The Neglected Art of Deep Breathing - Its Value in the Early Stages of Tuberculosis and Adenoids - Necessity of Pure Fresh Air - Rules - Some Simple Exercises - How to Train Children in Deep Breathing
The child who has learned how to breathe has acquired a health measure which will be invaluable all through life. Half the cases of delicate lungs are due to defective breathing, and the mother who undertakes physical culture in the nursery should for the next week or two pay special attention to the encouragement of deep breathing.
Once children are taught to breathe, their vigour and vitality will improve in a most remarkable fashion. The girl who breathes as she ought to will escape round shoulders at the awkward age. The boy with adenoids will, in the early stages, at any rate, have the condition cured without operation by a systematic course of breathing exercises. Deep breathing is one of the best preventives of consumption, whilst a good digestion, a graceful carriage, and a happier and healthier mind are some of the most desirable results which proper breathing provide.
Before touching upon the question of how to breathe it must be most emphatically stated that the only thing children should be allowed to breathe is pure fresh air. We can provide it for them in the home, at any rate. We can see that their nurseries, schoolrooms, and bedrooms are flushed with fresh air by opening the windows wide perhaps twice a day. We can make it an unbreakable rule that the window is at least an inch or two open by night all the year round. Then let us teach them deep-breathing exercises in the fresh air as much as possible. During the winter months in wet weather they can perfectly well practise the exercises in a well-ventilated nursery. Whenever possible, at all seasons of the year, let their classes be held out of doors.
Now, it is very important in these exercises to notice details so that the lesson should be confined to three or four children at a time. It is easy to see in a class of small size when one child breathes by the mouth or makes a wrong movement with the arms or body, because he gets out of line; but it is much more difficult to guard against errors in breathing when a large number of children are practising together.
Before giving anything in the shape of exercises make the children learn and repeat the following rules:
Breathe by the nose all the time.
Keep the mouth shut.
Keep the head up.
Once train the children to follow these rules, and you will go a long way in the preventing of nursery colds and catarrhs. Mouth breathing is so common that it is difficult to understand why mothers are so careless in this respect. If they could imagine the ill effects upon all the respiratory passages and on the lungs they would take a good deal of trouble to induce every child in the nursery to keep the mouth shut.
The first lesson should consist in explaining the rules to the children. Tell them they must rigidly follow them and notice particularly any child who seems to find it difficult to breathe by the nose. If, after a few lessons and exercises, mouth-breathing is still persisted in, then the child should have the nose and throat examined for any obstruction. So many mothers waste time in coddling children with special foods and medicines, who will continue to be "delicate" until they have obstructions to their breathing removed.
Daily practice for even five minutes at a time will help very much to establish the habit of deep breathing. A simple exercise, such as the following should be practised:
Make the children stand with hands on hips, shoulders braced and head well up. There must be nothing stiff about the position, and if they are more comfortable with the hands hanging by the side, they should be permitted to take up that attitude.
Now, at the word of command, they must take a deep breath and hold it until told to "let go." Slowly and deeply they inhale and slowly and quietly let the breath go.
The risk with children, as with adults, in exercising for deep breathing is that they get themselves into a condition of stiffness or tension. To obviate this, the following exercise is splendid.
Let the children sit on a bench, or each child on a chair. They should have the head bent forward and the arms hanging. Tell them to imagine that the hands and head are very heavy. Now give the order, "A deep breath," and teach them to raise the head and the shoulders slowly, and lift the arms until they are in their lap. When every child has the head well up, shoulders braced, and holding the breath, say, "Let go," and head, shoulders, and arms sink down again.
Note the effect of this exercise upon the spine. It is relaxed and braced alternately, and the spinal muscles are provided with exercise and movement. It is a valuable exercise to teach a child how to relax. You know how nervous children seem always on tension, with their hands gripped and the muscles of their necks strained, their jaws clenched whenever they are at all excited. These children need relaxation exercises, and this is one that they can practise.
The Orientals, who practise repose from the beginning, escape the restlessness and anxiety which characterise so many people, even in childhood, in this country. One of the advantages of deep breathing is that it soothes the mind, and anyone tempted to get into a passion should take a few deep breaths. The sedative effect is very marked.
Another procedure the mother or nurse might follow is to make the children stand in a row, and let each in turn repeat the rules Then
Medical 44S0 make them take deep breaths with hands on hips as already described. The next thing should be that they take a deep breath whilst raising the arms high above the head. After pausing while the teacher counts four slowly, they bend the body at the waist and lower the hands until they come towards the toes. At the same time the breath is going out. This exercise might be repeated six, eight, or ten times, depending upon the amount of practice the children have had. Then practise breathing first with one nostril and then with the other.
The children, of course, must hold the hand against one nostril whilst breathing with the other.
Now the exercise on relaxation described above can be tried, and it will take a great deal of practice before the children relax in the right way. Some children are extremely stiff and some incapable, without a great deal of teaching, of relaxing their muscles to order.
The expression of the face is a good indication as to whether the child is exerting too much tension. The children ought to look as if they are enjoying it, and yet show no sign of strain and excitement. The reason why so many people feel tired after physical exertion is that they put too much nervous force into the action.
One reason why music is a good accompaniment for exercises is that it has a soothing and happy effect upon the mind. The clever teacher takes great care to see that the children enjoy their exercises.
One of the best ways of averting an argument or quarrel in the nursery is to suggest deep breathing at the psychological moment to take the children's minds off the cause of annoyance. A regular lesson should be held daily, but every now and then during the day one or two minutes should be spent in practice. Gradually the habit of deep breathing is acquired. Its health value can hardly be over-estimated.