5 Kids Yoga Poses to Ease Travel Stress this Holiday Season

I am lucky enough to be featuring the talented author and yoga teacher, Susan Verde, as a guest blogger this month. She wrote this wonderful and informative piece for BookYogaRetreats.com. Please enjoy!

The holidays are fast approaching and plans to vacation with the kids abound. Although the intention is to gather with friends and family and celebrate, sometimes the travel itself can be a less than joyous event. There is packing and leaving home, long lines, big crowds and the well-meaning relatives who want to smother the children with love. The more we can tune into our kids and help make these trips less stressful, the more time we can spend enjoying being together. Try these yoga and mindfulness activities with your kids along the journey to help ease their travel anxiety and yours.

1) First and foremost BREATHE… (cover or relax pose)

Having the “essentials” with you when you travel is important for your comfort and maintaining a sense of normalcy in situations that can be different and challenging. Think of the breath as one of those essentials kids can always have with them to help feel at home wherever they are. Take some time to practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing with your children before your trip, so kids know what to do sitting in a car or on a plane or even upon arriving at a new location. Let them know that whenever they feel upset or anxious they can always have access to calming breath. Even the littlest ones can practice putting their hands on their bellies and closing their eyes noticing the breath fill their bodies with air and feeling their tummies expand and contract with each breath. Doing this together will help all of you. You can practice sitting up or lying down all the while focusing the attention on the breath as you inhale and exhale through the nose. Older children can try counting their breaths. If your child has a favorite stuffed animal, he can put it in his lap or on his belly and breathe, “together.” Remember to notice how good you all feel after you’ve done your breathing.

2) Find Balance (airplane)

The rushing around that occurs pre-travel can throw everyone off balance. Practicing some balance poses can actually help to create stability both physically and mentally. Airplane pose helps kids not only find their literal balance but also their emotional pause and creates a sense of fun and playfulness. If you happen to be flying somewhere it can be a fun game to emulate an airplane. Challenge your kids to find stillness in this pose, taking a few breaths and then let them fly around to different destinations imagining what they see and hear. It is a pose you can call up while in line at an airport or at a rest stop to occupy little minds and strengthen and stretch their bodies, and to give them a chance to be in the moment.

3) Turn anxiety on its head (Down Dog)

Any pose that brings one’s head below the knees can change the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain and calm, refresh and energize the body and mind. Downward facing dog is one of those poses. It’s a wonderful stretch for the hamstrings, calves, lower back and shoulders after sitting or while waiting on long lines for any length of time. A little down dog can be refreshing and playful bringing some fun to the moment and a new perspective. While in this pose, have your kids wag their tails, lift a leg and open up their hips, bark and giggle. If you feel tension or anxiety building in your child, help them turn things upside down with this easy, but effective inversion.

4) Allow for boundaries and self-care (child’s pose)

Often the stress of travel involves being in a new situation or among crowds of people. Even if you are traveling to see family whose intentions are only to give love to your kids, it can be overwhelming to be hugged and fawned over. Children need to know that they have the right to set boundaries and create a “safe space” for themselves. Child’s pose is a lovely way to help children feel protected and in control. Have them sit back on their heels with toes touching and knees apart resting the forehead on the floor with arms by the sides. This pose can feel like a lovely self-hug and a place to shut out any chaos going on around. While there, have your child notice the breath filling her back body and practice taking slow deep inhales and exhales. This mindful attention will help bring a sense of softening and calm to body and mind.  Giving a child the option to find this pose when there is a lot going on and she needs a moment to regroup is an empowering and comforting gift. Before traveling, practice this pose and talk about the times it might come in handy and when your child might choose to access it. This will also give you some insight into what she could be worried about and a chance to help calm fears pre-emptively.

5) Pause, connect, be grateful (tree)

Once you have arrived at your destination take a moment to pause before entering the hotel, relative’s home or wherever you might be staying. Stop, look around and notice, activate your child’s senses. Ask your child what he sees. Are there buildings? Is there a beach? Are there trees? Become a tree even if there aren’t any. Have your child balance on one foot while raising the other to the ankle or upper thigh placing hands together by the heart. Getting into tree pose can help your child find physical and emotional balance in a new context. Take some deep breaths in and out through the nose perhaps reaching the hands to the sky. Ask your children what they hear and smell and what they feel on their skin. This pause and quick check-in provides a context and a way to get one’s bearings in a new situation. Once your kids have tuned into the environment around them take one last moment to think of something you are grateful for on this adventure. Close your eyes and notice how that gratitude feels in your body. Practicing this pose and mindful activity will not only help your child feel as though you are honoring where they are emotionally but also set the tone for a positive travel experience for which you will all be thankful.

For more information about Susan Verde, please visit her website at www.susanverde.com. 

For more information about utilizing yoga and mindfulness as a way to manage stress, contact me here.

How to Use Your Breath to Calm Your Mind

The first day of school has come and gone, and the daily grind is in full effect. New teachers and classmates, busy after-school schedules and homework—it is exciting but can at times feel chaotic and overwhelming. When our children feel overwhelmed, their nervous systems are activated, making it difficult to pay attention, follow directions and make sound decisions.

We know those moments when we want so badly to reason with our children, but it feels like there is no hope. In times like these, it is helpful to understand a little more about our nervous system and how we can take steps to teach our children (and ourselves) to calm the chaos.

Before I go any further, I want you to try something. All you will need is a timer and your breath. Set the timer for one minute and for that minute, simply breathe in and out through your mouth. Once the minute is up, notice how your body feels and what, if any, thoughts are going through your mind. Now, set the timer for another minute, and this time, breathe in and out through your nose. Once again, when the minute is up, notice how you feel and any thoughts in your mind.

I use the “mouth-nose experiment” with children and parents often, and I get similar responses from all ages. Children have said that when they are breathing in and out through the mouth, they feel nervous, like they are running at gym class. One child even called it heart attack breathing. In contrast, when breathing in and out through the nose, children mentioned feeling sleepy or calm and some noticed that their mind was less busy with thoughts.

The “mouth-nose experiment” exemplifies the powerful connection between our breath, body and nervous system. When we are breathing in and out of the mouth only, we activate our sympathetic nervous system or fight, flight, or freeze response. When this system is activated, we experience bigger emotions, can lose focus, and our judgment is impaired. In contrast, when we are breathing in and out through the nose, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system or rest and digest response. When this system is activated, we feel calm and focused, can see the big picture and make sound decisions.

Many of our children feel stress and anxiety, and as a result, their sympathetic nervous systems are activated. Children are empowered to learn that they have a secret tool in their own body that can be used to regulate their emotions and create a sense of calm. During the difficult moments when your child cannot be reasoned with, help them learn the power of their breath.

Try these three breathing exercises with your children at home, and remember to practice when they are calm so that they can access this powerful tool in times of stress:

1. Smell the flower, Blow the windmill: I like to put a small amount of lavender oil (for it’s calming effect) on a silk flower, but you can use a real flower or any good smell that would be appealing to your child. Teach them to inhale through the nose by smelling the flower, and show them how to exhale through the mouth making their windmills spin. Children love the visuals, and it helps them practice the skill of breathing.

2. “Rockabye Baby”: Have your child grab their favorite stuffed animal and “rock” it to sleep while lying flat on the back with the stuffed animal on their belly. It is helpful for children to see their bellies rise with an inhale and fall with an exhale and can be a very soothing practice before nap or bedtime.

3. Back to Back Breathing: This is a great exercise to try with your child and can also be great for siblings to try together. Both participants should sit back to back and stay as quiet as possible. Notice the pattern of your partner’s breath— whether their breath is longer or shorter than yours. See if without speaking, you can sync your breath with your partner’s. Parents have reported using this exercise after a frustrating incident with their child as a way to connect and move on from the negative experience.

I hope that you and your family find ways of incorporating these breathing exercises into your family routine. If you would like more information about how to incorporate mindfulness and breath with your family or have other questions, please contact me here.

3 Ways Mindfulness and Yoga can Reduce Stress for Kids

3 Ways Mindfulness and Yoga can Reduce Stress for Kids

In the busy and over-scheduled world we live in, it is hard to find a moment to pause and just be.

It’s the feeling we get when we arrive at our destination realizing we weren’t paying attention to how we got there or the stress of work and raising a family—all of which can lead to feeling like we are on overdrive.

Our children are not much different—they experience stress related to academics, extra-curricular activities, and peer relationships

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Stop, Drop & Breathe: Learning to be Mindful of our Emotions

Children frequently ask me how to make their big emotions go away, and I try my best to explain the difficult-to-understand fact that we all have big emotions—excitement, anger, sadness, and happiness—to name a few. The challenging task is learning how to accept and manage these emotions so that they do not manage us.

Amy Saltzman defines mindfulness as “paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity.” If we consider becoming detectives of our everyday lives, we may begin to learn more about the way we experience emotions and how that impacts our thoughts and behavior. Maybe we feel angry that a person just bumped into us on the street and rather than moving on with our day, we find ourselves thinking about how frustrated we are. As a result, we’re in a bad mood and have a short fuse with family members later on in the day. On the flip side, something might happen in the morning to cause us to feel sadness, and rather than wallow in those feelings by turning on our favorite sad tunes, we go for a run or head to a favorite workout class. After moving around a bit or getting outside, we notice that we feel better and go on with the day.

Teaching children (and ourselves) to take a pause in between our emotions and reactions provide a valuable lesson in mindfulness. There are many ways we can practice taking a pause, and below I will list a few. Try them at home on your own or with your kids, and let me know how they go!

1)    Anchor Words

We often use anchor words in meditation. For example, we might say in our mind, “breathing in” as we inhale and “breathing out” as we exhale. Anchor words can also be used to help manage our emotions. When experiencing any emotion, we can stop and name that emotion in our mind. Once the emotion is named, a quick body scan to notice where we are feeling that emotion is very helpful. Maybe I notice that I am feeling anxious, and I say in my mind, “anxious” and notice that I am feeling tightness in my chest and heaviness in my head. For children, I love using worksheets like the one depicted here.

2)    Stop, Drop and Breathe

Most of us have some amount of warning before we experience a big emotion. As we start to become better “emotion detectives”, we can recognize the warning signs of big emotions coming. We use our anchor words to name the emotion and body scan to detect where we are feeling sensations within our body. When we feel ourselves becoming frustrated or overwhelmed, we can practice taking three slow breaths in and out through the nose. If three breaths do not help, then try three more, and keep repeating until you feel yourself calming down.

I recommend trying mindful breathing when you are not experiencing a big emotion and practice with your children when they are in a calm state. Breathing exercises before bedtime can be a wonderful family ritual. 

Click here for one of my favorite breathing strategies that kids, parents and teachers love.

3)    Finding Our Quiet Place

In the busy and over-scheduled world we live in, it is often hard to find the time to pause. I love reading Charlotte and the Quiet Place with children to help teach about mindfulness and finding our quiet place within. The book provides an excellent starting point for a great family discussion and a better understanding of mindfulness.

I hope that some of these tips are helpful to you and your family!

If you are interested in hearing more about my offerings, please call me at (917) 409-7042 or email me at michelle.b.paget@gmail.com. I am happy to discuss any concerns you have about your child or ways of incorporating yoga and mindfulness into your family's routine.

 

3 kid-friendly techniques for identifying feelings

3 kid-friendly techniques for identifying feelings

Much like learning to read and write or to add and subtract, children must learn how to name their feelings and manage them when they are more intense. Here are a few kid-friendly techniques for identifying feelings. This is only an introduction but provides a wonderful opening into discussing this subject with your children.  

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How to stay balanced on those darker days...

How to stay balanced on those darker days...

I don’t know about you, but this time of the year can be a struggle for me- shorter days, grayer skies, colder weather…I find myself using more coping tools to stay present and balanced. It’s no surprise that children experience a similar shift—not only do they go from the freedom of Summer to the structure of a school day, but they also miss out on the opportunity to be outside due to those shorter days. It’s important that we give our kids the opportunity to connect, breath and move to help target some of the feelings that accompany the transition into the colder months. 

Here are some activities to try with your kids at home: 

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5 Benefits of Yoga for Kids

5 Benefits of Yoga for Kids

I could list countless ways that yoga benefits children, but today I am going to focus on just five. I have been lucky enough to train with Little Flower Yoga, a wonderful organization with the mission of bringing yoga and mindfulness to children. As detailed in her book, Little Flower Yoga for Kids, Jennifer Cohen Harper discusses the five elements, a teaching method rooted in the eight limbs of yoga but simplified for the engagement of children and adolescents. Not only do these elements provide a wonderful backdrop for teaching, but they also help us understand why yoga is such a powerful tool for our kids today. 

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How to Keep Kids Fit & Focused

Summer is already over? Wow, that was fast! The school year started this week, and children are doing their best to get back into the swing of things. After two months of enjoying vacation, camp and free time, children are expected to sit for almost seven hours straight during the school day. 

I can honestly say that I know how they feel. As a school social worker, I felt the strain of returning from Summer break- going from being active and free to sedentary and cooped up at my desk all day. 

One of my favorite ways to combat the back-to-school blues was with physical activity. I learned that keeping active helped me ease into the new year and even improved my ability to focus. Our children are no different and can also benefit with improved mood and sleep. Read more on WebMD about how exercise can benefit children. 

We can help our children transition into their new schedules by teaching them how to incorporate movement and other forms of physical activity. Energetic Juniors provides some wonderful tips in an article below:

Keep Your Child Fit and Active After Summer Camp!

By Energetic Juniors

Here is the opportunity for your child to stay active the rest of the year.

How many times have you said,” I wish my child could or would continue being active as he was in camp.” But schoolwork takes over, and tutors, and computers, and online games and winter weather, and suddenly more time is spent being sedentary than being active. Physical activity should be year-round; active fit bodies mean active and more alert young minds and will pay off year after year with a lifelong commitment to active living. Fortunately, there are always- fun ways- to encourage your child to continue being active. For a child who doesn’t like team sports, there are endless possibilities for activities that they can participate in, such as:

Personal Training

Swimming

Running

Tennis

Martial Arts

Dance

Yoga

For the younger children, get them hooked now on physical activity that is stimulating, physical and FUN. The certified trainers of Energetic Juniors  will be sharing with you some active and creative fitness games. Use these games or just let your child’s imaginations and yours create new ones. Use these games as a springboard for endless possibilities. Just keep it safe, physical and FUN.

Get Up! Fitness Game of the Month

Have your child play this simple game.  It requires no equipment, little space and is most of all fun.

What it’s working:  Gross motor skills, balance, core strength

Goal of the game:  Your child will see how many different ways they can get up from the ground into a standing position.

 

Instructions:

1.  Designate a small space in your home.  To infuse some excitement turn on some upbeat music.

2.  Have your child start by lying on the ground.  Tell them they have one-minute to see how many different ways they can get up and into a standing position.  After they have stood up have them quickly lie back down again.  Repeat as many times as possible until the time runs out. Count for your child.

3.  Once your child has begun to master the game, add challenges.  For example, stand up with your eyes closed, use no hands, stand on one foot, add a jump every time you stand up, or have them hold a ball. Have FUN!

For more fitness games or to learn more about Energetic Juniors, contact Bonita Porte at bonitaporte@gmail.com or 212-879-1566.