Military children experience a great deal of stress that is a part of living a military life. There are so many amazing aspects our children experience as being part of a military family and military culture. And yet, as we are keenly aware, there are just as many stressful components of military life. One of the simplest ways to help military children manage these stressors is to teach them a basic technique called belly breathing, or what many call balloon breathing.
During April, the month of the Military Child, we talked about the importance of supporting military children. To continue our support, we are challenging military families to learn this simple breathing technique by talking about it and practicing it together. You can begin to understand the powerful benefits of deep breathing together as a family.
Hope For The Warriors has partnered with Home Base to provide an online resiliency program, called Resilient Warrior, customized for service members, veterans and adult family members. Learn more about Resilient Warrior.
Dr. Louisa Sylvia, Director of Health & Wellness at Home Base and lead clinician of the Resilient Warrior and Resilient Family Program, demonstrates how breath awareness can help build resiliency.
“Body awareness and breath awareness are key to eliciting the relaxation response and building resilience. As babies, we naturally did belly breathing. Breathing from the belly is the most healthful method of breathing because it stretches muscle fibers, which then signal relaxation throughout the body and mind.
Conversely, during stress, the muscle fibers in the body tighten. We tend to hold the breath, breathe irregularly, and do not exhale completely. When the exhalation is incomplete, not enough fresh air can enter the lungs on the inhalation because the old, used-up air is still there. The in-breath becomes shorter, which in turn, limits the amount of used air that can be expelled. This leads to chest breathing, which increases stress on the body and mind.“
Balloon-breathing – a practice for family and children
To get started, you’ll need one balloon per family member and one stuffed animal per child.
Slow belly breaths can help us calm down when we feel anxious or stressed. The best way for us to teach children how to do slow belly breaths is to tell them to imagine that there is a balloon in their belly.
Tell them to breathe in, push all the air down and fill up the balloon so that their belly puffs out. You can put their hand on their belly so that they can feel it fill up with air as they inhale. Then, tell them to breathe out slowly and feel how their belly gets smaller as the balloon deflates.
Lay down: Sometimes it’s easier to practice belly breaths if you lay down.
Use a stuffed animal: For children, placing a small stuffed animal on their stomach will help show the breath work. As they breathe in, the stuffed animal should rise, and when they breathe out, it should go down. Practice this until they seem to understand how to do the belly breaths.
Once you get the hang of belly breathing, grab a balloon and begin to slow down the breathing like this:
To keep our breathing slow, we’ll count to four as we breathe in and to four as we breathe out.
Practice and do five slow breaths together; count together as a family. Try to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
As you breathe out, purse your lips like you’re blowing up a balloon. Put one hand on your stomach to remind yourself to focus on filling up your belly like a balloon. In – 2 – 3 – 4. Out – 2 – 3 – 4…
Need an example? Watch Hope For The Warriors Social Worker Brittany Hunter complete the exercise with her family.
You will quickly experience and feel the benefits of deep breathing.
Deep breathing benefits include:
- Releases tension
- Deepens relaxation
- Increases emotional control
- Increases clarity of mind
- Increases ability to concentrate
- Brings oxygen to cells efficiently
- Promotes general good health
- Promotes better sleep
Be sure to ask each family member how they feel after practicing belly-breathing.
Listen to the Diapragmatic “Deep” Breaking Excercise
The Balloon Challenge:
Take The Balloon Challenge and enter to win a Hope For The Warriors backpack stuffed full of family activities!
Here’s how you can enter to win:
- First, practice belly breathing together as a family. Use the instructions above to be sure everyone understands how belly breathing works. The challenge is about your family practicing deep-breathing together.
- Encourage family members to first warm-up by doing 3-5 belly breaths.
- Each family member then gets a balloon or stuffed animal.
- Each family member blows up their balloon using the belly breathing technique.
- Take a video or snap a picture with your family blowing up their balloons together!
- Enter to Win: Tag Hope For The Warriors in your video or picture that you post on Facebook @ HopeForTheWarriors or Instagram @ Hope4Warriors and use the hashtag #hope4warriors.