2 Breathing Exercises to Support Executive Function

2 Breathing Exercises to Support Executive Function

The official definition of executive function is: a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal.  It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation.  Think of executive function as the “conductor” of all cognitive skills,  enabling us to manage our lives, responsibilities, and projects. These skills include:

  1. Inhibition – The ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time.
  2. Shift – The ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation.
  3. Emotional Control – The ability to modulate emotional responses by bringing rational thought to bear on feelings.
  4. Initiation – The ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies.
  5. Working memory – The capacity to hold information in mind for the purpose of completing a task.
  6. Planning/Organization – The ability to manage current and future- oriented task demands.
  7. Organization of Materials – The ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces.
  8. Self-Monitoring – The ability to monitor one’s own performance and to measure it against some standard of what is needed or expected.

Looking at this list, it’s obvious that self-regulation is a critical competency of executive function in two major ways: social-emotional (appropriate behavior in a social context) and cognitive (focus, academic learning, problem-solving).   When children are self-regulating, they can both stop or start doing something, even if they don’t want to. They can delay gratification; they can think ahead; they can control impulses and consider options.  It is crucial that children learn basic self-regulation in early childhood because research indicates that “children who cannot control their emotions at age four are unlikely to be able to follow the teachers’ directions at age six, and will not become reflective learners in middle and high school.” (http://toolsofthemind.org/learn/resources/research-by-tools/)

Breathing Techniques for Executive Function

Breathing techniques offer easy-to-practice activities for building basic self-regulation in the body of youngsters and in your classroom.  With something specific to do to support themselves when confronted with transitions, sharing, waiting, and re-directing impulses, children are better able to navigate those challenges.  As they experience how specific ways of breathing enable them to tolerate feelings and manage impulses, they start to embody greater control.  This process strengthens executive function, which builds self-esteem and self-trust.

Help kids learn how to count on their inner wisdom and intelligence.  Make time for self-reflection and self-care throughout the day.  Then introduce and practice breathing exercises regularly as a way to de-stress, recharge, and reset to to an optimal mind-body state.  Below are 2 options that offer simple, effective tools for healthy self-regulation.

Fish Breath

is a fun technique that is sure to make kids laugh and not take things too seriously. Because it requires make a silly blooping sound on the exhale, like a fish, it disperses tension, releases frustration, and busts the stress of over-efforting.  Humor and playfulness are keys to accessing executive function and creative thinking.  Physiologically, when you inhale deeply, you pull in lots of oxygen needed by our brain and body to stay relaxed and alert.  When you exhale completely, you make room for more which helps us release toxins and recharge.


executive function breathing exerciseTake a deep breath through your nose,
Fill up your cheeks with that breath and …
Push it all out through your mouth while saying…
Bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, blooooooop.

And again, deep breath in your nose…
Fill up your cheeks with it and …
Exhale it out your mouth …

Bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop, blooooooop.

Ocean Breath

activates the midline of the body, connects both hemispheres of the brain, and relieves tension in the eye muscles. As they inhale, direct children to place one hand on their belly button and the other on their sternum, like giving themselves a hug.  Then, as they exhale, have them move just their eyes (head remains still) slowly from right to left and back again 2-4 times.  This movement facilitates improved eye teaming skills and cross-motor coordination.

Overall, Ocean Breath slows, calms, and centers both mind and body, which will enable children to access executive function.

Self regulation anxiety fearPlace one hand on your belly button,
place the other in the middle of your chest.
Press your thumb and forefinger into the
soft tissue points beneath your collar bones
on either side of your sternum. Inhale fully
through your nose and then, as you exhale
slowly, move just your eyes from right to left.



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self regulation flashcards

10 Benefits of Cross Crawl – Brain Hemisphere Synching Exercise – with Video

10 Benefits of Cross Crawl – Brain Hemisphere Synching Exercise – with Video

What is Cross Crawl?

Cross crawl refers to movements in which we use opposition such as crawling, walking, running, and swimming. Opposition means that opposite sides of the body work together to coordinate the right arm and left leg, then the left arm and right leg.

Therapeutically, cross crawl refers to any intentional cross-lateral activity in which you cross the mid-line of the body, such as touching opposite hand and knee or foot.  Performing this movement builds the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, allowing for electrical impulses and information to pass freely between the two, which is essential for physical coordination as well as cerebral activities, such as learning language, reading, and hand-to-eye coordination.

Why is Cross-Crawl Beneficial?

As soon as we start to crawl, this cross-lateral pattern of movement stimulates more complex brain and nervous system development and integration.  In addition to firing neural pathways in the right and left brain hemispheres simultaneously, a cross crawl movement stabilizes the pelvis while mobilizing the shoulders, reinforcing the walking-gait reflexes (1).

In short, any time you do cross crawl, you are re-integrating your brain and nervous system and re-organizing your mind-body connections (2). Because we are daily, hourly, being bombarded and impacted by multiple stimuli and tasks, practicing cross-crawl throughout the day is one of the best self-care activities you can do for yourself.  This Valentine’s Day, love yourself and your family by building cross-crawl into your daily schedule.  Think of it as a basic part of wellness, like drinking plenty of water.  You will not only feel clearer, you will behave and perform better. Try it before homework, testing, or an important meeting, after anything stressful and between different kinds of activities.  If you’ve been reading and it’s time to go play soccer – cross crawl.  If you’re frustrated with a project – cross-crawl. You need to clear some cobwebs or recharge – cross crawl!

Through mind-body science, we now understand that physical coordination precedes cognitive coordination.  The ability to do cross-lateral movements with the body literally lays the foundation for other cognitive abilities, such as readiness for fine motor academic work.  Though it seems to be a fun, simple exercise, here’s what cross-crawl is doing for you physically and mentally:

  1. Stabilizes your walking gait coordination – builds core strength
  2. Energizes your body and calms your mind – releases tension and stress
  3. Improves your eye teaming skills – essential for focus, reading, and writing
  4. Enhances whole brain thinking – your left and right hemispheres work together
  5. Develops proprioception – your spatial and kinesthetic awareness

Cross crawl also offers an effective way to reboot your nervous system and re-integrate mind and body.  You can use it regularly to both discharge and recharge your attention and energy.  It’s a great break from over- focusing and it works just as well to bring body and mind online.  As a stress buster or a warm-up for doing your best, cross crawl has significant social-emotional benefits:

Balancing Cat Pose - Move with Me

Cross-lateral Balancing Cat!

  1. Increased self-awareness
  2. Situational insight
  3. Clarity of thought
  4. Impulse control
  5. Physical coordination in general

How Do You Cross Crawl?

Stand with your feet apart and your arms open parallel to the ground. Shift your weight to your right foot, lift your left knee and touch it with your right hand.  Step back to both feet and immediately shift weight to on your left foot as you lift your right knee and touch it with your left hand.  Repeat this several times in a comfortable, upbeat, rhythmic way.   Breathe fully and enjoy.

Cross Crawl Self Regulation ExerciseCross Crawl






When Do You Do Cross Crawl?

Most adults can do cross crawl.  However, like anything, the more you practice, the easier and more fluid and embodied the coordination pattern becomes. The age when children can intentionally cross crawl varies because they develop at different speeds.  Some can easily balance and cross the mid-line of the body by the age of 4 and some find it challenging up to age of 6 or 7. It is age – appropriate for children ages 5 and under to automatically bring their hand to the same knee, demonstrating a same sided crawl (homo-lateral crawl).


(1) Walking gait reflexes
(2) Neurological disorganisation

Good Health Starts with Self-Regulation

Good Health Starts with Self-Regulation

Good Health Starts with Self-RegulationRecently, my teacher sent me this article by Gabor Maté: How to Build a Culture of Good Health.  Read it!  It beautifully explains the holistic, relational, developmental nature of health that I think we’ve all experienced at some level but never had words for:

Ultimately, healing flows from within. The word itself originates from “wholeness.”    To be whole is much more than to experience the absence of disease. It is the full and optimal functioning of the human organism, according to its nature-gifted possibilities. By such standards, we live in a culture that leaves us far short of health.

I’ve been studying biodynamic craniosacral therapy and meditating 30-60 minutes a day for over a year now.  In the process, I’ve come to embody a new level of self-trust, presence, and health.  It has strengthened my ability to be neutral and allowed the deeper forces that created and sustain me to build potency.  In Dr. Mate’s words, I’ve been doing this:

Give yourself, as best you can, what your parents would have loved to grant you but probably could not: full-hearted attention, full-minded awareness, and compassion. Make gifting yourself with these qualities your daily practice.

Now, instead of gripping to protective identifications, I am being moved toward greater fluidity, resilience, awareness, and metabolism.  It’s not always pleasant.  I’m resolving long held imprints.  I cry almost every time.  But my tears are cleansing; they do not reinforce any victimhood.  Instead, they dissolve old fears that no longer make sense.  My personality is less rigid.  My window of tolerance is widening.  I can see others more clearly.  I am able to sustain my own coherence more powerfully.  And I can resource myself more effectively.

As educators and parents, we are often at a loss as to how to help our children.  More and more, we see how trauma and dysregulation impact them negatively.  We try to soothe, cajole, convince, manipulate, force, explain, etc.  We want them to feel alright and know that everything will be okay.  But resolving trauma and truly embodying self-regulation is an inside job.  To teach children how to meet their fears and feelings in a healthy way, we must be regulated and model metabolizing our own experiences.  To connect them to their inner health forces, we must meet them, as we meet ourselves, with authentic presence and love.  

Adults need to know, even if their physicians often do not, that their health issues are rarely isolated manifestations. Any symptom, any illness is also an opportunity to consider where our lives may be out of balance, where our childhood coping patterns have become maladaptive, exacting costs on our physical well-being.  When we take on too much stress, whether at work or in our personal lives, when we are not able to say no, inevitably our bodies will say it for us. We need to be very honest with ourselves, very compassionate, but very thorough in considering how our childhood programming still runs our lives, to our detriment.

To take advantage of the metabolic forces of our own health system, we need to grant ourselves the time and the space to process our own mental-emotional-energetic experiences and make conscious choices that serve our higher intentions.  To prevent chronic stress from making us sick, we must stop valuing accomplishment over well-being.  And yes, I know that’s challenging inside of …  A materialistic culture (that) teaches its members that their value depends on what they produce, achieve, or consume rather than on their human beingness. Many of us believe that we must continually prove and justify our worthiness, that we must keep having and doing to justify our existence.

Choose to re-prioritize.  Put your health first and your do-list second.  Spend time being, processing, loving yourself. Give yourself the gift of meditation this holiday and open the door to expanding your consciousness, embodying self-regulation, and accessing the intelligence of your own system.  Your children will thank you!


Being in the Vertical vs. Horizontal

Being in the Vertical vs. Horizontal

In a recent Movement and Mindfulness™ Curriculum Certification, our trainer, Leah Kalish, MA, taught us about “being in the Vertical versus Horizontal.” She was speaking to the idea of self-care. That it behooves every teacher or parent or caregiver to make taking care of oneself a priority, even before attending to our children. Just like those oxygen masks in airplanes!

This concept was a revelation for me. I realized that in my own parenting I was constantly in horizontal mode; trying valiantly to make things happen for my kids. “Here, let me teach you about how this works” or “Let me help with you that.” Which left me feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, and exhausted. There was always so much to do. In horizontal mode we are thinking outside ourselves, multi-tasking, and anywhere but centered in our own spot. We appear to be getting a lot accomplished, but the energy we use to do everything is unsustainable and we are left feeling depleted, scattered.

Then, I consciously switched to vertical mode. I hung back and let my kids tell me what they knew about any given subject, giving answers only when questions were asked. I gave them autonomy to dress, bathe, get food for themselves (at age 6 and 10 they were both developmentally capable, but I had stayed in the habit from when they were toddlers). I stopped trying “to do”, and let others do for me. Most remarkably, I had more time and space for myself: to write, do yoga, daydream (if I dared) and any other things that fed my soul.

In vertical mode we are aligned with our intentions and rooted in the motivations that drive all we do. Vertically, we are constantly being replenished and re-energized simply by not overdoing, but by being receptive, letting things come to us as opposed to always trying to make things happen. We are present and centered, in the vertical we are balanced.

In the vertical state one can revisit and reflect: what is my overall intention (in raising my family/or teaching students/or being a member of this human race)?  Who do I want to be and how do I want to feel?

When you make time to name it, you can see it, and when you see it, you can be it. The ingenious thing is that when others see it, they can be it, too.  In taking care of yourself, you have full access to your coping mechanisms, you’re not running on fumes or giving from an empty place. You become a model for those around you on how to do the same.

The Movement and Mindfulness™ certification course was a great experience.

I left feeling my whole mind, body, and spirit nourished. I’m excited about sharing this transformative information with my students, other teachers, and especially families. Leah really walks the talk and is such an inspiration to me. I wish every parent and educator could take her course!


In exploring how to have family fun playing with being vertical, I adapted old and new material into what I call: Family Freeze Dance. Turn on your favorite tunes, just before dinner or after. Take turns pausing the song, and instead of freeze-ing (which often makes bodies stiff and breathing tight) try dropping into Mountain Pose (standing tall, rooted into the earth yet receptive & soft around the eyes and shoulders). Mountain is such a great pose to practice experiencing being in the vertical with strength AND ease. At the end of the game, use a Humming Breath to calm bodies and bring energy down for the next activity: reading time, dinner time, bed time. Take in 3 more breaths here, while enjoying the view from standing strong and easeful in who you are.


April CantorApril Cantor has been teaching yoga fulltime since 1999; first to adults in studios and corporate centers, and now currently with children. Her former life as a theater arts educator with Stages of Learning in NYC public schools set her on course to working with children in ways that get them out of their desks and feeling at home in their bodies.  She founded SoulShine Life Yoga for Kids and Families to bring yoga programs into Brooklyn & NY preschools, and to help families integrate yoga into their busy lives. April finds much inspiration from her two boys, and occasionally facilitates Partner Yoga workshops with her husband, dance educator/choreographer, Barry Blumenfeld.

Moving Out of the Pathology Paradigm

Moving Out of the Pathology Paradigm

pathology-v-healthTo me, the mindfulness movement has wonderfully enhanced our learning how to self-care, self-regulate, and be responsible for our own well-being and mental health. Because it encourages us to rest back, widen out, and notice without judgment, it also invites us to move out of a pathology paradigm and participate in a health paradigm. It doesn’t focus on what’s wrong. It strengthens our ability to be with what is and motivates us with science validated reminders that enjoying its benefits takes practice. Regular practice slows us down, expands our consciousness, and reconnects us to our greatest asset – our health system.

When I say your health system, I am talking about the bigger forces that literally created you and are continually monitoring, metabolizing, eliminating, maintaining, integrating, and renewing you.  You are a metabolic miracle, truly.  Your pursuit of mindfulness is a doorway to greater access to your innate health and healing power.   Every time you meditate, move into greater awareness, or relax deeply, you allow and support this system to process, balance, and re-calibrate you.  The more you practice, the more space and fluidity in your system, and the greater ease and well-being you experience.

My point is that each of our systems is infinitely intelligent and always moving us toward greater health based on the present circumstances and consciousness.  Just as after eating a big meal, you don’t go running because you know your body needs time to digest; in our busy, demanding lives, we can’t just go-go-go.  We need to give ourselves time to metabolize the stressors and reset our nervous systems to maintain health.  Like a hot bath, mindfulness supports our greater health intelligence to work with and metabolize for us.

As you make lifestyle changes and explore how to bring more mindfulness and wellness into your homes and classrooms, where are you coming from?  Are you focused on what’s wrong and how to fix it or stop it, which often creates more constriction and diminishes flow and health?  Or are you making time and space for your and your students’ systems to function optimally?  Can you stop seeing something wrong with you or them, and instead allow, feel, and attend to what is expressed?  When seen through the lens of health, everything that arises is for greater health.   Can you embrace and be responsive such that what arises can be seen, heard, and processed in the service of greater health?


You Teach Who You Are

You Teach Who You Are

#teachwhoyouare - pic - 2For me, movement and mindfulness go together.  They speak to the essence of being human, which is how we come into relationship with and respond to what arises in the dynamic, metabolic flow of energy that is our inner and outer lives.  How we dance with our own life-force defines who we are.  It is the template for how we show up and what we teach.

I’ve spent the last 20 years bringing the same movement and mindfulness practices to education that I use in my own life.  I teach them because I believe they are essential tools for self-realization and lay the foundation for embodied wisdom. They are the structures that slowed me down and shifted me into a new paradigm of possibility. They plugged me into a much greater field of awareness and intelligence in which kindness, compassion, and differentiation replaced force, judgment, and projection.  I stopped believing all the thoughts in my head and started to see how I could focus my thinking and process my feelings instead.  I came to understand the power of meditation, yoga, and self-inquiry to relieve my own suffering and to empower me to take ever greater responsibility for my behavior and happiness.

This is an on-going process.  My life keeps moving. I continue to practice because I know that I teach from who I am being.

The same is true for you, for everyone. Whatever subject matter you teach, what matters most is who you are being. You hold the space. Your mind-body state sets the tone.  The younger the students, the more they entrain to you. Your values and principles are the invisible operating system influencing how everyone feels and learns in your classroom.  Yes, it’s a big responsibility and one that behooves working on oneself.

I meditate every day.  It resets my nervous system and cultivates presence. It keeps me honest and in touch with deeper feelings, which translates to being more clear, sensitive, and responsive with others.  I can see and hear what is really going on out there, because I’ve practiced sitting with what goes on in here.

I encourage you read the article, Seven Ways Mindfulness Can Help Teachers, by teacher, Patricia Jennings, who also wrote, Mindfulness for Teachers.

Or learn about Loving Kindness meditation as taught by Sharon Salzberg, who wrote:

Mindfulness helps relieve anxiety and can give us a real sense of connection and fulfillment, as well as insight and understanding. The idea is, by developing a different relationship with our experience, we get to see it differently. If an emotion comes up, and we start fighting it, there’s not a lot of learning going on. If we fall into it and become overwhelmed, there’s not a lot of learning going on. Mindfulness helps us develop a different, kinder relationship with ourselves, to see much more deeply into all of our experience.

I fuel myself with activities and people that I enjoy. I do something every day to feel blessed and grateful.  And if it’s been a rough day, I won’t go to bed miserable.  I’ll call a friend, I’ll re-read a card, I’ll watch a favorite movie, I’ll journal. Positive emotions fill our inner tank with vitality and resilience. They boost our immune systems and can transform thinking.  Play is just as important for you as it is for the children you teach.  Do you make time to play?  Could you take a more playful approach to your daily activities?

I recommend you explore what makes you happy and do more of it.  If that sounds silly or you don’t have time, check out this online course in the Science of Happiness, which I completed last year.  It is full research that will motivate you to generate more gratitude and joy for yourself!  It will engage you in valuable self-inquiry and offer you a wide range of practices to play with.

I cultivate self-compassion. It helps me feel my innate value and recognize the sacred journey of every life.  It cultivates humility and respect for others’ struggles and leaves me being kind by default, not to be nice.

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion is a skill that can be learned by anyone. It involves generating feelings of kindness and care toward ourselves as imperfect human beings, and learning to be present with greater ease during life’s inevitable struggles. It is an antidote to harsh self-criticism, making us feel connected to others when we suffer, rather than feeling isolated and alienated. Unlike self-esteem, the good feelings of self-compassion do not depend on being special and better than other people; instead, they come from caring about ourselves and embracing our commonalities.

Self-compassion is not self-pity, self-absorption, or self-indulgence. It is simply a mindset of caring and curiosity for our own process, which helps us develop the inner resources to be able to care about and serve others. The Dali Lama’s translator in many books, Thupten Jinpa, describes it as:  the instinctive ability to be kind and considerate to yourself – the put on your oxygen mask first before helping others’ approach to self-care – which makes a big difference when you are dealing with the demands of raising children, dealing with a difficult boss, or facing a relationship crisis.

These are 3 practices that work for me (there are more to come :).  They help me self-regulate, be mindful, and feel playful with whatever arises.  If you know it’s time to up your self-care in order to be the mindful, responsive teacher / person you’d like to be more often, I would be happy to support you with some ideas, suggestions, and coaching.  Just email me and we will schedule a call.  If there are many of you, we can schedule a conference call.

Look forward to connecting!

Leah @ move-with-me.com

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