For a highly sensitive child down time is important, even more important than for a non-highly sensitive child. For those of you reading who are highly sensitive parents you will probably also know how important and beneficial down time is for you.
Yoga is a great way to get some mindful quiet time together. I (abbreviated as HSK below) turned to Giselle Shardlow (GS below), author of the Kids Yoga Stories books, for her guidance on how to get started with practicing yoga with a child.
GS: Yoga has many benefits for children, including:
- increased strength and flexibility
- stronger ability to relax, unwind, and calm down
- reduced stress and anxiety
- better sleep
- increased interaction between adult and child, and between multiple children
- improved their fine and gross motor skills as well as coordination
- outlets for self-confidence, self-expression, and body awareness
Yoga means “union.” I think of yoga as a balance between mind, body, and spirit. It’s a lifestyle that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation, character education, positive affirmations, and service to others. Most of all, yoga promotes a healthy, active lifestyle.
HSK: For someone starting with a blank canvas and no yoga experience whatsoever, what is your best tip to help parents introduce yoga to their children?
GS: My best tip for someone with no yoga experience whatsoever is to start your own yoga practice. Start exploring different options, such as a yoga class, meditation, mindful breathing, mantras, or karma yoga. Find yoga practices that inspire you. You are your child’s best role model, and your curiosity and enthusiasm for this ancient wisdom will naturally draw them into the practice. Most importantly, jump in and give it a go today. Keep it simple and enjoy yourself.
Then think critically about why you would like your child to experience yoga. Is it because her friends are doing it? Could he be more flexible and stronger? Does she need a coping strategy for dealing with stress and anxiety? Does he need a little extra help getting to sleep at night? Or all of those might be reasons for bringing the yoga lifestyle into your home. Once you are more familiar with different forms of yoga practice, you can decide which ones meet your goals. For example, if you want your child to experience the joy of yoga with others, a kids yoga class might be better than solitary practice at home. But if your child is anxious about trying new things in front of his peers, then a yoga class is not likely to help with his stress.
HSK: Highly sensitive children (HSC) are often overwhelmed by everything going on in their environment (sights, smells, sounds, touch, and activity). Do you have a tip to help them carve out some quiet time or calm in a busy environment? Think places like school, a child’s birthday party, or a playdate where they are not necessarily able to physically leave the busy space they are in.
GS: Modern life has created busy schedules for children and parents. Our children are thrown into highly stimulating environments and forced to deal with stressful situations. Breath awareness is one way to cope with challenging experiences, even when they cannot leave the location. Teach your child to take a few deep breaths while turning inwards and relaxing his body. Your child could pretend to blow a feather, smell a flower, sniff like a bunny, or buzz like a bee. Encourage him to use his imagination to utilize his breath to shut down/reboot his body and mind. He could also close his eyes and cover his ears if he needs to further withdraw from the environment. He could then listen to the sound of his deep breathing. Mindful breathing is a powerful skill that children can benefit from for a lifetime. It’s simple, you can do it anywhere, and you can sometimes do it without others noticing.
GS: Depending on your child’s age, she might want to choose three to five yoga poses that are unique to her. Simply grab a deck of yoga cards or find images of yoga poses online. Then she can sort through the various poses to create her signature “calm flow.” Or you could check out a bedtime yoga book and practice a calming yoga pose sequence. For example:
- Kneeling – pretend to be a fox:
Stand on your knees, open your chest, look up, and reach up to the moon like a fox.
- Hero Pose – pretend to be an owl:
Sit back to rest upright on your heels, place your hands on your knees, and pretend to be an owl.
- Child’s Pose – pretend to be a mouse:
From Hero’s Pose, slowly bring your forehead down to rest in front of your knees, rest your arms down alongside your body, and take a few deep breaths.
- Repeat the three-pose flow for as long as your child feels comfortable or until she feels recharged.
HSK: Any other advice/tips for parents of HSCs or HSCs themselves to help tune out busy environments or deal with anxiety?
GS: Six months ago, I came to a crucial point in parenting when I knew that something had to change in my mindset. I had not been coping well with my daughter’s screaming tantrums, and I was starting to feel depressed and helpless. I gave myself a 40-day meditation challenge and have been sitting silently daily since then, without missing a day. And let me tell you—my morning meditation has made a huge difference. I simply sit cross-legged on a cushion, tuck two blocks under my knees, close my eyes, breathe deeply, and work my fingers around my mala beads. I feel more content, more emotionally balanced, calmer, and better able to help my daughter navigate through her intense emotions. Over the months, my daughter has become curious about my meditation practice. She either sits on my lap, plays beside me, or plays quietly in her room. This was not the way we used to start our mornings before this meditation challenge. Though my daughter isn’t meditating herself, she seems to gain the benefits of this breathing practice anyways.
To help deal with your own anxiety or to help tune out busy environments, you could either take up your own meditation practice, learn a few ways to practice mindfulness, create your own morning ritual, or use movement as a way to quiet your mind. There is no single answer or one-size-fits-all solution. Yoga is a personal lifelong journey, and being open to the practice is the first step in finding out how the practice will show up in your life, too. Creating a support system to talk to other parents about their experiences is also crucial for dealing with the challenges of parenting. Remember, you are not alone, and as they say, it takes a village to raise a child.
*Please consult a health professional if you have concerns about integrating yoga into your child’s life. The answers above come from my training as a primary school teacher and yoga instructor, as well as from my experience as a mom to a spirited young girl.
Giselle Shardlow is the author of Kids Yoga Stories. Her yoga books for kids get children learning, moving, and having fun. Giselle draws from her experiences as a teacher, traveler, yogi, and mom to write the yoga stories found at www.kidsyogastories.com/shop-yoga-books or on Amazon. The purpose of her yoga books is to foster happy, healthy, and globally educated children.