These days, it feels like we could all use some emotional support. Back breathing is the perfect partner pose to help foster empathy and compassion for others.
To introduce back breathing, it is important to first feel it on your own. Start in child’s pose, resting hands on stacked fists. Practice breathing into the back, feeling the ribs expand to the ceiling. Inhale and exhale focusing on inflating the back. From this pose, it is almost impossible to breath into the chest or stomach.
In the classroom setting, I would recommend using this activity only after students have built community and trust. Since back breathing feels slightly more intimate than some other partner poses, try using back drawing first to become comfortable with appropriate touch.
During back breathing, the partner gently places open hands on the other’s back. I find it helpful to discuss appropriate pressure. Too light and the effect is lost. Too heavy and breathing feels restricted.
While the physical touch is an important component of back breathing, the act of synchronizing breath can have a tremendous impact on building positive relationships. That being said, I always make this activity optional. Students that do not wish to be touched can join a group and use a breathing ball to match breath. Also, back to back breathing is an option that offers a different type of touch that may seem more accessible.
Afterwards, have students switch roles so that they can experience giving and receiving. This is an excellent way to physically experience support. The idea of “supporting one another” can sometimes seem abstract to young children, so having a direct experience can go along way. You can experience support in an active posture like partner pull, but this is great way to experience support in a more passive, relaxed state.
As students become comfortable, there is also an opportunity to discuss anatomy. Move hands from low back, mid-back, and upper back with the directive to “breathe into the hands”. It is amazing how much surface area the lungs take up in the chest and how, with concentration, you can activate the breath in certain areas.
This is also an activity that I use at home with my young children as well. I love back breathing with my boys before bedtime. As I place my hands on my son’s lower back, we begin to sync long, slow breaths. I even will sometimes use verbals cues like, “inhale… exhale”. This strategy is a quick and effective way to connect non-verbally and slow down the body for sleep.
Have you tried back breathing? Would you use it in your classroom? Give it a try with a family member and let us know how it goes. Post a comment!