Yoga and Mindfulness for children and Teens.
Happy Valentine's day!
Did you know that the first valentine's day was in year 496?
While some people believe Valentine's day to be a very commercial day, it is rich with history and traditions. While the celebration has changed through the years, I think that the underlying theme of love has always been strong. When I think about love and Yoga, I think about Anahata - the fourth chakra.
The fourth chakra acts as a bridge, connecting our outer relationships with our inner worlds, joining the physical and the spiritual.
Seven themes to play with when planning your class
Choose one of these themes to focus your class around.
Seven poses to include
The breath and the heart
Our breath is one of the key components to opening the heart chakra. Bring an awareness to the breath through out the class and give one of the below practices a try with your group.
Heart meditation - Placing your hands together at the heart, closing the eyes or softening the gaze and taking a few moments just to breathe into your heart space.
Ho'oponopono Meditation - I found one on Youtube here.
Meditate on the colour green - Use colourful props or a visual journey including green spring leaves
Metta Meditation - This loving kindness meditation is a wonderful one to end with. I remember practicing this around Christmas time with one of the schools I was visiting and one of the children thought I was saying "May you live with ears" Instead of "May you live with ease". You can find many scripts online for loving kindness meditations, I will definitely share more about this at a later time.
No children's Yoga class is complete without a game or two! I like to play these games nearer the start of class or after our pose practice.
Love Tower - Write poses and actions on Jenga blocks. Play the game as normal but practicing the poses on the blocks as they get pulled out.
The Hugging Game (great for Family Yoga classes) - Hugs have so many benefits! They can strengthen our immune system, balance the nervous system and are a great way to show your love and support. It is however especially important to ensure that the child wants to be hugged. Hugging is only beneficial if it feels safe and comfortable for both parties and consent should be practiced even if your child loves hugs with you usually.
Choose someone to be the hugger. They then go to the other side of the room. They then run, skip, dance or move like and animal towards someone and gives them a big hug. They may like to stay here for about 10 seconds to allow that oxytocin to start pouring through. The person who got hugged then becomes the new hugger. This can be played with adults and their children or with children in the group. It could even be like a game of tag but with hugs!
My heart will go on -
I got to play this game with a fantastic teacher during one of my trainings. I am not sure what the name of the game was originally, but I have called it ‘my heart will go on’ because we played this to a certain popular song. This game is played in pairs. Choose a song (one that isn’t too long) and decide who will be the dancer and who will be the creator. The dancer must close their eyes while the creator moves the dancers’ body to the music. It may help to be the creator the first time you play this together and then swap. The creator moves one thing at a time such as a leg tapping up and down. The dancer must keep this momentum going. If the creator was to move the dancers' arms up and down, the dancer must keep that movement going – up and down, up and down, until the creator taps to stop or moves them into a different movement. The foot may be tapping as the creator then guides the dancers’ arm to go out and in. So multiple movements can take place but try to keep it quite simple. It can feel very free to get lost in the music and let your body be guided.
When the song is over the same song is going to be replayed. The creator will step back, and the dancer will try to recreate the dance.
Say to your group “Do you remember the dance you just did? Try to practice it without your partner moving you”
It can be so beautiful to watch this as the creator, seeing your dance really take on new life. Of course, it is going to look quite different, but it is fun to see how they remembered it in their own bodies.
The dancer and creator can then choose a new song and switch!
What else could you do in your Valentines Classes?
There is so much more you could do, you could add in some arty activities, scavenger hunts, affirmations - so many possibilities!
Looking for more Inspiration or for a gift you can give your students after class?
Check out my ultimate Valentines Day for Kids Pack on Etsy! It is at it's lowest price ever right now!
I hope these ideas will serve you well not just on Valentines Day but through out the Year - because Love is always a good theme.
Have a great day!
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5 minute mindfulness practices for children
Feeling overwhelmed, need some focus or just want to feel the peace of the moment? Check out these practices for children. Five minutes may not sound like much but it can make so much difference to your child's day. Choose one and give it a try today!
Equal part breathing
Focusing on the breath is a good way to ground your energy and be present with what is. It can help us go from feeling rushed, panicked or stressed into a more calm and relaxed state by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. A good place to start is with breathing in for the count of four seconds and then out for the count of four seconds. You can adjust the timing if needed but keep the inhale and the exhale the same length for this practice.
Colour your thoughts
Art is such a great way to express ourselves. Ask your child if they'd like to sit for a moment and just bring an awareness to how they are feeling. With paper ready in front of them and pens or crayons of different colours ask them to use different colours to show how they are feeling. Allow them to express their thoughts however they feel called to do so. Letting everything come flowing out from their minds on to the page. There are no expectations for it to look like anything or be a certain way. There is no wrong way to do this.
Go on an adventure using a guided meditation
Guided meditations are amazing to settle busy minds and help your child to settle into rest. Check out this Space adventure meditation available Free on my website: Space Adventure
Be present in the moment, here and now
Being in the present moment can either be the easiest thing in the world or the hardest! For children and adults alike! Children are great at being present as they play, or present as they stop at every stick on long walks but even children have days when their mind feels busy or they feel overwhelmed. Inviting children to just be, nothing else to do can be an important practice. This could be while on a walk, while laying on their Yoga mat or at any moment at all. If this feels like a struggle, it is okay to just notice that struggle. Pay attention to whatever comes up without judgement. Just letting it be.
Think of three things you are grateful for
Gratitude is one of my favourite kinds of mindful practices. It can be as simple as naming three things you are grateful for each day. You can read more about gratitude and gratitude practices here >>
Have an attitude of gratitude
Drawing prompts for gratitude
Gratitude scavenger hunt
Which one will you practicing with your child today?
Grab your free Family Yoga guide here!
How does worry and anxiety show up
Children quite often don't come out and say 'hey, I'm feeling really anxious about going back to school'. Instead, it shows up when you're trying to get everyone ready to leave the house and your child is stressing out about their trousers being too tight and then too loose, one shirt is too itchy, the other is uncomfortable and where is their other coat and then they are screaming at you or their sibling about something that would otherwise not be a problem. For them it can feel like the walls are closing in and everything is so overwhelming and if we are not aware of what they are experiencing we may mistake this behaviour as being difficult or whining.
Back to school anxiety or worry does not just happen on the morning itself, it can show up the night before and even weeks before on extended breaks when they know that the time is getting closer for them to go back to school.
How can we help our child?
When my child is experiencing this, part of me just wants to take them out of school, start home schooling and avoid what is triggering the anxiety. Currently that is just not an option, and I'm no phycologist but I'm not sure avoiding the trigger is the most helpful one in this scenario - in some cases it may be. I am only speaking from my experience with my family.
Talking about anxiety and worry before it shows up can be really helpful. For us we have identified that anxiety shows up on Sunday nights or evenings before school starts after a break. Identifying any patterns and how it shows up can be really helpful for both you and your child. It also allows you to have a conversation about it while the child is in a relaxed state. When a person is feeling stressed or afraid, the amygdala (part of the brain) releases stress hormones that prepare the body to fight the threat or flee from danger. During this time it's like there is a staircase up to the logical side of the brain and there is a stairgate that is blocking the person from getting there. More can be read about this at The Amygdala and Anxiety | IntechOpen or I would highly recommend the book The Whole-Brain Child by Dr Daniel J. Siegel and Dr Tina Payne Bryson.
If you want to help you have to open the gate before you can talk to that logical side.
We will talk about opening that gate in a moment but for this part let's just focus on what we can do before worry shows up.
If you have together, identified a pattern, it is best to address the worry than to hope it just disappears and wont be a problem anymore.
Journaling can be a very helpful tool as can talking about it. The first thing to talk about is
What will worry or anxiety try to do - what will it look like, what did it look like before.
Answers could be that it tried to give me a tummy ache, or made me feel really irritable, or I couldn't sleep. This is really a personal experience that changes from person to person. Practicing self-awareness around this can help to take the power away from the worry and back to your child. We use to have a worry monster teddy that would eat the worries that were written on paper, this allowed us to role play and quite visually take the power away from the worry.
Play therapy and professional support
Play therapy or other specialised professional support may help your child in cases where they are experiencing high levels of anxiety. Yoga and mindfulness is a wonderful practice and can be really helpful but is not a substitute for medical and professional help. If you feel like they need extra support, I would highly recommend you seek someone out locally or online. You can then ask them if any of the practices I recommend would be beneficial alongside that treatment.
Yoga and Mindfulness
"Yoga is such an effective practice for children experiencing anxiety because it soothes their mind which, in turn, soothes the body’s stress response. Yoga can very quickly alleviate the feelings of anxiety and stress in the mind, which gives the body the signal to slow down all the physiological arousals. That means the calmed-down mind translates to a calmed-down breathing pattern, a slower heart rate and lower blood pressure."
Read more here : The Power of Yoga for Children with Anxiety (anxietyfreechild.com)
Remember how I said we need to open that stairgate? Well, this is how we can do that. We can soother the mind and in turn, the body. There will be practices that really resonate with you and some that don't. Take what works for you and leave the rest. Note - this is not a quick fix and does not aim to 'cure' anything. It is simply a practice - and with practice comes repetition. This is how Yoga and mindfulness helps - we need to keep showing up and practice, practice, practice. This is why it is important to me to make these practices playful and fun, so that children will want to keep showing up, so that they can enjoy the practice and feel it's calming effects.
5 of my families go to practices for managing anxiety
What practice we do really depends on how my child is in that moment (or how I am if it is for myself) and also where and when this practice is taking place.
Tracing hand breath - We practice this with a song as we trace our pointing finger up and down the opposite hand, breathing in to trace up and breathing out to trace down. Check out this song by Kira Willey - Peaceful and calm. We love practicing this every night to settle down for bed.
Legs up the wall pose
This is a wonderful restorative pose that helps your body to relax and restore. Start by sitting sideways against a wall and then swing your legs around so that you are laying on your back with your legs up the wall. Doing it this way will help you to get your bottom as close to the wall as you can. Straighten your legs, resting your heels on the wall. Your arms can rest beside you or bring them to your belly. Anytime you need a break during this pose you can bring your legs into a butterfly position by bending your knees and bringing the soles of your feet together. The more you practice this pose the longer you will be able to stay in it for. Try staying in this pose for at least two minutes or for as long as you feel you need to. We love this pose at bedtime.
Start in a tabletop position (knees below hips, wrists below shoulders). Inhale drop the belly down towards the mat as you look forward. Exhale round your spine, arching your back like a spooky Halloween cat and relax your head, looking towards your belly button. Inhale, move through back to your cow pose, lifting your heart, dropping the belly. Exhale back to your cat. Move with the breath here, repeating five to ten times. We love this practice in the morning, on the bed or on a Yoga mat.
Brahmari / Bumblebee breath
Brahmari is a form of Pranayama that includes Pratyahara - 2 of the other branches of Yoga that isn't asana (the poses).
How Brahmari works is that it vibrates the pineal gland and produces a calming effect. It helps to bring us back into the present moment in a big way. The vibration and physical sensation can be grounding and some people claim it reduces anxiety and panic.
Even small children love this one, but we often call it Bumblebee breath. Notice how the hum sounds a little Bumblebee like?
If covering the eyes or ears does not feel good for you, take a soft glance at a wall or the floor. Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses which helps to limit outside distractions.
Practice this for 2 minutes or start with 5 or 6 repetitions. Notice how you feel after. Repeat this throughout the week if it has a calming effect on you to help bring balance and peace into yours and your child's day. We like this one at time during the day or evening.
Squeeze and release
Lay down on your yoga mat or on a blanket. You may like to close your eyes or take a soft gaze to the ceiling. Take three deep breaths. Bring your attention to your hands. Squeeze them in to fists and then with a big breath out release your hands and relax them. Now bring your attention to your feet and squeeze. On an exhale, release and relax. Now squeeze your hold body, and then relax on the exhale, sighing it all out. Feel yourself relax even more as you breath in and out. Take a minimum of two minutes here or longer if it feels good.
I hope what I have shared here has been useful in someway and that you feel better prepared at helping your child with any worry, stress or anxiety that they have around going back to school. You are not alone in this. So many parents are reaching out to me wanting help when it comes to their child and anxiety. I hope these practices can help you as they do my own family. The aim here is not to get rid of anxiety, that is not my area if it is possible. All I am experienced in is meeting the anxiety, sitting with it, noticing it and using the breath, mindful awareness and movement to bring a bit of calm.
I hope I have shared some of that calm with your family today.
The Family Yoga Challenge
Want more inspiration for practicing Yoga and Mindfulness at home with your Family? Check out this 5 day Family Yoga challenge!