Yoga For Childhood Stress Reductions
Updated: Feb 17, 2018
Kidding Around Yoga (KAY) and yoga in general are tools for stress reduction. For children play is their language, it’s how they learn. KAY teaches Yoga as play. You can teach kids how to use Yoga/play in difficult situations. Yoga can act as a coping tool for children who are unable to find relief from their anger, frustration or sadness. Breathing and getting in touch with their mind and body through yoga (means union) empowers children to express themselves without having the verbal language that developmentally the children have not yet acquired. Yoga is expressive and therapeutic and may be extremely helpful for children with special needs. Yoga is accessible to all as it is modified to fit the needs for each child and adult.
In General In Kids Yoga:
Encourage physical activities. Games – jumping jacks, yoga poses, simple red light/green light – have fun!
Take a stretch break, a Yoga study break. Teach a mantra. “I am perfect just as I am.” “This too shall pass.” “I breath in calm and I breath out peace.” – Give students something basic to focus on and eventually they believe it! Meditation for kids can be about moving the mind from many thoughts, to a couple of thoughts, to just awareness of being in the present such as of their breathing.
Yoga is non-competitive. We do not look at our friends and judge their warriors, or standing balances. We do not judge ourselves. Every day is different and this is an acceptance that is key to childhood development and is a lifelong lesson that is instrumental in the happiness of children and adults.
Each yoga class is a separate community. We help each other in partner poses and challenge ourselves without the fear of judgment. Children need to learn to let loose without being judged and that nothing is perfect. Through working with each other, children learn trust, compassion, and selfless act of helping others (part of what we call Karma Yoga – selfless service).
Frustration/anger/despair/just a bad day – Breathing (pranayama) – yes, children need to slow down and breath and there are many child friendly methods to get students to become absorbed and calmed by their breathing or simple “letting go” stretching poses. In yoga class we soak our bodies into such poses, feeling the benefits of “letting go.”
Sometimes simple stories about how others have dealt with stress is a good model to demonstrate to students that they are not alone. For example in a class with young children, “The Little Engine That Could,” is a great model for modeling perseverance and the mantra “I think I can, I think I can.”
Throughout a yoga practice with children making up stories, silly sounds, or even engaging in laughter yoga that has matching asanas (postures) the students are invited into the world of their imagination. We can be transformed into living in a jungle, flying on a magic carpet, swimming in the ocean, anything. The power of a child’s imagination is so strong, that in yoga classes we use this power and release it’s energy and creativity in a safe, soothing, and calming space for all of the children in the class.
Physical contact such as when we do a “massage train” or some partner poses is demonstrated to teach children how to respect one anothers space and understand when something makes someone uncomfortable. Physical touch is a reality in this world and teaching about comfortable, supportive touch is essential. It is also essential that we teach children when any kind of touch is not okay or is uncomfortable and empower them with the words and bravery to talk to an adult, teacher, parent, or “safe” person.
Teach Relaxation Skills:
HUGE part of child yoga and adult yoga too! Yes, we want children to reap the physical benefits of yoga and to feel confident, empowered, and free of stress during asanas and games, but it is also a very important component in yoga to base part of the class focused on “letting go” and relaxation techniques.
Many of these techniques include creating a safe space on the child’s mat in which they can envision themselves in their happy place. Working through visualization and progressive muscle relaxation techniques is helpful along with soft calming music. Forming a community circle with heads in the center can sometimes create a sense of unity and comraderie that is very grounding to children.
Breathing techniques are a large part of learning how to relax, cope with stress and anger, or sometimes even energize
In yoga for children we say “breath in through the nose and out through the mouth” – Breathing in we can feel a balloon inflating in our bellies and breathing out it is deflating. Language that children can understand is key. For younger children simple inhalation and exhalation may be meaningless, cause confusion, and lose the focus of the students.
In any kind of breathing technique we are using, we like to repeat it at least three times to fully receive the benefits of the pranayama practice.
Lion breathing – great exercise to release anger and tension
Bunny breathing – energizing breathing. Rejuvenate those children at the end of a long day of school at the beginning of yoga class.
Ujjayi breathing – Unlike other breathing practices this technique is worked on throughout asanas and movement so that the mind and body become linked into a meditative and soothing flow. Taught to older children.
In addition to providing the physical model of the breathing exercise we encourage students to breath in happiness, and all that is good, and out or “let go” of the bad, stress, or frustrating feelings. Or more simply have the child breath in a positive word and out a negative word.
In the beginning of the class we usually start with the idea that “peace begins with me.” Think about it, if everyone shared those sentiments wouldn’t the world be an amazing and peaceful place! We set intentions for what we want to gain from class (even if it’s just to have fun!) Intentions can be set silently as each child has their own personal reason for engaging in practice and we need to respect privacy of fellow yogis.
At the end of class we use exercises similar to the relaxation techniques with the key difference that in the relaxation techniques children are invited to lose their thoughts completely and drift into their “magical place;” in the KAY teaching this is the child’s “secret garden.” In meditation we ask children to think or focus on something, a mantra, their breathing, or many other things. Meditation is the removal of many thoughts slowly to the focus on one thought, object, mantra, or thing.
Teaching children perspective and that they are safe and to speak out or seek help when they feel unsafe:
Yoga can teach children to find their voice and to feel powerful and protective of their body and mind, because they are taught to embrace both no matter what happens. The non-competitive nature of yoga specifically focuses on each child being absorbed in their own bodies and not looking around at others or comparisons. Yoga practice is a time to let loose and we all are supposed to “make a mistake” or “do something silly.” It wouldn’t be yoga if we were perfect!
Yoga is not a religion. It is an introspective journey to finding yourself in addition to an outward journey of finding your community and helping others. Teaching children Karma Yoga (selfless acts to help others in need or a community in need) and that a perfect act is one that does good for someone, and harm to no one is central to the yoga ethos.
Children can be taught Patanjali’s the “4 locks and keys” from the yoga sutras even at a simplified level which is helpful in developing healthy interpersonal and social skills
Friendliness to the happy
Compassion toward the unhappy
Delight in the virtuousDisregard (indifference) to the wicked (mean, hurtful).
Fairy tales often have a moral that you can discuss with children and find meaning in. In yoga class we often read stories at the end of class to allow for such introspection.
Trauma in Children
When something bad happens to children, many children believe that the world will always be dangerous and nothing will ever get better. Unfortunately, because children are not fully developed and have the capacity to understand or bring to words the emotions of what has happened or is happening, many traumatized children retain this perspective as adults. Children’s brains are malleable and must be treated with caution, support, and the reinforcing of safety. Think about how many times you’ve had to reassure your toddler by looking under the bed that there are no monsters that live there. I’ve even created a “no bear zone” poster outside my child’s door at the peak of his bear fears.
It is important to teach children that “this too shall pass” and that they are strong. It is important for children to learn to express their sadness, grief, and emotions, to not feel ashamed or embarrassed. Yoga can be very therapeutic for enabling children to find a safe space or find their voice. As an instructor insight into the child’s mental status can be seen through their breathing, are they able to relax in svasana, are they focused. Yoga can provide insight into our children’s mental states and in this way can be extremely helpful with children with special needs, behaviorial difficulties, or traumatic histories or anxiety.
Yoga has proven cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits in children and adults. Beginning yoga as a child in developmentally pivotal years is im
portant in providing children with a solid foundation and sense of empowerment and in giving them a life long tool and language.
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