Stretch Your Way Through the Back-to-School Transition
September 6, 2011
It’s that time of year again: back to school.
When I was young, yoga wasn’t part of my life at all, nor was it provided in my elementary or high school. Now it’s offered at many schools so children have a chance to try this wonderful practice to help them build physical strength, increase their ability to focus and manage the torrent of emotions that are part of their daily life.
Yoga, mindfulness and meditation too, can all be useful tools for helping children and parents manage the transition to back to school. The practice of yoga is about more than the poses, it’s also a practice that teaches discipline, developing good habits, taking deep breathing breaks, practicing gratitude and honoring and respecting yourself. My experience in providing these tips comes from my work with children and all the interactions I have with the extraordinary parents I meet every day:
Create a routine that includes yoga: Give your kids a tool they can access anywhere and anytime and offer an activity that you can do together. Buy your child their own yoga mat and if you have never tried yoga, guess what — now’s the perfect time. Pick up a children’s book on yoga or flashcards (“My Daddy is a Pretzel” is a great book by Baron Baptiste as are “Yoga Pretzel Yoga Cards” by Tara Guber- both available on Amazon). Make it an after-school activity for the two of you or a pre-dinner thing. Even 15 minutes can help you bond and share.
Help your kids understand the benefits of yoga and how yoga can help them with school:When I teach children yoga, I usually start with a question, “Does anyone know what yoga is?” or “When I say the word ‘yoga’ what do you think of?” Kids usually respond with, “stretching” or “relaxing” or “getting stronger.” They know the value, now it’s up to you to help them see how the benefits they get from yoga can help them in school. I try to bring into classes comments about how we can get stressed when doing homework or our backs can hurt from carrying heavy books and yoga can help us relax when we’re stressed or get stronger so we can carry heavy loads.
Think your kids are too young to meditate? Think again. Call it “meditation,” call it “visualization,” call it “sitting still.” It’s just a way of describing being still, breathing and acknowledging how you feel. Of course, this is harder for children the younger they are, but there’s a way you can encourage even children as young as 3 and 4 to be still. At the end of class, I ask even young children to lie flat and think of their favorite color and without speaking it, see if they can “see” it in their minds’ eye. When we’re done, I ask them to come up to seated and tell me what they saw. As children get older you can do some breathing exercises with them and get their feedback when they’re done as to how it felt in their body. In my work with student athletes, I ask them to visualize performing well as a way to “see” their success on the water, track or field. Meditation is a great way to build a habit of stillness and sensation for children and in a world where they are over-stimulated much of their day, this can be a tremendous relief. These times of stillness can help kids begin to process any feelings of anxiety they may feel around school, peer pressure or school performance.
Encourage expression and communication: Practicing yoga with a young child is more about expression and less about proper alignment. As kids get into the teen years and older and in my work with student athletes, I’m a bit more focused on alignment but in general, yoga is an expression of creativity and flow. It’s always interesting in family yoga classes when parents spend a lot of time correcting their young child in the pose. At a young age, we’re really just focusing more on the “doing” not the “execution.” And with children, yoga is a perfect lead in to having kids journal, or write down their feelings. Buy your child a nice notebook and pen and encourage them to do a little writing after they practice. If it’s a young child, ask them if they can draw a picture of their favorite pose. Anything that helps them express themselves is wonderful and will give them an outlet for their feelings about school, friends and grades.
When we build the practice of yoga into our children’s lives, we’re teaching them how to create a healthy habit, how to live in a way that makes health a priority and how to have discipline. These are all traits that will improve their school performance as well as build a solid foundation of health in their lives.