Hand Tracing Breathing

Have you wondered, where is the best place to start when teaching mindfulness?

Breathing is the best place to begin a mindfulness practice. For children, especially in a school setting, we recommend hand tracing as an excellent option for an introductory breath. Many school settings use “Show Me 5” as an attention signal, so we find this strategy fits in easily to existing school cultures and routines.

Start by placing your dominant pointer finger at the bottom of the opposite thumb. Continue by drawing around the perimeter of the hand, inhaling on the way up the finger and exhaling on the way down. This is a quick and easy way to get in five breaths and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Better yet, switch hands and use your non-dominant hand as the tracer for an additional five breaths.

Hand tracing is incredibly effective for addressing anxiety.  This strategy allows students to get “out of their head” and into their body and the somatic input creates a calming influence. We sometimes even offer the affirmation, “I am right here” or “I feel my pointer finger press against my hand”.

It is empowering for students to know that this technique is always accessible. When the situation doesn’t allow you to lie down, close your eyes or use a tool, your hands are always available. Model discreetly hand tracing under a desk to demonstrate that five breaths can be taken anywhere at anytime. Find Hand Tracing Breathing featured on our Move Mindfully® Permission to Pause Posters.



We like to show the variation of tracing your hand on a table as well. This is especially useful during transitions when students need to arrive at a new space and is effective when combined with head on desk. At home, try before dinner or homework time.






Also, hand tracing on someone else’s back can be a great variation of back drawing or back breathing. Paraprofessionals love using this during high tension situations, like assemblies or tests. Also, try this strategy at home on your child or loved one before bedtime.




Hand tracing is the perfect entry point for mindfulness. Coworkers, parents and students  can start using this highly effective breathing strategy for self-regulation right away.

Have you tried hand tracing? When might you use this strategy? Leave a comment!

Be Well,

Stephanie Kennelly



7 replies
  1. Sue Swanson
    Sue Swanson says:

    We have been doing this as ‘5 Finger Breathing’ I like to have kids stop when they reach the ‘Tall Man’ & hold breath for 5 counts & encourage them to visualize what they would see at the top of their mountain, and then go on & finish breathing with the other fingers.

    • Stephanie Kennelly
      Stephanie Kennelly says:

      Thanks for sharing what is working in your environment! When we train adults to use breathing strategies with youth, we avoid any holding breath (breath retention) because it can create a stress response. However, there are many techniques and tools available when working with children and we are pleased to hear what is working for you!

  2. Elise Weinberg
    Elise Weinberg says:

    Love this ! I also love that it can be taught to use discretely as in under a desk, so a student doesn’t necessarily have to show his or her neighbors he or she is practicing it. They can just take control of their own reactions & responses & and calm themselves down.


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