Give kids the lifelong gifts of mindfulness and yoga
Anyone who loves children—parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches—knows the feeling: You want nothing more than to protect those children and keep them safe, healthy, and happy. Sometimes in this crazy, mixed-up world, that feels difficult to do. Life can be chaotic and messy; schedules are over-programmed and stressful; the pressure is high and room for relaxation is limited. But there are simple, concrete things you can do to help kids reduce their own anxiety, increase their confidence, and develop greater empathy—in short, tools that help them train their own brains to cope with anything the world throws at them. These tools are mindfulness and yoga.
Mindfulness means living in the present moment (not stressing out about an unknown future). It means paying attention to one’s own thoughts and behaviors, and using simple, conscious techniques to calm and soothe yourself. And the quiet, relaxing, strengthening practice of yoga is one of the best ways to achieve mindfulness—particularly with children. Exciting neurological research shows that kids benefit greatly from these techniques. Mindfulness and yoga can reduce childhood stress, boost kids’ immune systems, improve their concentration, and decrease irritability, aggression, and anxiety. That’s why we’ve recently added a whole new section to the Moodsters website that addresses the benefits of yoga, provides instruction for beginner yogis, and introduces new child-friendly yoga mats to get kids stretching and breathing their way to a calmer, happier life.
It’s never too early start equipping your children with healthy coping mechanisms that will benefit them the rest of their lives. We have plenty of kid-centric yoga instructions on the Moodsters website; several of these poses can help children find positive ways to deal with feelings of anger, fear, or frustration, or to celebrate their happiness. Meanwhile, you can get started with these simple mindfulness methods that help calm children and redirect their energies inward so they can develop awareness of their own bodies and feelings.
Relax your toes, relax your nose. With “body scanning,” children learn to become aware of each part of their bodies and to relax each part in turn, from their tippy-toes to the tips of their heads. Have your child lie down, close her eyes, and breathe in and out slowly, focusing on each breath. Say, “Picture your toes…now scrunch them tight…now relax them. Picture your legs…tense your leg muscles…now relax them.” Continue up to the top of her head.
Move with mindfulness. Walk barefoot on grass or on a beach, and have him think about all the sensations he’s feeling, listen to the birds in the air and the sounds around him.
Find a breathing buddy. Have your child choose a favorite stuffed animal or plush creature. Lie down, place the toy on her belly, and have her breathe slowly in and slowly out. Having a tangible object to look at as it rises and lowers with her breathing creates a new awareness of her breath.
Explore aromatherapy. Slice an orange or lemon, or choose an aromatic flower. Have your child breathe in the scent and describe what he smells while keeping his eyes closed. As with the relaxation techniques, aromatherapy helps children focus on the right-here and right-now.
Sense the differences. Give your child an object to feel—a smooth stone or a textured pine cone, for example—and, again with eyes closed, ask her to talk about what the object feels like.
Talk about feelings. In this quiet, relaxed state, ask your child to describe his feelings. Ask, “Where do feelings come from? Which is the hardest? Which feeling do you like best?”
Do jumping jacks. These are always a fun and easy exercise. After doing 10 or so, have her sit down and just feel her heartbeat, feel her breath. Notice what’s going on in your bodies, and talk about what that feels like.
The benefits of mindfulness and yoga are vast and varied. Children can learn to calm themselves when they feel upset, to make better decisions, and develop better impulse control. In short, equipping your child with the tools of mindfulness and yoga is as beneficial as teaching them to read and write and enables them to face the everyday challenges of growing up.