I’ve been playing around with different breath techniques to use with the Juniors I coach on Tuesdays as I wanted to find a good balance with introducing children to breathwork in an appropriate, safe, fun and useful fashion. I’ve settled on the following – which has been going well and the children have been taking the ideas on board and seem to be genuinely enjoying them and finding real benefit from each of them. I’ve been thinking about this in terms of when you would use different breathing techniques and why. Equally I didn’t want to purely have dumbed down adult versions as this seems intuitively wrong. What has been more key is when, and how I’ve introduced the techniques.
The first one – which some have used has been doing any initial warm up easy running purely nasal breathing. Mostly the children arrive with someone else, so I’ll encourage them to have a chat as they run easy for 10 minutes. I think having that time to decompress and chat to a friend is a great way to start a session – alongside which it manages the pace. However, if the children arrive a little later or alone, I’ll encourage them to do the warm up run trying to only breathe through their nose.
I’ve explained that this is a way to help manage their pace (as children running either too fast then walking is always a challenge for a while) and as the temperatures have dropped a really effective way of keeping their throat / lugs from being dried out and irritated by cold air.
At the end of the warm up, pre the work we’ve been doing variations on Go – or breath holds with walk, jog, run, stride. The kids were fascinated with this and were really curious about what it does and why. I explained it was a fantastic way to warm your muscles up by swapping oxygen for carbon dioxide (using the image of a train carriage as the blood, oxygen gets off and carbon dioxide gets on). They do 3 – going as far as they can on a breath hold. I also tell them that it is key for the first rep that they stop at the first real need to breathe, not to push past this, but mentally mark where they reached. The second I ask them to get as far as the first and the third to push up to 5 steps further than the first 2. I reassure them that if they listen to their bodies carefully they’ll recognise these triggers and will be perfectly safe to push on a little bit further. I always stress that they use the distance they reach as their marker, as opposed to racing someone next to them. I support this by reminding them that age, size, gender all play a huge role in making their bodies different and breath holding different. I’ve been really impressed by how they’ve taken to this, how far some of them can run (equally without endangering themselves). This has also led to conversations about running, when you think you can’t go any further, but actually you can push on past this point – but how far you could go could be a risk.
During the sessions
The big one here has been physiological sighs as recovery – standing, hands on knees, 2 nasal inhales and a slower mouth exhale. This has helped the juniors manage their recovery post run and allow them to control how they feel. It has also helped a couple of children who have been worried about moving oxygen / not breathing enough to regain control. Using the self soothing / crying example (something we all do if really upset) is very effective as children cry far more than adults, so this is something that they recognise. Something I’m going to move onto, but haven’t yet is asking them to listen to their breathing when they are running hard and notice when it becomes too fast (or maybe hurts a little) and what they think that this means?
We end the session with at least 5 – 10 slow cadence breaths. Everybody stands, arms by sides and then lifts arms up for a count of 5 and lets arms down for a count of 5. This I’ve explained is a way of telling the body that the session is finished, allowing both the brain and body to settle, allowing the nervous system to feel calmer and it has been an absolute pleasure watching the faces of the children relax somewhat as they go through this practice. It has been a lovely way to end a coached session and something that the children have taken to really well.
By having a more explicit reference to the breath during coaching it has prompted the children to ask more questions about how they breathe, when they have problems breathing, what they can do and this can only be a good thing. It feels that they are exploring an area that they are really curious about – by having some structure and direction this is allowing them to engage with something that they otherwise may not have.
As I noted above the next step will be to have a greater focus on the relationship between how they breathe during a harder rep and the speed / effort they are running at and what this can tell them.