Teach Kids How to Breathe During Hard Times

I teach a yoga class after school for elementary school aged children. Everyday I pick them up from their school and we go to the studio to practice yoga, create art and learn how to be more compassionate human beings.

Yesterday my yoga kids were talking about the latest safety procedure that they had to learn how to do that day, I immediately assumed it was a new way to do a fire drill. It’s the beginning of the school year and I know as a veteran mom to elementary school aged kids that the first month of school there are several practice runs of the fire drill so that everyone knows what to do in case there is ever a real fire. But no, it wasn’t a fire drill. It is called “Lockdown”. The kids told me how they have to “stay quiet, don’t move and go to the safe place”. I asked one of my first grade yoga students, “Why would they need everyone to go into “lockdown”? 
“If there was someone bad in the school, or outside of the school.”, she told me passionately, eyes wide with a bit of fear in her voice. 
“Someone bad?”, I asked.
“Ya know if someone came into the school with a gun and wanted to hurt people.”

And in that moment my heart broke a little. I wanted to wrap them all up in a hug and put them in a bubble of protection so that they wouldn’t ever have to practice “lockdown” or know that such horrible things happen in the world. 

My mom has told me stories about “duck and cover”, a safety procedure that was taught to children after the Cold War for fear of an atomic bomb, children would crawl under their desks to take cover. And now in 2014 we are teaching kids how to be safe if someone comes into their school with a gun. One of my kindergarten yoga kids told me how everyone in his class piled into the bathroom and it was dark and a tiny bit scary. Each child shared where their safe space was in their classroom; some were under the teacher’s desks, others in a closet. Another kindergartner told the group that his safe space was hiding behind backpacks. 

We talked about how it made them feel when they practiced “lockdown”. 
Scared.
Terrified.
Cramped.
Sad.
Everyone agreed on “sad”. Sad that a “bad person” felt so much hate in their heart to hurt other people. I told the kids that when they are in their safe place they should practice their “belly breathing”. At the end of every yoga class we lay on our backs in corpse pose (Savasana) and place our hands on our bellies and focus on our breathing. Inhaling on a count of three and exhaling on a count of three. The first grader that passionately told me about the meaning of lockdown smiles and says, “That’s a good idea Gretchen. Maybe I’ll do it when I’m mad at my brother too.”

So whether you are feeling scared, sad or really mad bring awareness to your breath and breathe in on a count of three or four and exhaling on a count of three or four. Letting the emotion pass through you while calming your mind.