This guidance shows you how you can support others to engage with their breath, without the need for following spoken instructions. A Hoberman sphere is an expandable ball shaped toy that can be used to support mindful breathing. It serves as a point of focus, or an anchor, for mindful breathing and can be used to support calmer, slower and deeper breathing.
Bringing awareness to, and connecting with the breath is a form of mindfulness practice, for which, evidence shows a number of wellbeing benefits. Being aware of our breath can be calming and regulating and, by noticing the breath as it rises and falls, we can become more aware of the sensations in our body. Studies have shown that there is a link between interoception, which is the sense of awareness of the internal state of the body, and wellbeing. Bringing awareness to the breathing can help people to better connect with themselves and their bodies.
We can also increase the potential for breathing to enhance wellbeing by purposefully and actively changing the way that we breathe. For our breath to have a calming effect, slowing down the breath and taking deeper breaths than our resting average is generally recommended. Deep, slow breathing increases the flow of oxygen around our bodies, lowers our heart rate and helps us to relax.
Breathing with the diaphragm, and allowing our belly to expand as we breathe, (rather than just the movement of the chest) in while consciously slowing the pace of your breathing, is sometimes called ‘belly breathing’. This way of breathing enables the lungs to fill with more air and can assist relaxation. It has been found that around six exhalations a minute can trigger a “relaxation response” in the brain and body.
This guidance shows you how to use the Hoberman sphere in two ways:
- To bring awareness to the breath
- To support calmer, slower and deeper breathing
What you need
- A Hoberman sphere, or just your hands
- Focused time and attention
The Hoberman Sphere is best known as a toy; a colourful and engaging mechanism that expands and contracts into a large, then a smaller ball, controlled by the person holding it. Many people find a Hoberman sphere to be mesmerising to watch or hold. But it has other benefits too. A Hoberman sphere can also be used as a ‘breathing ball’, a visual and/or kinetic (movement) aid to help people of all ages and abilities to access deeper breathing. With some pre-thought and consideration, it may also be used to support those with profound and multiple disabilities to help them to breath more deeply and with more awareness.
If you do not have a Hoberman sphere you can create the visual representation of inhalation and exhalation by pretending to hold something round and moving your hands inwards and outwards.
Guidance and instructions
Bringing awareness to the breath
The basic premise is simple. The Hoberman sphere, or your hands can be expanded and contracted to match breaths, in and out; expanding and becoming larger as we breathe in, and then contracting and becoming smaller as we breathe out.
The person should be supported on a 1:1 level throughout by someone who knows the person well and makes careful observation to ensure that they are safe, well and happy throughout.
The Hoberman sphere could be held and moved in a place where the person can see and observe it, if they are able to.
Or, the person could hold and move the Hoberman sphere themselves, supported ‘hand-under-hand’ as they expand and contract the ball.
Being in a quiet, distraction free place usually works best, allowing both participants to really focus on the activity and gain the most benefit from it. In this way, the activity is advantageous for the individual as an opportunity to ‘just be’, to spend a few quiet moments connecting with themselves, and a trusted and familiar person who is supporting them.
Supporting calmer, slower and deeper breathing
With time and practise, the Hoberman sphere can be used to support breathing regulation, for example, to encourage deeper, slower and more regular breathing.
It is usually best to start by spending a few quiet moments beforehand, gently connecting with the breath of the person being supported.
After a few minutes, the Hoberman sphere could be introduced, matching the person’s natural respiratory rate, and accompanied either by the quiet and gentle suggestion to ‘breathe in’ and ‘breathe out’, or if more appropriate by the supporting person simply modelling breathing in and out themselves.
In this way, expanding and contracting the sphere, alongside the gentle instruction, or modelling ‘breathing in’, and ‘breathing out’, the tool can be used to support deep, calm breathing.
We can slow down the expansion or contraction of the sphere to be suggestive of slowing down our own in or out breath, as necessary.
This could be used in a variety of contexts; for example, as an end of day exercise to calm and unwind after a day of activity, before an event or activity which may cause anxiety, or simply as part of an ongoing and regular wellbeing programme, designed to help an individual with the management of their emotional and wellbeing needs.
As with any activity designed to support those with severe or profound disabilities, personalisation is key. Individual needs such as respiration rates need to be taken into account, bearing in mind that the person on the receiving end of the activity may not be physically able to keep up or match with the breathing rate of the person leading it. It is best to discuss any such activity with the individual’s GP and to ensure that careful monitoring takes place.
What to observe, assess and record
- What affect does this activity have on the individual? How calm do they appear?
- What does the person’s emotional state and mood appear to be like, before, during and after the activity?
- Is the person able to connect with the person leading the activity, for example through matching their breath, making eye contact or seeking physical contact?
- Is the person able to regulate their breathing, taking deeper and slower breaths as a result of the activity? Does this have a positive effect on their breathing in general?
- Does completing this activity regularly seem to have any impact on the person’s wellbeing?
© Catherine Halford, EYFS Teacher and Wellbeing Specialist, Rutherford School, Garwood Foundation www.rutherfordschool.org.uk
Julie Calveley, PhD, BSc(Hons) Psychology, BSc(Hons) Nursing, Registered Nurse Learning Disabilities
NAC Founder Director
Email: [email protected]
Created February 2022