If you have ever attempted to share the practice of yoga with children, you know how squirmy, silly, and fidgety they can be. Trying to get them to lie still and quiet for shavasana (final rest) may seem futile, but it’s not. Children love many aspects of yoga practice—the games, the partner poses, the animal sounds and stories. But most kids say what they like best is “the rest part at the end.” Children need this rest just as much as adults do.
Time spent in stillness at the end of each yoga practice is a key element in assimilating the benefits. It is important for the body and mind to have a chance to process and integrate the experience—to file it all away. Just like cleaning up after a party or after making a big meal in the kitchen, your mind and body need to clean up and reorganize. I’ve seen so many kids roll up from rest with calm faces, clear eyes, and a faint smile that lets me know they have settled in deeply to who they really are. To me, nothing is more important for them. It inspires me to work hard to create the conditions for them to have this experience.
I’ve seen so many kids roll up from rest with calm faces, clear eyes, and a faint smile that lets me know they have settled in deeply to who they really are.
Whether you are sharing yoga with your kids at home, teaching a yoga class for kids, or taking a break in the classroom, these 5 tips will help you facilitate a restful and rejuvenating experience for your children. You will find that once it becomes familiar, the children will ask for it often.
- Let them choose their position. Lying spread out on the back can feel vulnerable and awkward. Children are often more comfortable lying on their side or stomach. In fact, when children are feeling giggly and fidgety, I invite them to flip over onto their tummy. This helps them feel grounded and limits their sensory input. Over time kids will get comfortable in the classic posture, but let them find it for themselves. In a school classroom, where space is at a premium, simply have the children sit in their chairs or up against the wall.
- Create quiet conditions. Dim the lights, reduce sounds as much as possible, and give each child a blanket. The weight of the blanket is soothing to the nervous system and muffles sensory input to the skin. Eye pillows are also nice. The kids may fidget with them or place them on their tummy—that’s fine. Some kids need a fidget toy to help quiet their mind.
- Relax the body. It’s hard to be still when there is frenetic energy in the body. A strong yoga practice is the best prerequisite for deep rest. Another technique is to have children pretend they are a dead bug: “Lie on your back with your legs and arms in the air. First slowly wiggle and then shake your limbs like a bug on its last legs. Then flop—let your arms and legs fall to the ground.” Children find this hilarious and it helps quiet the body.
- Relax the mind with a story. Leaving a kid to lie still with no guidance is unlikely to evoke deep rest. Guided visualizations are wonderful for children, as these engage their mind in a soft and soothing way. I call visualizations “relaxing stories.” Two great resources to get you started are our own Chill Children CD by Global Family Yoga and the book Spinning Inward by Maureen Murdock.
- Check your expectations. This is perhaps the most important part. Set your expectations for a positive outcome. Beliefs and intentions have significant impact on our experience. If you think the kids are squirrelly and won’t relax, you’re right. If you think the kids are developing a life skill that will serve them well over the years and they just need some guidance and time to become familiar with it, you’re right. It’s very helpful to sit down and get quiet yourself. Allow the experience of stillness and peace to flood your awareness, and notice how that affects the children.
Set your expectations for a positive outcome. Beliefs and intentions have significant impact on our experience.
Children benefit from this deep rest not only at the end of yoga class but also throughout their day. I remind kids that they can rest like this after a birthday party, when they get home from school, after playing outside before dinner, or anytime they are transitioning from one activity to the next. Parents know that it is during transitions when most meltdowns occur, so encouraging a rest break may help prevent them. Kids learn to brush their teeth, pack their bags for school, and set the dinner table. They can also learn to take 10-minute rest breaks during the day. Kids want and need to rest. It’s up to us to create the conditions for them to do it.
What have been your successes and challenges in getting the children in your life to take these valuable rest breaks during the day or after a yoga practice?