Little minds are like sponges and instilling positive ways to relieve stress early on can stay with them a lifetime. The calming effects of yoga and mindfulness are invaluable for children of all ages.
Yoga activates calming hormones, such as serotonin. The effect is much like when you have a massage or become engrossed in any activity that brings you calm, and concentration and you literally forget what time it is.
Children as young as kindy are showing signs of stress and anxiety, which often manifest in tantrums or withdrawn behaviours. Simple, fun breathing techniques can teach them how to notice the signs of anxiety, how they can feel it for themselves, where they feel it in their body — and then, to learn to do something about it. The movements and poses in yoga teach mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation. This gives the children access to learning self-regulation, what a gift!
When a child commits to yoga practice, they also learn determination and perseverance. A shy child can become more confident as they build on their yoga poses with no competition but with themselves. In addition, yoga poses coupled with mindfulness and breathing practices, assists children to take control of their “monkey mind” and learn to be still for a moment.
As parents we must learn to care about our children’s mental health as much as their academic or sporting prowess, and yoga in childcare centres and schools is one way to do that.
Here’s a breathing exercise especially suitable for 2-5 year olds that can be practiced at home as well as in your childcare centre:
1.) Ask your child (or children) to sit in easy sitting position and cross their legs (this is called “sukasana”). To encourage them to sit up straight, have them imagine a piece of string coming out from the top of their heads and lifting their bodies up with a long neck and spine (you can get them to feel their spine on their own backs to connect with their bodies and understand how our spine supports our posture and breathing.)
Encourage them to put their hands on their stomachs and feel how their tummies flatten as they breathe in and then goes soft as they breathe out. They can then move their hands up to their chests and feel how their chests rises as they breath in, like a balloon filling up with air and then flattens down like a balloon that you have let the air out of. (A real balloon can be demonstrated at beginning of breathing exercise and to engage the children). Breathe deeply in this manner for three to five breaths together with your children, this gives them the awareness of their own breath, mindful breathing.
2.) Now have the children lie down on their mats (or the carpet), play soothing music, and ask them to put their hands on their stomachs with their feet outstretched. Have them breathe in and out deeply, in through their nose and out through their mouth. Mouth-breathing is okay if that is easier at this stage.
Ask them to imagine a paper boat on their tummies or place a bean bag on their stomachs and imagine it is a small boat on the sea. Feel it rise and fall with their breath as it moves over the waves of the sea.
Continue to lay like this and talk them through their breathing in and out slowly in their own rhythm. The slowing down of their breath cerates the calm feeling through their body and brings their focus inward. (Tip: watch the rise and fall of one child in the group in the age group your teaching and gauge your counting of in and out breathes to that rhythm, children have a faster breathing rate then adults).
You can add children’s relaxation stories to the process, once they have their focus on their breath, but keep it short, just 5 mins is about the limit for these little ones. You can also show them how to tighten their hands and relax them, to encourage mindful relaxation of their bodies but by bit. Use a lemon or similar ball shape, show them how to squeeze the lemon, then let the lemon go and do the same with different body parts or just their hands and toes to start, then they can feel difference when their hands and feet go ‘floppy’ and melt into the mat like ice-cream.
3.) Another prop to use is a feather. Give a craft feather to each child and demonstrate how to breathe onto a feather to “make it dance.” Gradually move it away from their mouths as they blow and see if it can still dance. For fun, try holding their feather in their toes and breathing onto it doing a forward fold pose, bending from their hips and reaching down to their toes.
It’s important to have fun and build up the children’s awareness session by session.