Breathing exercises encourage you to gain control of your breath and body. A powerful tool, our breath is directly related to the activity of our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. As a result of our experiences, our brains unconsciously adapt our quality of breath to prepare us for an anticipated response. This unconscious reaction can increase stress or decrease energy, which may prevent us from achieving what we want to achieve.
Conscious breathing allows you to practice awareness of when you are or are not using the breath adaptively, and gives you tools to shift your breathing to be more effective. By releasing tension and increasing focus, conscious breathing creates space for you and your students to become present and engaged.
Here are 10 evidence-backed reasons for finding time to consciously breathe during your school day:>
2. Increases Aerobic Capacity
Significant gains in aerobic capacity were found in students who participated in a Yoga Ed. program over the course of a year (Slovacek, Tucker, & Pantoja, 2003). The effect of yoga on respiratory health may be explained by the increased control over respiration. During yoga, a practitioner consciously practices control over respiration by focusing on inhalation and exhalation.
3. Lowers Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Practiced consistently, controlled breathing decreases wear and tear on blood vessels by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. (Anderson et al, 2008)
4. Helps Students Relax
Taking deep breaths sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then signals your body to relax. Deep breathing lowers stress in the body and increases relaxation. As mentioned above, physical effects include lower breath rate, lower heart rate, and lower blood pressure (Joseph et al., 2005).
5. Combats Stress
Breathing helps relaxes our muscles and interrupts the stress feedback loop (Ratey, 2008).
6. Combats Anxiety
The vagus nerve is a nerve that begins at the base of the brain and runs to the abdomen. Among other functions, the vagus nerve mediates nervous system responses and lowers heart rate. Controlled breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system by means of the vagus nerve, which releases acetylcholine — a neurotransmitter that increases focus and calmness and decreases feelings of anxiety (Cuda, 2010).
7. May Strengthen The Prefrontal Cortex
Your prefrontal cortex is home to self-awareness, attentiveness, and emotion regulation. Breathing techniques teach students how to use their body to help them consciously calm down. These techniques actively trigger the relaxation response and interrupt the stress-feedback loop. Recent research demonstrates that students who voluntarily regulate their emotions in response to stress show greater activation in their prefrontal cortex, better modulation of activity in the amygdala, and lower levels of cortisol in the body (Davidson, 2008).
8. Direct Students’ Awareness, Attention, and Motivation
By releasing tension and increasing focus, conscious breathing creates space your students to become present and engaged. Dynamic breathing exercises engage multiple networks throughout the brain (Ratey, 2008). When there are multiple networks engaged there is better connectivity. When students feel connected to the content they are learning is when deep understanding/learning takes place.
9. Increases Readiness to Learn
Learning readiness involves attention, motivation, curiosity, and decreased stress and anxiety. Yoga primes the student for learning in many ways. Breathing exercises and yoga postures direct students’ awareness, attention, and motivation. Dynamic sequences engage multiple networks throughout the brain (Ratey, 2008). Relaxation provides students with tools to let go of stress and anxiety. As a physical activity, yoga also increases oxygen rich blood in the brain which improves brain function.
10. Builds Self-Regulation and Life Skills
Knowing how to use one’s breath to shift one’s mental, emotional, and physical state is self-regulation, a valuable life skill that builds the foundation for personal health and responsibility. Student’s ability to self-regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behavior has been identified as an important predictor of school readiness, academic achievement, and success in their adult life (Durlak et al, 2015).
Take it a step further!
Check out our back to school webinar with Yoga Ed. CEO and educator Brynne Caleda to learn the basics of teaching chair yoga in your classroom.