Calming strategies are important tools for ANY age, and provide life-long benefits. Whether our kids are feeling tired, mad, anxious, overwhelmed, or all of the above, YOGA (simple stretches and breathing exercises) can be hugely powerful in slowing down and resetting (and some of the tips can be done anytime and anywhere–especially breathing exercises!). Doing yoga together as a family is a great way to MODEL ways to self-regulate (or calm) our bodies and brains down. Children don’t know intuitively what it means to “calm down”. They need to learn through experiences. Help them learn the signs of what their bodies might be feeling, or how their actions point to their emotional state (what am I feeling right now? what might be causing me to act this way?), and then ways that they can regulate those feelings, move away from negative responses, and begin to switch from a state of fight or flight, to one of rest and relax.
HOW DOES YOGA HELP CALM?
- Yoga asanas (postures), and deep breathing exercises help switch our bodies from a stressed state of flight-or-fight, to a more calm state of rest & digest (activating the parasympathetic nervous system to slow the heart rate, lower blood pressure and regulate breathing, as well as to stop the flood of stress hormones that anxiety and frustration can bring on).
- By focusing our minds on the balance and strength needed for the poses, we are no longer completely consumed by the feelings that are making us anxious and overwhelmed. Giving that break allows our left– and right-brain to integrate better and process the emotions so that we may be better equipped for handling them in positive ways. (A fascinating read is “The Whole Brain Child” by Siegel and Bryson ).
- Poses that involve an inversion (head below the heart—forward folds or downward dog poses), as well as back bends/heart openers (including the camel and waterfall pose) have been shown in many studies to help reduce stress and aid those with depression and anxiety.
- Slowing the breathing, especially when the exhale is longer than the inhale, also helps bring the body into a more calm and centered state. The best part is breathing exercises are tools that can be used any time and any place!
- Teach Proactively: Share these tools with your children during low-stress moments. When we are in a state of fight-or-flight, we are not able to learn new information or follow instructions.
- Model & Mimic: Children love to mimic! Do the poses and breathing exercises with them! Make it fun and silly, and praise, praise, praise!
- Practice, practice, practice: Do the poses and breathing exercises together often so they become a “default tool” to pull out during a moment of high stress/big emotions
SUGGESTED CALMING EXERCISES AND STRETCHING:
1. Belly Breathing
Slowing down our breathing is the easiest and quickest way to calm our bodies. But, for young kids, even this can be a tricky concept to master. I love to use easy verbal prompts with my toddler and preschooler. Here’s something you can try.
It looks like you are feeling mad and very upset. Let’s try to slow down our breathing to calm our bodies. (Holding out a pretend flower in front of child). Smell my pretty flower. Breathe in through your nose all the way up to the top of your lungs nice and slow. Good. (Switch hands to offer a pretend dandelion). Now blow my dandelion. Slowly let all of the air out of your lungs and belly to send the dandelion seeds blowing through the air. Awesome. Let’s do it again (repeat).
You can also try this laying down with a “BELLY BUDDY” (a small stuffed animal that can go for a ride on the child’s belly as they breathe in and out). This brings awareness to the belly, and how it should expand (on the inhale) and shrink (on the exhale) with good deep breathing–many young children will actually do the opposite when told to take a big breath, and hold their tummy muscles tight, rather than expanding.
Belly Breathing Instructions: Have your child lay down on their back, placing their belly buddy on their tummy. Now take a deep breath in, filling up your lungs and belly (pretending to have a balloon filling up inside of them), as their belly buddy goes up, up, up. Pause at the top and then exhale letting all the air back out as the belly buddy goes down, down, down. Repeat and Relax, as long as your child is comfortable. Even encouraging them to close their eyes as they get the hang of the breathing.
If you are working with a classroom of students, have them sit in hero pose (start by standing on the knees, then lowering bottoms to heels) and place their hands on their bellies as they visualize a balloon blowing up (inhale) and shrinking back down (exhale) for several deep calming breaths.
2. Give Hugs!
Children can hug a grownup, squeeze a stuffed animal (this is especially helpful when mad!), or do a self-hug–wrapping their arms around their shoulders to squeeze and hold for a few minutes with calming breaths, which studies show the gentle pressure has amazing calming benefits.
3. Strike a Pose
There are tons of amazing yoga poses out there! Here’s a guide to choosing the right pose for the desired response:
Visit my online store for many other resources including the following helpful lesson plans:
In short, there are tons of ways yoga and breathing can help re-center our bodies and brains and get us to a happier state. And also remember that basic needs such as being hydrated, eating healthy foods, and getting enough rest also come into play with moods and feelings. The more we as parents work to increase our own health and positive responses to stress, the better we are at modeling these behaviors for our little ones.
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