SPARKLERS / Managing emotions

Tummy Breathing

Teaching mindful breathing for focus and calm.
Connections with the NZ Curriculum and Mental Health Education Guide (learn more)

Learning outcomes

Tamariki know how many breaths they typically take per minute and how they can use this to have a mindful minute.

He aha ai? – Why we love it

Mindful breathing is a quick, easy way to engage the body’s natural relaxation response. It draws our attention to the present, boosts concentration, and can help us turn anxiety and anger into feelings of relaxation and focus.

We suggest giving students regular opportunities to practice this skill, and encouraging them to tune in to their breathing whenever they feel upset or angry, or want to relax.

Tikanga tips

Avoid stepping over people, even though this can be tricky in a crowded classroom. We recommend children hold onto their origami boats and place them on their own tummies, to save you from having to 'navigate' the room! If the space is small, ask tamariki to lie with their legs together and bring their arms in close to their bodies, so you have more freedom to move around.

And mind those heads! They’re tapu and shouldn’t be touched unless the student gives their permission. It's also important tamariki aren’t resting their heads on cushions or beanbags that people sometimes sit on. If needed, have special pillows for heads only, or improvise with folded sweatshirts.

Hei mahi - What to do

Tummy breathing (or deep / diaphragmatic breathing) focuses on expanding the abdomen rather than chest, to help boost oxygen intake.

Once the majority of your students are comfortable with playing Sleeping Statues chances are you’re ready to progress to Tummy Breathing.

Start by explaining that focusing on our breathing helps calm our body and mind, and say that over the next few weeks you’re going to be learning a new breathing skill that is used all over the world to reduce stress.

Show them this fun Sesame St video on tummy breathing and let them try it.

  1. First, lying down, like sleeping statues – either with their hands on a book or on their tummies so they can feel it going up and down. (Younger tamariki may like to put their hands behind their head, so the rise and fall of their tummy occurs more naturally.)
  2. Then, after a few one-minute attempts, sitting up, with one hand on their tummy and the other on their chest, so they can practice making their tummy hand go out and in.

Another way to start the exercise is by making origami boats students can place on their tummies, so the boat moves up and down, as it would on a calm sea.

To wrap up, ask students how they found it, and remind them that this is something that will get easier with practice. Introduce the concept of trying some tummy breathing the next time they want to feel better or relax.

Ask them to think of (or write down) a time they could use tummy breathing.

What next?

We suggest practicing tummy breathing regularly as a warm up and calming activity, and asking students to ‘report’ when they use it outside class, celebrating their efforts.

Try Tummy Breathing alongside Mindful Birdsong - that is listening to our native birds while tummy breathing! How magic is that?!

Karen Young's cool book Hey Warrior is a great book to work with alongside Tummy Breathing, with great explanations for tamariki.

Our Magic Minute experiment will help your tamariki find the number of breaths their body likes to do in a minute. They’ll then use this number to do a minute of breathing without a clock.

Body Scan is also a perfect extension to Tummy Breathing and a good stepping stone to more mindfulness activities.

To bring a truly Aotearoa approach to breathing exercises, we also recommend Hikitea Te Hā.

Sparklers at Home

If you think it may be useful for whānau to give Tummy Breathing a go, simply copy and paste the following 'blurb' into an email or your home-learning programme as an introduction.

In the classroom we've been practising tummy breathing because it's an excellent strategy for relaxing and calming our bodies and minds. This is a life-long skill! Understanding tummy breathing early means we're better able to manage big emotions - which as we know, happen as adults too!

Sparklers at Home has the same activity, Tummy Breathing, we've been trying in the classroom, as an activity ready for home use. It would be great if you could give this a try with your child, and practice with them. They'll be familiar with it, so it will be exciting for them to take you through it.

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