his body, imagine this relaxation spreading throughout his body. His hands softened, but his leg was still very much bouncing – showing just how much nervous energy he had built up. After around 2 and a half minutes his leg bean to slow and finally stop around 3 minutes. The sound stopped and we continued to breathe together. By this point his whole being / sense of anxiety had massively reduced, the tension he had come in with gone and his face showed a far more peaceful expression.
When I asked him how he now felt he responded a lot more relaxed, a lot more calm. He still had some back pain, however far less than initially and I suspect a residue of his muscles overworking to such a huge degree. He was happy to go back into class and carry on with his learning.
Shortly afterwards the member of staff who had brought him to me, came in to ask how he was and what had happened. I ran through what we had done and how it had helped. She was more interested in what he had done to provoke being sent to reception in the first place. My feelings where that at that point in time, it was irrelevant and the most important thing was to help him reestablish a sense of safety to help him feel physically well. On reflection it would have been helpful to know what preceded his pain – however I also wonder if that would have changed the compassion I felt in wanting to help him. Would I have been more focussed on his behaviour if I had known he had been causing problems? I hope that this wouldn’t have been the case, but sometimes we can get caught up in the wrong thing.
The biggest learning I took from this was using the senses as anchors to help the child access his breath and body to allow him to calm. Without the combination of touch and sound the breathwork would have failed to really help (or made it very tricky). We all need to feel safe, children especially – and that sense of being able to both trust another human and the oxytocin that the touch would have allowed the brain to experience, critical in this working. The moment the vagal nerve could shift from a sympathetic to a parasympathetic state then the body could gradually calm itself.
I suppose it’s clear that when we are upset breathing on its own isn’t always enough. Having someone else to support and help us, anchor us, protect us really works.