Magic Breathing Ball

Student demonstrating our “magic breathing ball” during an individual therapy session.

 

At the start of this school year, I introduced mindfulness to four different special education preschool classes of students with a variety of levels and spectrums of “special needs” for a weekly “Circles” group. I have been used to integrating mindfulness with older students so I really wasn’t sure how it would go but I wanted to try. My focus would be on something visually interesting and something functional and simple. The breath. Why? Because slow, deep calming breaths signal the brain to calm the nervous system. Many of these young students are are challenged with dis-regulation of the nervous system. By modeling a simple breathing technique, the young students get familiar with the word “breathe” and experience how it feels when doing this and participating in a group activity where everyone else is doing it.  At the same time, it provides the teachers and their paraprofessionals a tool to use throughout the day with these littles (as well as for themselves).

With eager, but nervous, anticipation, I asked the teacher and paraprofessional aides to gather the children to come sit in a circle on the floor. Some of the children joyfully jumped on their spot while others fussed and protested this transition. We had not yet developed a relationship since I was new to the school. As they were getting settled I turned on soothing, rhythmic grounding music which caught the attention of all. I then took out my “magic breathing ball” (Hoberman sphere or expanding ball, as in photo above) and began expanding and contracting the ball. I began to synchronize my breathing to the rhythm of the music while also matching it to the slow expansion of the ball for inhalation, and contraction of the ball for exhalation. The adults, who were part of the circle, were encouraged to model this as well, by joining in the breathing and using hand movements to match the expansion and contraction of the ball. Breathing in… (about 3 secs) and exhaling (about 4-5 secs)…..The energy in the room began to shift.   When your exhale is slighter slower than your inhale, this creates changes in the brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and deactivate sympathetic (stress) nervous system.

The “breathing ball” was passed around the circle for everyone to try, including the other adults who served as perfect role models. This simple activity has so many emotional intelligence mini lessons within. In addition to practicing a self-regulation calming technique, each student is also learning impulse control for waiting their turn, they are learning imitation and modeling/leadership skills, and they are learning turn taking (it’s difficult giving up this really cool expanding ball!) As a speech-language therapist it also assists in breath control for speech production. Many of these students are typically difficult to engage because of their severe disabilities but most of them were instantly drawn to this entire simple activity. 

An interesting observation was that many of the students had challenges with inhaling and exhaling with a slow deep rhythm at the beginning of the session but when I closed the session with the expanding ball again, most of them demonstrated breathing in and out with much more ease. It was beautiful to witness the change in just one short lesson. One of the aides remarked that she never saw “Johnny” so interested and participatory in “Circle Time”! Another aide said she wished we could do this every day! And another aide shared she was so relaxed afterwards. The children, though unable to voice their opinions, undoubtedly experienced something positive from this activity judging from the smiles and calm bodies compared to when we first sat down. 

This was a promising start and the “magic breathing ball” has become part of our opening routine to our weekly “Circles” class. It is my hope that these mini lessons will provide ideas for the teachers and paraprofessional aides to use with our students, and for themselves, throughout the day as needed to bring back balance and calm, and the many other benefits breathing has for our bodies and minds. I invite you to take 1-3 deep breaths now! It just may be the magic you need this very moment!

You can use the image below which is similar to the magic expanding ball.

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Dee DiGioia, Certified Mindfulness & Life Skills Coach and Consultant
MK YOU offers mindfulness programs for youth, educators, parents, and community members using evidence-based practices of mindfulness, movement, and social-emotional learning to help reduce stress while cultivating the inner resources needed for well-being in San Luis Obispo & Northern Santa Barbara Counties via community programs/classes/workshops, personal coaching, professional development, mini-retreats, and more. After pioneering a successful mindfulness program for K-5 classrooms at an inner city charter school in Sacramento, CA, Dee hopes to develop programs in our local schools here on the Central Coast of CA.  Contact Dee to learn more.

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“By practicing mindfulness kids learn life skills that help them soothe and calm themselves, bring awareness to their inner and outer experience, and bring a reflective quality to their actions and relationships. Living in this way helps children connect to themselves (what do they feel? think? see?), and maybe to something greater than themselves.

~Susan Kaiser Greenland, Author of “The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate”

Right now, it’s like this

m-apply-within
Several years ago I began learning about mindfulness so I could teach it as a calming strategy for my students with challenging behaviors. As it turns out, we were learning together because the more I studied about mindfulness, I also became the student and began deepening my own practice. Learning about the neuroscience behind human behavior became the most important piece (and peace) in my own life by having a positive impact on my own challenging behaviors (or reactions) to life! The practice of mindfulness involves cultivating awareness of our experiences from moment to moment with curiosity and with non-judgment, leading to a greater understanding of ourselves and of others. It is the noticing of what is happening at this moment as it really is and not trying to change it. I have loved this description by James Baraz: 
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to see young children taking these life skills into their own lives: practicing taking a pause before responding to challenging situations, deep breaths for calming, living in gratitude, sharing kindful compassionate wishes to others, and so on. These are the skills which will be needed throughout life and actually become traits of living mindfully. Learning and practicing never, ever ends. Each moment, each experience, each interaction with others, each thought, each choice of words and actions is a learning experience. How we feel about it is how we feel. It is what it is. We feel sad, happy, upset, stressed, grateful, angry, terrified. It’s what we do next that can be cultivated or not. We can allow our brains to be on auto-pilot and simply react to everything, or we can learn to notice and pay attention to how we are feeling, what is happening in our bodies, and create the space to observe with curiosity and then proceed with creativity.
I work in a school setting as a speech-language therapist with a very high caseload and enormous heaps of responsibilities and expectations for one person to carry. It is what it is. Some moments of the day I am feeling joy-filled (usually when I am working with the students) and some moments I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed to the max! I had to laugh when I saw this description by Richard Siken: 
“Eventually something… is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking, “I am falling to the floor crying,” but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it — you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well.”
In that moment of awareness of the feelings as they are, and the situation as it is, we have made a conscious shift. Each time we shift to the present moment as it is, we are creating new habits of the mind. We let go of trying to control an experience. It’s not supposed to be anything. Right now, it’s like this.  David Beach explains:
“It is not that way. It is this way. It is like this. Nothing more and nothing less. It’s just this. Just this. Understand, we are not allowing it to be like this – it already is. It does not need our approval to be any certain way. Our practice is to open up. To wake up into the now. The vast empty now. And see it for how it actually is. To see that, it’s like this.
And like this…
And this…”
Throughout my day, no matter what I am feeling, I have cultivated “awe” in my life. I love that moment of shifting and awakening to a grateful moment ( #gratefulmoment ) when, no matter how I am feeling, I become aware of something awe-inspiring. The photo at the top of the page is an example of this. As I walked to my car feeling exhausted after a very stress-filled week I noticed the sun shining brightly on this wall, casting shadows of the delicate flowers. And yes, that wall could use a fresh coat of paint. Smiling. 

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Dee DiGioia, founder of Mindful Kindful YOUniversity, offers Mindfulness-based Social-Emotional Learning Programs across San Luis Obispo County for youth and adults to learn and engage in practices of mindfulness and movement grounded in science and backed by research  to support mental and physical health and well-being. Respond more skillfully to life in the 21st Century!

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Mindfulness Seeds of the Heart

M Heart, 2nd gradeLast school year I had the privilege to teach a mindfulness program at an inner city elementary school in Sacramento where I was also serving as the district speech-language therapist. Each morning I started the day with a 30 minute class “Circles” class alternating among grades K-5. This school was probably the most challenging group of students I have ever worked with, but honestly it became one of the most rewarding experiences. So many of the students had severe behavioral challenges stemming from trauma and chronic stress. Working here was one of the reasons I decided to pursue the certification program through Mindful Schools as I knew these children could potentially benefit from mindfulness training. Research has been showing promising results. “Studies find that youth benefit from learning mindfulness in terms of improved cognitive outcomes, social-emotional skills, and well being. In turn, such benefits may lead to long-term improvements in life. For example, social skills in kindergarten predict improved education, employment, crime, substance abuse and mental health outcomes in adulthood.” (1)

At the end of the school year I had the students draw or write about what they learned or liked best about mindfulness. It was deeply moving to see the pictures the children drew. One of the second grade classes was particularly endearing to me. I was so moved by their responses that I asked the teacher if I could interview the children to make a video of what they drew about. The video below is one quiet little girl’s response. This is why I teach mindfulness. We never know what seeds we are planting!  We are empowering children with resources that are right inside of them! They won’t know what they aren’t taught. When we can practice in a safe and calm classroom, they will develop the resources to draw upon as needed.

Enjoy…

Dee DiGioia, Mindfulness Coach

“Develop inner peace. You get world peace through inner peace. If you’ve got a world of people who have inner peace, then you have a peaceful world.” ~Wayne Dyer

Dee DiGioia, Certified Mindfulness & Life Skills Coach and Consultant
MK YOU offers mindfulness programs for youth, educators, parents, and community members using evidence-based practices of mindfulness, movement, and social-emotional learning to help reduce stress while cultivating the inner resources needed for well-being in San Luis Obispo & Northern Santa Barbara Counties via community programs/classes/workshops, personal coaching, professional development, mini-retreats, and more. After pioneering a successful mindfulness program for K-5 classrooms at an inner city charter school in Sacramento, CA, Dee hopes to develop programs in our local schools here on the Central Coast of CA.  Contact Dee to learn more.

Subscribe to MK YOU News!

(1) Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., & Crowley, M. (2015). Early Social-­Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105 (11), 2283–2290.

For more research go to http://www.mindfulschools.org/about-mindfulness/research/