Breathing Education Empowers Kids with Asthma

Breathing Education Empowers Kids with Asthma

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Breathing Education Empowers Kids with Asthma


On a sunny June day in New Jersey’s Kittatinny Mountains, 125 youngsters happily ran on a grassy field, playing games. They were attending Camp Superkids, a week-long asthma camp sponsored by the American Lung Association of New Jersey.

Clatie Campbell, the camp’s respiratory therapy director, had invited me to be part of the volunteer staff for the week, and my job was to teach my program BreathPlay™ to these vibrant children with asthma.

Campbell, who in her other life is director of respiratory care at the Capital Health System facility in Trenton, N.J., said it would be OK for me to talk to family members and campers about my program, which is based on BreathPlay, a breathing technique developed by Olympic trainer Ian Jackson.

Parents were eager to know what their children would be learning at camp and how to share that knowledge at home.

Beginning Points
My training began with the use of a colorful pinwheel. I asked campers to show me how it works. From there, we moved into basic questions like: Why do pursed lips help in breathing? How long do you blow out? How does the air get back in your lungs? How fast does it come in? Why do you relax to let the air in? What part of the breathing cycle makes you strong? Do people who don’t have asthma need to know how to breathe?

Breathing instruction can take many forms. One morning, I spent a half hour teaching teenage campers ways to breathe more effectively before they headed off to their various activities. I had them lie on their beds and watch how their bellies rise to allow the lungs to accept air, and fall toward the spine as air is expelled in unconscious breathing. This is part of the American Lung Association’s belly breathing instruction.

Then we did another ALA recommended activity, a tensing and relaxing exercise starting with the forehead and ending with the toes. I added a BreathPlay twist to this exercise. When you tense muscles to make them tight, blow out with pursed lips. As you release the muscles, let your belly relax and the breath flows into your mouth and nose automatically, without effort. The campers began to understand that outbreath is their power, their friend. This is truly physical education. Muscles are smart!

I allowed camp situations to shape the instruction. For example, when some campers started wall climbing, I showed 12-year-old Sara how to harness her breathing so she could climb a 25-foot wall.

“I give up,” she said. “I just can’t do this.”

We reviewed BreathPlay techniques, which helped her stay focused on her task. She pursed her lips and blew out, got into a rhythm and worked to harness her power.

She made several moves upward and froze.

“Stay focused on your breathing,” I advised. “It will relax you.”

“My arms are killing me,” she complained.

“Keep blowing out,” I said. “Pretend you’re blowing air into your arms. Feed those muscles.” She stopped, did some focused breathing, climbed a little higher, stopped again and looked down at me with a serious grin.

Before she knew it, she reached the top.

Joys Of Camping
The joy of seeing kids who are labeled asthmatic running around and having a great time outdoors was thrilling. I was happy to be there and so were the children. The camp is a testament to many things: camp counselors familiar with kids with health issues; respiratory therapists, nurses and doctors helping campers to use their medications appropriately; and kids of all ages just being kids.

One day we participated in a walk-a-thon on the trails winding through the nearby woods. My job was to warm up the campers and cool them down. The warm­up included arm circles, shoulder rolls and a neck stretch with chin down to collarbone. After a bit of walking in place and leg stretches, the first walkers set off for their mile in the woods.

By the time the campers were finished, they knew that stretching helped bring blood to their muscles.

They also learned the value of doing BreathPlay to bring more oxygen more easily to the blood.

That point could be emphasized after 8-year-old Timmy asked, “Can you have asthma in your legs?”

I knew exactly what he was talking about because legs sometimes feel heavy, especially when you’re running. That is caused when the muscles are not getting enough oxygen.

“You mean it’s not just the lungs that need air?” he asked, finally understanding.

Need For Information
My experiences at the asthma camp showed me there is a need to teach kids, especially those with asthma, how to use their bodies more effectively. BreathPlay is a perfect adjunct to National Institute of Health Asthma Guidelines because the breathing technique helps them understand the mechanism of breathing and to relax for the inbreath, which is so essential for effective use of medications.

After all, if the lungs aren’t open, how can the medication reach its target?

Then again, asthma is not just about lungs. It is also about legs and arms, all the rest of the body, and the mind and the spirit too.

Betsy Thomason, BA, RRT, is an elementary school teacher and a breathing trainer. For more information on her program, call (201) 930-0557 or visit

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