One of my favorite subjects to write (or talk) about is yoga for children. I love watching my kiddos practice yoga, and I really enjoy looking back to see how their practice has evolved through the years. Yesterday I got a call asking me to put together a yoga program for at risk teenagers. It is a bit daunting, considering that is an age group I have really never worked with. I pulled together every article I had ever written on yoga to begin to find inspiration, and I came across this piece in Rhythm of the Home.
Perhaps it was the pictures that now seem so out of date, or Jacob’s incredible handstand (I am sorry, but I have some jealousy over this one) that made me want to share this, but this piece brought back so many great memories.
From my mat to yours, I hope that you and your kiddos are always able to find healing in the blessing of the breath.
Since my babies were in utero, they have been doing yoga with me. A constant part of our daily rhythm, yoga is a way that we have ensured connection to one another. Starting my day out with my boys on our mats, seated and quiet, greeting each other and the world around us helps me to find perspective in my day ahead.
While yoga is amazing as a part of daily life, it is also one of the best tools that I have seen for both children and adults through difficult times.
When I first started working as a yoga therapist, I was lucky enough to be involved with a group of people suffering from chronic and terminal illness. The way that they responded to the effects of yoga and breath work, and the difference that it made in their quality of life, helped me to realize that by settling the mind, and deepening the breath, we have control over the way that the body responds to different difficult stimuli.
Children are sponges of what they see, hear and experience. After my oldest son was born, I trained in children’s yoga therapy, and as a storyteller. Through that work, I was able to witness children processing tragedy and hurt by finding their way into a safe enough space in their bodies to be able to communicate.
While hopefully very few of us will ever have to deal with our children experiencing large tragedy or grief, I have found that for my family, coming fully into the present moment, breathing deeply and allowing our bodies to move the way that they feel fit has helped us all be able to release in the tough times.
There are multiple ways to help children release, communicate or relax after a difficult experience (or just when they need to come down from over stimulation). The first is setting a rhythm for our children’s days. I have a son with a chronic motor tic, which is highly affected by food allergies and lack of sleep. When I know that a tough day is on us, I focus heavily on creating quiet, soft play, a lot of rest and connection, and always a yoga practice to suit his needs.
Talk therapy is not always helpful for kids, but play therapy seems to have a ton of success. Beginning a yoga practice with play can help any child to be able to enter their space in a more joyful way.
Coming to the mat, placing their feet together and standing tall as a mountain, and grounding themselves deep into their earthly roots
Stretching their arms over head to connect to something beyond themselves.
Allowing them to play through poses, laughing deeply, reminding them that life is not supposed to be serious, or painful. That they are allowed to express silliness and to simply be children.
Challenging them to find their strengths, to push past what they think that they can do, and to find within themselves the power of all their possibilities
It might seem strange to believe that yoga can help children with all of these things, but peace, faith, grounding, and achievement are all essential components to a healthy childhood, and are necessary if children are to experience healing from any difficult life event. Children learn through experience, and being able to relate their yoga postures to these qualities is a wonderful way for them to truly feel their power.
Talking with your child while they are in these postures, encouraging them, reminding them of the qualities you are trying to build is very helpful. Children do remarkably well by guided meditation, and that can certainly be a wonderful part of their yoga practice.
While the active part of yoga is so very important, creating warmth and nurturing is also an essential component of helping children heal. Laying our hands on our children, providing connection with those they love, and helping them to feel safe and understood.
The following is a practice that we use with our children for many different times in life, but is especially helpful through challenging times.
Set up a space for your child where they are fully supported. Their backs, arms, head, and legs should be supported, and an eye pillow, or towel should be placed over their eyes. Guide them to relax every part of themselves deeply into the earth below. Encourage them to breathe deeply, and with each inhale to bring something positive, something that they love into themselves. With each exhale, to release something that is bothering them. You can, of course, use different wording here, depending on the circumstances.
Supporting our children, while encouraging them to relax can be very powerful. Putting them into a position that helps to open their bodies, like the forward fold above, helps them to learn that relaxation is possible through many different postures. The goal here would be that as they get older, and they chose to not necessarily always go into supported postures, that they can quickly move themselves into this same forward bend, and find the same kind of comfort.
Putting our children in postures where they are supported, but their hearts are open, may truly have the greatest impact. Helping our little ones to open fully is when the release will normally come. Some children will back away from this posture, and this is a good indication that more support and care needs to take place. I would strongly encourage you to put your children into this posture through their healing process, and to see what comes, but never to push.
In this posture, you want your child to have most of their body on either a flat bolster, or folded blankets. The shoulders and neck should be off the bolster, but supported by a rolled towel or blanket, and their arms should be supported out to the side.
Again, deep breathing, guided meditation and a few moments of silence can help your child to get the most from this posture.
A favorite for young children is to place them on their side is a “cuddling” position, and press a bolster blanket or body pillow tightly to them. This creates a strong sense of peace and safety, guides them to hold onto to something or someone that they love, or brings them joy, and encourages them to hold onto that in times that they are scared or troubled.
Finally, Savasana. Considered to be the most powerful and important posture of any practice, Savasana helps to create a full letting go of ourselves. Moving the child onto the floor, their arms and legs spread, guide them through relaxing each and every part of their body, beginning with the top of their head, and ending with the tips of their toes. Allowing them to spend their final few moment in silence.
We end all of our restorative yoga sessions with either a warm bath or foot soak. Water promotes healing, washes away bad feelings, and completes the circle of the body’s ability to relax itself. Using lavender, chamomile or calendula is another wonderful tool.
Creating sacred space, healing space, and a sense of peace and calm can allow our children to experience the healing that they need, and can open the doors to better communication.
Once their bath is complete, you can use several tools to help them find their story. You can create an oral story that relates to what they are going through, but puts the experience in the life of another person. You can also encourage them to draw or paint their feelings, and you will be surprised by how much comes from both of these experiences.
Children need to heal, and they are not normally in tune with how to communicate their feelings through just talking. Providing them with a rhythm and experience that creates safety and warmth is essential to both giving them permission to heal, and alternative ways to express their feelings is key in helping them to move on.
Yoga for healing can be used for any difficult experience; from the loss of a loved on, to fear of the dark. Children’s fear, anger and sadness are a normal part of their lives, but helping them to understand that they hold the key to moving past these things will stay with them for the rest of their lives.