If you’ve taken a yoga class, you may have heard of belly breathing. It can be used to reduce anxiety and help with concentration. It can also be a big help for kids who have breathing problems, and it can help strengthen kids’ core muscles.
Kerry Hutchins, physical therapist at WakeMed Outpatient Rehab, uses a number of techniques to teach children belly breathing for core strengthening. “Most kids want to breathe out and expand their tummy, but we teach them to do it the other way around.”
If a child has difficulty breathing, they might frequently be seen shrugging their upper muscles. According to Hutchins, those are small muscles that aren’t as efficient for breathing. Some kids simply aren’t strong enough to expand and engage their diaphragm, and that’s where belly breathing and core strengthening go hand in hand.
Kids who have difficulty walking or fall down a lot probably have a weak core. “Most children only have 30 minutes of physical activity in a school day, and there aren’t as many opportunities for kids to build core strength through regular play,” said Hutchins. “For example, you don’t see as many merry-go-rounds, balance beams or monkey bars on playgrounds due to injury concerns so some children may need to add in some specific activities at home.”
Hutchins has used belly breathing techniques to help children as young as 3 and as old as middle school. It’s a form of physical therapy that can address muscle weakness, poor posture and abnormal gait.
Core = Gluteal + Hips + Shoulder Muscles
Yoga movements, physio balls, pushing, pulling, crab walking, bear walking, kicking and wheelbarrow walking are incorporated into physical therapy sessions with Hutchins. Those activities all help teach children to breathe with their belly and engage their core muscles.
Breathing & The Brain
Proper breathing and a strong core can help improve a child’s cognitive skills. “There is a huge correlation between engaging the core and learning,” said Hutchins. “If a child is having a hard time breathing, it can directly affect their levels of activity.”
Belly breathing is used by adults, too. Some kids may also need to come back again after a growth spurt or major life change.
Does your child have unexplained pain? Their bones may be growing faster than their muscles. This isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, but they may need some help working through the changes.
Some kids will complain more about growing pains at night. Kerry Hutchins, physical therapist, explains that the main reason for this is that sometimes we just don’t notice things until we are still.
If your child has a sudden growth spurt, they probably need to balance out their muscles. Problems with proprioception (awareness of one’s body in its space) may be an issue as well for some growing children. Hutchins recommends exercises that include strengthening the core, stretching, and working on balance.
Strengthen and Lengthen
Proper stretches can help reset muscles that have been disturbed by sudden growth. “We use balance balls and other techniques to work with kids who need some extra assistance,” said Hutchins. “The focus is on strengthening the weak muscles and stretching the tight ones.”
Tell Your Family Doctor
While in many cases there may be a simple solution, more serious growth plate concerns can occur. Anytime a child experiences unexplained pain, they should see a doctor.