The Importance of Breathing
By Dr. Rick Robinson
I have had the chance to visit a number of schools that are implementing Trauma Informed Practices during the month of September and have often found myself in conversations with educators about ways to maintain feelings of calm and the regulated states that they experienced at the start of the school year. To that end, I would like to talk a bit about an effective, efficient and affordable tool we each have at our immediate disposal – our breathing.
A critical element of Trauma Informed Practices involves adults developing day-to-day regulation skills, as well as self-care and wellness skills for the near and long term. Science tells us that only a well-regulated adult can help a student regulate. We know that students who are dysregulated have difficulties with problem solving, managing emotions, examining their own behavior, understanding the perspective of other people, and efficiently attending to and engaging in academic as well as social and emotional learning. To help a student regulate, our goal is have a quiet body and mind when we interact with them, so we can be as centered, calm and confident as possible.
A crucial tool, in terms of both regulation and self-care, revolves around increasing our awareness of how we breathe and increasing our skills in breathing intentionally. Importantly, we can literally stimulate our nervous system’s relaxation response via the way we breathe. Engaging the relaxation response provides us with the best opportunity to think clearly and flexibly, understand the perspective of our student, and respond intentionally. This is also important for our long term self-care, as the relaxation state allows our minds and bodies to engage in restorative functions.
Here are two things you can consider doing:
1. Increase your awareness of your own breathing patterns. Like the development of most skills, make sure that you take the opportunity to practice. Choose a calm, non-demanding setting to start as you work to become fluent in your awareness skill. You might find this practice sequence helpful:
Find a comfortable place to sit, or lay down, for 10 minutes or so, and observe your breathing pattern. You can structure your observations with the following questions:
• Is your breath deep or shallow?
• Is it easy or difficult?
• Is it smooth or irregular?
• Does it feel like your breath moves into the front, back or sides of your torso?
• How rapid is the rate of your breathing?
• Does your breath change as you have attended to it?
• What are your sensations; any thoughts or feelings? (Go slow to go fast- sometimes changing your breathing can bring into awareness sensations and feelings that might be uncomfortable.)
2. Engage your breathing.
That is, breathe:
• Deeply (fully inhaling and exhaling)
• Slowly (decreased breaths per minute)
• With a focus on a long exhalation
By increasing awareness of your breathing patterns, you may also increase your ability to utilize intentional breathing skills when you need them most. As a result, you can increase the chance that you will remain regulated when working with students in demanding situations, and increase the chance that your self-care plan will be effective in addressing the chronic stressors you may be facing. This strategy can help you “metabolize” stress hormones that are released when your stress response system is activated and experience less distress when confronted with stressful situations emerge.
In coming blog posts we will be providing additional strategies regarding regulation and self- care to add to your tool box- stay tuned…