Mindfulness is a word we hear often, and we may associate it with relieving stress or finding rest in our busy lives, or practicing presence with a demanding schedule. How many of us picture it as a practice for children? Yoga instructor, Ellie Polsky, knows the importance of mindfulness practices for people of all ages. In Bloom Yoga 4 Kids, Ellie teaches children and teens mindfulness and emotional intelligence practices to implement into their everyday lives. Beginning these practices at a young age is key to maintaining a healthy, balanced mind throughout our lives.
A mindfulness practice is more important than ever when so many of us continue to spend most of our time at home. Fewer opportunities for social interaction, events, and experiences brew feelings of anxiety,, loneliness, and can cause a shorter fuse. Children have more tantrums and meltdowns during times of prolonged stress.
Through mindfulness practices–yoga, breathing exercises, creative expression–we release emotions that build up inside of us. For so many children and teens, finding a healthy way to release stress is just not something that comes naturally. It often manifests as overreactions, withdrawing, talking back, emotional outbursts, and many other ways that only leave everyone feeling defeated.
Ellie focuses on using the body’s calisthenics and breathing to bring awareness to our body. In stress, we are often consumed with our emotional experience and lose our awareness of our body. This can lead to emotional takeover, or what we may explain as, “I just wasn’t thinking clearly.” Practicing aligning our mind to our body (even when we’re not in an especially emotional state) brings us back to a state of emotional clarity and balance. Polsky explains, “As we stretch and breathe with the stretch, we focus on the breath, we get out of our heads and into our bodies. In this way, our bodies, minds, and spirits become in alignment.”
A couple yoga poses children can try at almost any time is Child’s Pose and Rock Pose.
From a kneeling position, plant your hands to the Earth making a tabletop with your back and your hands and knees as the legs of the table. Touch your big toes together making a “V” shape with your legs. Move your hips backwards toward your toes then reach your hands away from your shoulders keeping them on the ground. Now touch your forehead to the ground; and breathe.
Bring your arms back like you’re a rock on the ground. Sit on your heels, pressing on the buttocks nerves. Keep the spine straight, and take some nice breaths feeling yourself melt into the ground.
Ellie recommends a breathing exercise a child can do any time they feel stressed.
“Maybe you’re taking a test and you need to relax and breathe it out in your chair. Bringing your feet to the ground, sitting up tall, put one hand to your heart and one hand to your belly. As you take a breath in, count to five at whatever pace you’d like, making sure your chest is above your belly. Count again as you breathe out. Doing those a few times shifts your awareness out of your head and into your body. It opens up the heaviness that you may feel in your chest, and flows the movement from your chest to your belly.”
Mindfulness practices go far beyond yoga. Polsky teaches children tools in the practice of yoga that can be utilized in every day life. Here are some practices that parents can teach children in every day tasks:
Meal time: What are five tastes or textures you can identify while eating? Sweet, spicy, salty, squishy? What does it smell like? What does it feel like on the tongue?
Taking a walk: Take breaks throughout the day by taking a walk. Look for objects with certain attributes while walking to increase awareness of your surroundings (e.g. five things that are green). Try stopping and smelling plants, and expressing gratitude for the things around you.
Mindfulness involves more than one practice. Bloom Yoga 4 Kids incorporates journaling, art, and dance as a conduit for emotional balance. These practices may be thought of as special interests, however they have little to do with talent when it comes to mindfulness. Using these art forms as daily practices for the simple purpose of emotional release–rather than a skill they must improve–contributes to a child’s emotional health. Help them find a practice that inspires them, so that each day it will be something they return to with enthusiasm.