When someone suggests taking time to introduce yoga into your home, several thoughts may come to mind. You may be thinking: “Great, one more thing I need to plan and schedule into my already hectic day.” “I can’t even touch my toes, I’m supposed to show my child how to do yoga?” “I leave early and get home late. When am I supposed to be doing this?” “I just don’t think my kids will be into it.” It’s so easy to be gung ho about an idea or practice that is beneficial for kids and family. Putting it into practice, however, is where most of us choose to end the engagement.
I get it. By the time we take care of life’s responsibilities, there doesn’t seem to be enough time for playing with our kids, let alone teaching them a skill or beginning a new routine. But, let’s stay open minded for a moment. What if this new routine only took a few minutes to introduce, or was connected to another routine already in place? Children’s yoga does not need to be a 45 minute class that takes place on a yoga mat in a dimly lit room in total silence. It can happen while brushing your teeth, while saying goodnight at the end of the day, for 5 minutes after dinner while the table is cleared and in the moments that occur right after waking up.
Setting the Scene
While yoga and mindfulness can happen anywhere and anytime, there is always a better chance of a child experiencing the benefits when we do what we can to manipulate the environment. This can be as simple as bringing your own energy down, talking in a lower/softer voice or letting your child see you close your eyes and take a deep breath. When we adjust ourselves to prepare for a mindful moment or yoga introduction, our children can sense this environmental change. This helps them learn to prepare themselves as well. Think of the old saying “monkey see, monkey do”. This saying does not only apply to mischievousness or bad behavior. It also applies to things that are helpful and soothing.
In a traditional yoga class, there is a wide open space with nothing but a row of mats for participants. When experimenting with yoga at home, you don’t need to completely clean and clear your living room or even buy a yoga mat. However, having a bit of space (enough to lie down and stretch out without touching anything) to be able to move without hurting yourself or your child is extremely beneficial. Similarly, you do not need to purchase a $40 kids yoga mat from the latest brand name. Forget that! You can use a bath towel, a blanket, or nothing! I teach yoga in schools where there is not enough space for mats. This doesn’t stop me and 20 preschoolers from experiencing yoga, and it shouldn’t stop you either.
Let’s Get Movin’
Here comes the part that I find is the biggest excuse for not including yoga and mindfulness in the home… “I don’t have time!” Let’s take that excuse, ball it up nice and small and throw it right on out the window. It’s ok, it’s biodegradable. You’re not littering 😉
Let’s take a look at a few ways to include yoga and mindfulness into your home that do not involve scheduling a 45 minute structured class.
- Mindful Teeth Brushing
The CDC states that we should brush our teeth for at least 2-3 minutes. That means we have 2-3 minutes of uninterrupted time to be mindful. When your children brush their teeth, brush with them. Make this a moment of shared mindfulness. You may need to skip brushing with them the first few times in order to provide direction. Try prompting your child to slow down. Close their eyes and feel where the toothbrush is in their mouth. Suggest that they brush one tooth at a time, both front and back. Slow down the process and become observers of sensations. These sensations might be the toothbrush bristles, the minty toothpaste, the cool floor under your feet, a feeling inside of you. You don’t have to share these observations, or if you want, you can discuss them afterwards.
These 2-3 mindful minutes can do wonders for calming the body. By bringing the attention inward, we let go of the over stimulation of the external environment. We also allow ourselves a moment to just feel. Trust me, this is a concept that children appreciate. Children are quite “feelings directed” and by bringing them into focus on a calm or happy feeling, you set up the day (or night) for success.
- 5 Minute Digestion Relief
Yoga for digestion is so beneficial, especially for children and young ones who suffer from indigestion, gas, constipation and belly pain. A bit of gently movement after eating can assist in relieving your little one of these symptoms and aid in the digestive process.
- Malasana – This yoga pose aids in digestion and bowel movement by perfectly aligning the organs of the lower body to prepare for passing a stool or gas. If your child has eaten a food that is known to cause them gas or constipation, try this pose about 10 minutes after eating. Plant the feet about shoulder width apart and squat down low, letting the arms come in between the legs. This posture allows the hip flexors to press into the gut while aligning the organs. You can stay here for a few breaths, while reading a short book or try adding a small movement to this. Rock back and forth or gently bounce to add some additional support.
- Twists – After meal time, encourage your child (try doing this alongside them) to lie down on their back. Bend one knee and let it twist to the opposite side, crossing the body. Don’t force a deeper twist or try to stretch as much as possible. Let the body relax for several breaths and then twist to the opposite side. The benefit comes from the release of the twist, which allows fresh blood to rush to the area of confinement. Since the torso is the twisting point, the release will allow fresh oxygenated blood to flow to the area and aid in digestion. This also allows the body to physically work out gas bubbles.
- Belly Time – After twisting, try lying on your stomach for a few minutes. Reading a book or coloring while lying on the stomach forces out air bubbles that are trapped in the gut. This also helps your child build diaphragmatic strength by having them breathe against gravity.
- Breathing – Once everyone has finished eating, try taking several slow breaths together. This can be a moment to benefit digestion, and also a moment of connectedness. Encourage each other to sit up tall and to grow taller as the breath releases.
3. Story Time Yoga
Chances are, your child asks you to read them a story quite often. Typically, a story could take from 2-10 minutes to get through depending on length and reading speed. (No judgement on those speed reading moments when you’re trying to get stuff done.) The next time your child asks you to read them a story, encourage them to act it out as you go along. By using yoga postures to tell the story, your children are becoming a part of the story while benefiting their body. If a pose isn’t immediately recognizable in the story, try asking your child to create one.
Check back soon for some story time yoga videos. We will be releasing several videos with yoga stories that are accessible for children of any age and ability.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
How many times have you been going about your day and noticed your child mimicking your actions? Have you ever sat down on the floor and suddenly your child is next to you; curious as ever? When you begin enjoying something, your child quickly wants to join in and take part in the joy!
If you find that you’re having a difficult time instructing your child on how to do these poses, mindfulness moments or routines, try taking on the roll of “model”. By modeling a behavior (and showing the enjoyment of it), your child will feel compelled to join in. Try modeling the behavior in a way that shows your own intention of doing it. Sometimes saying “look at me, look what I’m doing, can you try this?” has a way of deterring natural involvement. By focusing instead on your own practice and using simple language to describe what you’re doing and how you’re feeling, this makes room for the natural curiosity that is in all children.
Let’s also not forget that this moment is yours as well. Take advantage of these moments for your own mental and physical health. After a long day, taking 3 minutes to mindfully brush your teeth can feel like 3 hours at the spa. Soak up these moments and model the self care that we are trying to build in our children.
Yoga and mindfulness can be easily accessed throughout a busy day as long as the foundation and curiosity is present. I encourage you to look back on our previous Movin’ in the Homestead article to learn a few simple postures. I encourage you to have a few moments of lying down and helping along digestion with your child. I encourage you to explore stories with movement and yoga! Most importantly, I encourage you to remember that you are the perfect educator for your child. Take advantage of moments in the day to get your child moving and tuning in. Yoga and mindfulness does not need to be a 45 minute class. It can be the few moments after dinner as you lie together on your bellies, the 3 minutes at the beginning of the day when you brush your teeth together or the story at the end of the day that you both explore with yoga. (Notice all of these things happen together.)
If you try any of these things, let us know! Drop us a line in the comment section below and tell us how you’ve incorporated yoga and mindfulness into your day. Maybe you grabbed those 5 minutes before running out the door, or had time for a 30 minute story. Either way, tell us how it went and what you found helpful. We would love to hear from you.
Check back soon for the next installment of Movin’ in the Homestead where we will look at yoga for waking up and going to bed!