Yoga and Mindfulness for children and Teens.
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!