Good Morning Yoga: Mind, Body Practices for Kids.
Mindfulness is the experience of focusing awareness on the present moment with a calm acceptance of all the thoughts, feeling and sensations that arise. New research—led by J. David Creswell at Carnegie Mellon—establishes that meditation in fact produces positive changes in our brains. An activity, like yoga, is a form of mindful movement, and can be an accessible practice for young people. Mind-body exercises teach that slowing down the breath and bringing attention to the body, and its surroundings is an easy way to move from the fight-or-flight response to rest and renew activities to calm the central nervous system.
Simply observing where we are, observing our breath in and our breath out, and observing how we are feeling inside creates a feeling of calm. A consistent yoga practice can have the long-term effects of developing compassion and emotional stability in children, as well as increasing their focus in classroom settings.
Introducing a mindfulness practice to young people provides them with tools for de-stressing and increasing mental, emotional, and physical health. We all feel stressed, reactive and we hold that tension in our bodies throughout the day. These simple exercises help us find a way to pause, to take a breath, and to cultivate an internal sense that things are okay.
It can be a challenge as parents to find our own five minutes in the day to be still, so let this be a family practice that benefits everyone.
3 ways to incorporate mind-body exercises for children:
Mindful Stretching or Yoga
Since yoga is meditation ‘in motion,’ starting with the practice of matching breath and movement is a great invitation to mindfulness. Yoga stretches can be a way to support kids in using their bodies to shift their mood and make them more present in the moment.
Volcano Pose: Lift up on your tiptoes and reach your fingers high.
There are so many simple ways to use the breath to calm down, to focus and to feel more comfortable in the moment. Bringing attention to the breath is a great tool for cultivating mindfulness and is a wonderful self-soothing technique. Slowing down the breath can literally slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure, all of which supports a shift in the way we respond mentally and emotionally to stress.
Sun Breath: As you breathe in, as you breathe out, your arms reach out to the sides, lift up to the sky, and then relax back down.
Visualization or Guided Imagery
Teaching kids to use images to help them to relax and feel safe is another way to give them great options for self-soothing. There are many guided visualizations out there and it is clear to see how much kids love the opportunity to just sit or lie down and completely let go. The below visualization could be done in the morning before everyone’s day begins.
How I Want to Feel Today: Close your eyes and let your hands rest calmly on your knees. Grow a little taller by lifting your spine and then gently roll your shoulders back.
Take a deep breath in . . . and let a long breath out. Let your whole body relax. Feel the air as you take another deep breath in and let another long breath out.
Now, let a word come into your mind that says how you want to be today. It could be a word like joyful, kind, friendly, or curious. It could be a word like happy, peaceful, enthusiastic, or brave. Choose the word that best describes how you want to feel. Hold it in your mind.
As you breathe in, fill yourself up with the feeling you want . . . and as you breathe out, send this feeling out into the world. Feel how you want to be today. Take another deep breath in . . . and let a long breath out. Open your eyes. You are ready for this day.
Mariam Gates holds a master’s in education from Harvard University and has more than twenty years’ experience working with children. Her renowned Kid Power Yoga program combines her love of yoga with teaching to help children access their inner gifts. She is the author of Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story (Sounds True, April 2015), and the forthcoming book, Good Morning Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Wake Up Story (Sounds True, March 2016). Mariam lives in Santa Cruz, CA, with her husband, yoga teacher Rolf Gates, and their two children. See mariamgates.com.
Illustrator: Sarah Jane Hinder, illustrator, teaches art and graphic design at Turton Media Arts College in the UK. For more, visit sarahjanehinder.com.