Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
I was 9 years old when my parents, Rita and Deepak Chopra, learned how to meditate. Even though they were from India, they discovered meditation as young immigrants in Boston, where my father was a stressed-out, unhappy doctor. Meditation transformed their lives by giving them a tool to manage stress and to be more in control of bad habits, but more importantly, to connect with their souls through experiencing silence.
For my brother and me, meditation was appealing because our parents’ practice improved our family life: We became a happier, more connected family. I feel meditation was the most precious gift my parents ever gave me, because it provided an anchor to slow down, breathe, and have inner confidence as I went through phases of discovery and uncertainty. When I became a mother, I shared the lessons I learned from my parents with my daughters, their friends, and our community.
Meditation, mindfulness techniques, and yoga are age-old practices that have survived generations. For kids today, these techniques are as relevant as ever, particularly in a time when hyperstimulation from social media, overscheduling, and a general loss of silence is the norm. Just breathing itself may be simple, but it is also incredibly powerful.
Here’s a simple technique to help the children in your life manage stress—the first step to a lifelong journey of self-discovery.
Step No. 1: Talk to Kids About What Their Breathing Is Trying to Tell Them
Breathing is nourishing to your body. When you breathe in, oxygen gives your cells the energy they need to keep you healthy. Breath stimulates movement and circulation.
As you breathe out, you release carbon dioxide and toxins (bad chemicals) from your body. Think about it: breathing is what tells you that you are actually alive!
Your thoughts are linked to your breath. When your mind is racing with thoughts, particularly when you get excited (happy or not so happy), your breathing usually gets faster. Think about when you are about to get on a roller coaster or enter a haunted house: Do you feel like your breathing gets faster?
What about when you are really upset because your parents got mad at you or you had a fight with your best friend? In between cries, your breathing is usually faster, as well. Maybe you get so upset that it feels like your breath is too fast and you just can’t slow down. And then, suddenly, you have to take a deep breath to calm down.
Or do you find your breathing growing faster when you feel you have too much homework or too many extracurricular things to do?
When you are overwhelmed, you start to experience that stressed, anxious feeling—almost like butterflies fluttering in your stomach. Breathing on purpose can be one of the most helpful ways to get you back in control of any situation. It can also help get you ready to face challenges, to take a pause and think before you act so that you make smart decisions that feel right to you. Your breath is always with you—a good friend indeed!
See also 11 Poses to Help Kids Feel Brave
Step No. 2: Help Kids Learn How to Simply Breathe
Right now, take a deep breath. Breathe in. And out. Again. Breathe in and out.
Do you notice that when you are breathing your mind stops racing? Try thinking a thought and breathing at the same time. For example, say your name in your mind and then breathe. You will notice that your mind jumps from thinking your name to noticing your breath. It is hard to do both at the same time!
In this way, breathing helps you control your racing thoughts. You can control what’s going on in your head by changing how you breathe. When you are in control of your thoughts, you will act more calmly, will be more relaxed, and will generally find you are happier.
Breathe. In. Out. Breathe again.
Think of your breath as an anchor. No matter what is happening around you, no matter how busy you are, no matter who surrounds you, you can always find your breath. It is a stable and secure part of you.
You breathe when you sleep and when you dream. You also breathe when you meditate. Breath is the life force that keeps your body and mind aware and healthy.
Step No. 3: Teach Kids This Breathing Meditation
Find a comfortable, quiet place. You can do this meditation anywhere and at any time. Turn off all devices and the television so that you are not distracted. This will last only one minute—you can do it!
Sit comfortably. If you feel OK doing so, close your eyes. If you prefer to keep your eyes open, that is okay, too. Take a deep breath in through your nose. Breathe in deeply so that your lungs fill up.
As you breathe in, feel how your stomach goes out. Pause for just one second. And now breathe out, blowing out slowly from your mouth.
On your next breath in, try to breathe in for three seconds. One. Two. Three. Now, pause for two seconds. One. Two. And breathe out for four seconds. One. Two. Three. Four. Find the rhythm that works best for you. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out.
After one minute, or once you feel you are done, open your eyes (if they were closed) and say thank you to yourself for giving your brain and body this experience.
If you do this meditation regularly, it will become a habit and it will become a safe, happy time for you. You can always find your breath no matter where you are.
Reprinted with permission from JUST BREATHE: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement, and More © 2018 by Mallika Chopra, Running Press Kids
About the Author
Mallika Chopra is a mom, media entrepreneur, public speaker, and published author. Mallika has taught meditations to thousands of people and enjoys speaking to audiences around the world. This article is adapted from her most recent book: Just Breathe: Meditation, Mindfulness, Movement and More. She is also the author of Living With Intent: My Somewhat Messy Journey to Purpose, Peace and Joy.