I had an interesting experience today with a boy who was suffering from hay fever in school. As you’d expect he had a blocked nose, itchy eyes and was feeling uncomfortable and feeling sorry for himself (quite understandably). I was curious if some breathwork would be able to help relieve his congestion and discomfort, calming him down and allowing him to settle for some time.
The first attempt proved fruitless – he tried to follow and just found it too hard. Again not a surprise – like anything we take for granted when we are asked to engage with something we do automatically it feels either strange or impossible (which takes me down another rabbit hole of why it is so key to teach children discreetly to feel how their body moves and how they breathe). My intention was to get him to nasally breathe, with 5 second breath holds. Initially the nasal breathing alone wasn’t sticking. He was breathing in too much, tight shoulders and opening his mouth, talking and presented a combination of resistance (his nose being heavily congested made him nervous to commit to nasal breathing) and uncertainty around how it worked. Having tried for a few attempts we gave up and carried on with our learning. I left a few minutes, following more snuffles suggested we tried again, slower and I would squeeze his hands whilst he held his breath. Initially he said no, then after a short consideration said yes he’d give it another go.
So we started again, however this time as he breathed in / out and held I gave him 5 hand squeezes to show him the timing before he exhaled. The hand holding seemed to calm and focus him. I’d told him we’d do 10. It took to 8 before he spoke, asking how many more there were. By now I could hear his congestion reducing and after a couple more his right nostril begun to run, which we immediately attended to and I asked him how he felt. Cocking his head to one side he answered – yes clearer on this side I think (referring to his right). Success! Short lived anyway as pretty soon he was bunged up again, which I wasn’t surprised about.
What did I learn from this?
- As I told the child – you can do this any time you need to or want to, without anyone knowing and it will help clear your nose
- Patience in showing children breathing techniques coupled with physical queues help embed the practice. Teaching children how to safely support one another in this way seems like an incredibly valuable lesson in the power of human contact when done with consent and in a supportive fashion.
- Without explicit, discreet teaching of breathwork children will struggle to understand how to inhale / exhale through their nose in a calm fashion. A bit like running, yes we can and do all do it, however when we think about it or consider it it becomes alien. This seems like a recipe for disaster and ill health to me.
Another reason for children to be taught how to breathe in school.