This guest blog was written by Erin Haddock.
Yoga was designed to keep the mind focused and relaxed. Of course, relaxing the body is much easier than relaxing the mind directly. So we work on relaxing the body with yoga poses first, before relaxing through more subtle exercises. When you imagine an advanced yoga practitioner, you might have visions of someone doing a headstand or twisting into a pretzel. In fact, advancement in yoga has nothing to do with the body’s ability to move into poses. Advancement in yoga comes from the ability to maintain the mind’s focus on the present moment, which takes consistency, concentration, and patience. This applies to kids as well. I have seen kids so focused while practicing a simple pose, they are easily more advanced than adults who look around at their neighbors in class.
For this reason, practicing “off the mat” and “on the mat” go hand-in-hand and advance a yogi’s total development. We get precious few hours per week at our favorite yoga classes or in our home practice, but there are many hours each day when we face daily stressors. Creating a consistent “Relax Routine” at home can both deepen your family’s yoga practice on the mat, as well as reinforce yogic principles off the mat. The most useful tip I can give families working to reduce stress, is for the parents to practice too. Kids should get the message that yoga is something even adults enjoy and value as a tool to calm down when stressed.
Here are 3 easy yoga activities parents can incorporate in a family “Relax Routine.” All will promote a sense of well-being while practicing, lead to lowered stress levels after practicing, and will develop self-soothing tools that children can apply on their own.
- Mantra Repetition – This mindfulness exercise develops focus and calms the mind. In our classes we use simple Sanskrit mantras, which mean peace, love and light. You can choose to repeat a Sanskrit mantra, the sound “om”, a relaxing word or phrase (i.e. “love”, “calm”, “home”, “I am peaceful”, etc.), or sing a relaxing song. Repeat the mantra for one or two minutes – or even longer, if you like. Your kids can join in or you can chant to them. Most kids love this practice, since it is similar to singing. This is an important part of yoga, as it is very effective at relaxing the mind. Chanting causes us to take slower, deeper breaths, which triggers the relaxation response. When the breath is relaxed, so is the mind. Kids can be encouraged to mentally repeat their mantra when under stress at home or in school.
- Breathing Exercise – Studies have found that regular practice of yogic breathing exercises improves efficiency and balance within the heart and lung system. These exercises teach practitioners what is commonly called “abdominal breathing”. Abdominal breathing has numerous benefits, including inducing the relaxation response, which calms, focuses and quiets the mind. Although we are born breathing like this, sometimes it can feel quite unnatural when first practicing these exercises. Many people are reverse-breathers – meaning their belly moves forward when they exhale, and backward when they inhale – which may cause them to experience more stress. To teach this technique, have your kids lie on their back and place a light weight on their belly (like a book, small bag of rice, etc.). Practice with them, as you breathe in through the nose slowly and deeply, allowing the belly to rise. Then, let the belly gently fall as you slowly breathe out through the nose. Practice for one or two minutes, depending on the age and attention span of your child. After practicing, remove the weight and notice how your breathing has changed. As you start to feel comfortable, you can practice this exercise without a weight. Just bring your attention to the belly as you practice abdominal breathing.
- Deep Relaxation – The culminating exercise in a yoga class is deep relaxation, or Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra has been found to produce effects similar to REM sleep, which promotes healing and deep rest. Yogis say a final relaxation is a must, because it assimilates the benefits of the yoga practices within the body. You can find guided relaxations all over YouTube (we even have a few on our blog), but you can lead a guided relaxation yourself. Yoga Nidra can also be practiced separate from yoga, such as before bed or when your child is feeling stressed. Have everyone lie down and close their eyes. You may use blankets to keep warm or something like a scarf to cover your eyes, if desired. Tell everyone to stretch their toes wider and wider. Then tell them to slowly relax their toes. Instruct them to imagine the relaxation making its way up their body, part by part. You can mention a few key body parts they can relax (i.e. relax your legs, your belly, your eyes). A foot massage is a nice treat to add in while practicing this progressive relaxation. Finally, remain as silent and still as possible, relaxing for a few moments or up to five minutes. After this silence, ask your child to take a deep breath and stretch a little. Slowly make your way back to sitting and end with a final short message, like a mantra, poem, prayer, or simply say “thanks for relaxing with me.”
Developing a Relax Routine as a family can be incredibly rewarding for both kids and parents. Children appreciate the ability to see their parents relaxed and having fun, and parents are amazed at their kids’ focus and engagement. Not to mention, it can be a powerful bonding experience. Aim to practice your “Relax Routine” at least twice a week. If you can practice once a day, even better! It doesn’t have to take long. In fact, it is much better to be consistent about a short routine, than practice a long routine only once in awhile. Most importantly, make it work for your family. Yoga is supposed to feel good!
Erin is E-RYT 200, RYT 500, RCYT with Yoga Alliance. She completed her 200 hour teacher training with the creator of the Yoga for the Special Child® (YSC) method, Sonia Sumar and has taught the YSC method since 2010. She is a certified Stress Management Specialist, and also holds certifications in Adaptive Yoga, the YSC method, and Yoga for Teens.
Erin is passionate about bringing yoga to people who experience barriers to their practice – including physical, intellectual, emotional, financial or geographical. She pursues continuing education in Yoga Therapy at the Integral Yoga Institute in Buckingham, VA and is a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and Integral Yoga Teachers Association.
At Five Keys Yoga, we provide yoga classes and mindfulness resources just for kids! We are also the Chicago home of the Yoga for the Special Child® method, specializing in teaching yoga to kids with special needs. If you would like to learn more about the YSC method or how your child can deepen their yoga practice, please visit our website.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Deerfield, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!