Over the past two years, I have run Over the Rainbow Yoga offering playful yoga and mindfulness classes for kids to develop flexibility, strength, body awareness, coordination, balance and motor skills in a fun, non-competitive and encouraging environment.
Classes include structured activities and the opportunity for spontaneous play, which allows for imaginative expression. Each class is an adventure using props, music, dance, yoga games and relaxation time. These classes facilitate self-discovery and interaction with other children, and encourage kids to unwind and have fun while they develop body awareness, focus and a sense of well-being.
During this time, I’ve worked with a number of young children (on a one-to-one basis in Christchurch), with anxiety related symptoms, which include: not sleeping well at night, tired/unfocused during the day at school, unable to share what it feels like, feeling sick when a change or event happens, either at school or in the home to name just a few of what each child may be experiencing at any given time.
Here are few things that have worked with the kids I teach:
Start with the breath – Mindful Breathing
Explain to your child how to use her breath to calm herself
By breathing in through the nose deeply (inhale) pause for 2 counts
and breathing out through the nose slowly (exhale) out for 4 counts
By breathing in and out through the nose we activate (or switch on) the parasympathetic nervous system (calming system) and within 3 breaths we begin to feel calm. Also by breathing in deeply and slowly we expand our lungs and give our heart a massage! Nice!
Practice slowing down the breath (as above) and bring awareness (notice) sounds around you. Close your eyes (if this causes more strain keep eyes open but hold an unfocused gaze, as if you are staring through something) and listen to a sound furthest from you. Tune (block) everything else out for a couple of moments. Then bring your awareness to a sound closest to you. Again tune everything else out, focusing on the sounds around you and your breathing. Finally, place your left hand on your heart and your right hand on top of your left. Tune every sound out and turn your attention to the beat of your heart. When the worries arrive you always have your heart beat to keep you calm. The safe, steady comforting rhythm.
Validation of their fears or concerns is important. What we as adults’ find silly are very real to them. Let them know you understand and repeat back your understanding of how they are feeling.
Let your child know they are safe by saying: “You are safe; you are well.” Get them to repeat it back you. “I am safe; I am well.”
A few others that work well are:
All is well in this moment.
I am whole, I am safe, I am loved.
I am patient with myself.
I use my breath to be calm.
As a family, sit together in a circle holding hands. Each person gets a chance to say thank you for something in their lives or something nice about someone in the circle. You can use a ball to give it some fun and pass the ball to anyone, randomly in the circle to ensure everyone is focused and paying attention.
A lovely way to share important family time is to have a Family Sharing Circle. As a family, sit together in a circle holding hands. The American Indians have a tradition of a ‘talking stick’ that is passed around the circle and you share your story or voice your opinion only when you have the stick – everyone else remains silent, respecting the person with the talking stick. This is a non-judgemental and safe way to approach difficult or happy times as a family. Instead of a stick you can use a lovely paua shell or a singing bowl passed around the circle.
Katharine (Katie) Louw is a specialist Family & Community Yoga Teacher & a trained Mindfulness Curriculum Teacher, in Christchurch, New Zealand. Katie founded Over the Rainbow Yoga over two years ago and has worked with a number of kindergartens, schools and community groups in Christchurch, with her yoga programme based in mindfulness, community and fun.