You know what I think kids today need? Not more lessons or learning opportunities. Not more toys, gadgets, or electronics. And certainly not more pressure and stress. Our children need time to unwind, all on their own. Just like us grown-ups, they need time to decompress and regroup after a long day of learning, playing, socializing, and growing. And the kids who seem to be wired for constant high energy are the ones that often have the toughest time settling down for bed so they can rest and recharge for the next day. I suggest you try some Restorative Yoga with them.
Restorative Yoga is mistakenly thought of as Yoga for the elderly and frail, for people with injuries or conditions that prevent a full movement-based Yoga class. This is far from the truth. Restorative Yoga should be practiced at least once a week, as the benefits are tremendous both physically and mentally. This is true for children, too. Restorative Yoga reduces over-stimulation and has immediate calming effects on the mind and body.
Roger Cole, a relaxation physiologist out of Stanford University and the University of California, and a world-renowned Iyengar Yoga instructor, says that “relaxation is an inborn, integrated physiological process that you can easily trigger just by setting up the right conditions.” In other words, we all can relax! So, start by getting your children and your environment ready for Restorative Yoga. Be sure it is warm enough (provide blankets) and dark (eye pillows or hand towels to cover the eyes). Children need to be comfortable, mentally and physically, and the room must be quiet – on phones, TV, or interruptions. And most importantly, kids need permission to just rest and be still. No one is going to poke them or nag them. They should feel perfectly safe and allowed to do nothing, truly nothing, for as long as you have time.
Because, here’s the thing: relaxation takes time and practice. Everyone can relax, but not everyone knows how. Take a look at relaxation through a scientist’s eyes. What happens when you are in danger? Your brain automatically prepares your body for action by triggering a domino-effect system: your heart speeds up, you tense your muscles, your blood pressure rises, your breath quickens, your eyes open wider, and your mind starts racing. This is often called the “fight-or-flight” response, and it happens in a split-second without you having to do anything at all.
The opposite side of the same coin is relaxation. The “rest-and-digest” response (your parasympathetic nervous system is a part of this) is also a set of pre-programmed physiological changes that move you toward rest and recovery. As you practice Restorative Yoga, systems in the body relax your muscles, slow down your breathing, settle your mind, and lower your blood pressure. Again, this happens on its own. And once the relaxation response is triggered in the body, it inhibits the fight-or-flight response and you are able to go deeper into relaxation. This is why setting up the proper conditions for relaxation and Restorative Yoga is critical. You want your body to run a “loop” of relaxation responses over and over, getting you deeper and deeper into it. To learn more about how physical and psychological conditions affect relaxation or to find out more about the physiology of sleep and relaxation, please look into Roger Cole’s work.
Once the conditions for relaxation are established, it’s time for you and the kids to settle in for a Restorative Yoga practice. Here are three fantastic poses to try, remembering to make your kids as comfortable as you can and leave them in the pose as long as is possible.
• Child’s Pose: Have your child kneel on a blanket with their knees against the edge of a firm cushion. The child sits back on her heels and rests her head on the cushion, chest and head supported by the cushion. Her arms can rest on either side of the cushion or along her sides near her legs. Her head can turn to either side. Now just let her settle. Tell her to melt like an ice cube in a cup of hot tea. To make this extra yummy, place both of your hands on her back and ask her to inhale deeply. Then, as she exhales, apply a gentle pressure and slide your hands in opposite directions, stretching her spine gently. You can even leave your hand resting on her back if that helps her settle. Eyes can be covered with a hand towel to make it darker.
• Reclined Cobbler: Your child sits on the floor with his back against a firm cushion and leans back, lying onto the cushion with his head on a pillow or rolled towel/blanket. His low back should be supported by the cushion. The soles of his feet come together, with knees out wide. Roll towels or blankets and place them under his ness for soft support. Now cover his eyes and place something heavy (like a heavy pillow or rice bag) on his feet to make him feel more grounded and calm. This pose provides a gentle backbend, which opens the chest for deeper breathing and better digestion.
• Legs-Up-the-Wall: Your child scoots close to the wall (so his bottom is right on it) and swings his legs up the wall, at about 90 degrees. A small folded blanket can be placed under his hips for cushioning and elevation. Place a small pillow or towel under his head. Your child’s arms are out to the side of his body. Cover his eyes and place a heavy blanket on his pelvis. If his legs tend to slide off the wall or out wide, fold a towel around his feet (along the wall behind his heels, over his feet, onto the shins) to stabilize them. Breathe deeply. This pose is very effective to help your child fall asleep.
Give these poses a try – if you set up the proper conditions and get really comfy, both you and your child will be relaxing in no time. It’s a great family practice!