In Buddhism, there are Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the end of suffering, and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering. And this isn’t just for adults. While we might look back at our childhoods wistfully, conjuring up images of ice cream cones, fireworks, and sleepovers, the truth is that growing up is hard. There is suffering. Family situations, peer interactions, physical challenges, and societal pressures all weigh on children no matter how intensely the adults in their lives try to intercede. And this suffering manifests itself in their little bodies, just as it does in ours. Fortunately, we can give them the tools to ease the discomfort and fatigue that negative emotions and stress create in the body through yoga postures.
Grief resides in the lungs: When we cry really hard, we often have to gasp for breath. When we grieve a loss, we physically feel the pain and tightness in our chest.
- Backbends open your chest, allowing more oxygen to enter the lungs and releases tension in the neck: cobra, camel, bridge, fish
- Long, mindful breaths move the diaphragm, create more space in the lungs, and bring the mind back to the present moment: dirgha pranayama, bunny breath
Anger builds up in the liver: You’ve heard of being so angry that your “blood boils”? Your blood is cleaned in the liver and the liver is in the belly which, in chakra philosophy, is the seat of power. When you’re angry, you may feel powerless.
- Twists wring out the spine and internal organs, flushing them with freshly oxygenated blood and releasing spinal and belly tension: pretzel twist, reclined twist, fish twist
- Core strengthening poses build fire in the belly; boat, crow, any balance posture
Fear is felt in the hamstrings: When our bodies kick into “fight-or-flight” mode, our legs get ready to go. You often feel a bit wobbly or weak after a frightening situation has passed. Constant small stressors can lead to chronic tight hamstrings, and thereby back pain.
- Forward folds are soothing to the nervous system and stretch the hamstrings: ragdoll, pyramid, seated forward fold, wide angle fold (seated and standing)
- Passive leg stretches encourage us to slow down and draw the blood back to the heart: legs up-the-wall
Hips are like an emotional “junk drawer”: If you have an emotion that you haven’t processed (or haven’t even recognized), it resides in your hips. Our second chakra is the seat of emotions and it resides in the center of our hip bowl.
- Hip openers release sadness: cobbler, pigeon, goddess, lunges
- Hip circles move the joints in all directions, polishing them: hula hoops, dancing, hip circles
Shoulders hold stress: This one is usually the most obvious for children to notice. Ask them to show you what a nervous person looks like. Chances are they’ll squeeze their eyebrows together, tighten their jaw, make fists, and bring their shoulders up to their ears.
- Shoulder circles gently get movement started: shoulder rolls, arm swinging
- Shoulder blade movements release tension while opening the chest: puppy, eagle
Jaws control tension release: The old phrase “bite you tongue” comes to mind here. Rather than speaking or yelling, we often hold our emotions in through clamped jaws. This tension effects our tooth health and the tightness trickles down into our shoulders.
- Release the jaw through large, mindful movement: lion, yawning, neck rolls
- Remind yourself and your students to keep the teeth from touching during meditation, breath work, and throughout practice
Our minds are powerful and our bodies are stubborn. What we perceive as danger or stress may just be that – a perception or belief. But our bodies think it is real and react accordingly. Help your students (and yourself) work through big emotions with yoga postures, breathing, meditation, and lots of positive affirmations.