Do you keep hearing about this yoga stuff? You’re not sure if it’s for you, or your child, but you hear about all of these benefits. The conversation typically goes as follows, “Bending? Stretching? Chutta-whating? But my friend said it really helped her. She even does it with her son now. He seems to like it… I still don’t get why you just lay down at the end…”
Children today have constant expectations to succeed. They are told to get A’s in all of their classes, to be the best team player, to be a good friend, a good daughter. They are expected to focus for 8 hours out of the day, come home, and focus on homework. All while being bombarded with social media, bullying, and questions about their own identity. Middle school is probably the hardest time in a person’s life… Kids have increased expectations and not always enough skills to manage the stress that comes with these expectations.
Yoga reduces stress. Yoga has been proven to kick-start our parasympathetic nervous system; the part of our nervous system that allows us to relax, concentrate, sleep, digest our food, and slow down. All good things! I want my digestions to work! Many of our children have overactive sympathetic nervous systems, the part of our nervous system that says we have to, “go, go, go!” It says that danger is around the corner so we need to be on the lookout. It says we need to think about the scary and stressful things that have happened to us so that they don’t happen again.
Well, our sympathetic nervous system is necessary for some situations, but it is not helpful when it is overactive all of the time. We need our parasympathetic nervous system to work just as well. Children need to be able to hear their parents when they are talking to them, to be able to focus in school, to sleep throughout the night.
Yoga literally retrains the brain to tell the nervous system that we are safe. It lets the parasympathetic nervous system know that it is okay to be utilized. Through yoga, your child can start to notice that their heart rate has increased (a sign of stress) and will have the skills to manage that stress. Yoga touches the same part of the brain that trauma touches. When trauma/ really stressful situations happen, the brain tells the sympathetic nervous system that it needs to be on high alert. It says, “REMEMBER THAT DANGER THAT HAPPENED? IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN.” Yoga has the power to rewire that same part of the brain and make new connections. These new connections say, “Actually, I am safe here. I can handle this.”
Start with a 5-minute routine that you and your child can do together. This could be an energizing routine in the morning. Think of poses that allow your child to reach up, lean back, and move quickly. For example, mountain pose, tree pose with a slight backbend, and upward facing dog. This could also be a routine in the evening to wind down. Think of poses that you can hold for at least 5 breaths, bending over poses, or poses that allow you to lie on the floor. For example Seated forward fold, child’s pose, and half pigeon. Start small and work your way up.
Want some help figuring out what yoga poses would be helpful for your child (and you) to practice? We can help!
Marissa Wilson is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200) at Lifeologie. She teaches psychotherapeutic yoga and works with adolescents to help them be themselves. Marissa believes that every person (including tweens/teens) already has what they need to heal, but sometimes our “okay-ness” gets stuck under layers of self-protection and hurt. To find out more about Marissa, check out her biography.