It’s that time again—book bags are ready to roll and students nationwide are returning to school. While anxiety is natural, practicing yoga and certain breathing techniques can help students handle the pressures associated with peers, workload and making the grade. Try these 9 yoga tools with your kids for a stress-free start to the semester.
Diaphragmatic breathing in through the nose, helps to both calm and center, says Susan Verde, (susanverde.com), certified yoga and mindfulness teacher, author of I Am Yoga, (Abrams Young Readers) and forthcoming book The Water Princess (Putnam Young Readers). When anxiety strikes and our sympathetic nervous system is activated to fight, flee or freeze, focusing on the breath can help bring the system back into a place of calm.
Place your hands on your belly, take long slow inhales and feel the breath fill up like a balloon, then slowly let the belly “deflate” on the exhale. Your child can even count or say a mantra as she breathes in and out such as “I am calm.” This practice can carry over to anytime when your child feels anxious or overwhelmed.
“Sitting in Child’s Pose not only stretches the back and shoulders but gives a child a sense of shelter and self-care,” Verde says. “Sometimes when the world is too chaotic and the emotions too heavy sitting in Child’s Pose can feel protective and comforting.”
Starting on hands and knees, sit back on your heels resting your forehead on the ground with arms outstretched or alongside the body. Close your eyes and notice a sense of relaxation and comfort.
“Practicing Tree Pose creates a sense of grounding and expansion,” Verde says. “When children feel anxious and often ‘out of their bodies’ Tree helps to reestablish that presence in the body; the feeling of the ground beneath their feet. This pose is great practice connecting to the earth while reaching for the sky. The balance required in this pose also builds confidence and focus. Tree Pose can be very empowering for kids.”
Have your child begin in Mountain Pose with their feet hip-distance apart. Ask them to feel the connection to the earth. Putting their weight in one foot and bend the other leg at the knee, placing the heel on either the ankle or upper thigh of the standing leg. Press the standing thigh against the foot bringing energy to the midline.
“With a clear and calm mind, Downward-Facing Dog reenergizes the body, which is great to practice when you need a little more energy to help you get through those long homework sessions,” says Ashley Goldberg, founder and owner of Born Yoga Studio in Birmingham, Michigan.
Start on hands and knees with knees two fists apart, directly below the hips and hands planted below the shoulders with fingers stretched out and pointing toward the top of the mat. Take a big breath in and tuck your toes under. As you slowly breathe out, begin to lift the knees off of the mat and your bottom toward the ceiling. Keep your head down and relax your neck.
“Children automatically feel the power and strength of this pose as it boosts confidence and creates an overall good feeling inside and out,” Goldberg says.
Stand to face the long edge of your mat with your feet spread wide apart. Turn your right ankle so that your toes are pointing to the front of your .mat, bend the right knee while keeping the left leg straight. Extend your arms out in a T-Shape and gaze toward your right hand. In this pose, create your own affirmation, such as “I Am Strong,” and say it out loud. Hold for 3–5 breaths and change sides.
“This pose helps to calm the nervous system,” Goldberg says. “Creating a calm, present mind and body is needed in order to face new back-to-school schedules, homework and other unexpected changes that may occur.”
Sit down with the left or right side of your body as close as possible to a wall. Begin to lower your back, shoulders and head to the floor and sweep your legs up to the wall, flexing your feet as if you were holding up the ceiling above you. Get your bottom as close to the wall as you can. Stretch your arms out like a “T” or place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Close your eyes and begin to listen to the sound of your breath. Challenge yourself to stay here for 3–5 minutes. To come out of this pose, sweep the legs down to the left or the right and slowly sit up.
For back to school jitters, Jessica Phillips Lorenz, certified children’s yoga teacher at Bend and Bloom Yoga, of Brooklyn, New York recommends “big physical movement.” “Keep it playful! The idea is to have fun while burning off a little steam,”Lorenz says.
Get creative. Try yoga jumping jacks or a couple of sun salutations to a Taylor Swift song, she suggests. “Tweens enjoy creating their own vinyasa flow. They can cut out five photos from Yoga Journal and decide which order to put them in. Then, they are challenged with flowing the poses together. For younger children, instead of photos of yogis in poses, you can use images of the objects or animals that poses are named for, such as Tree, Cobra and Bridge.”
To help center and releax her young students, Lorenz says, “I like to prompt my students in subtle ways to help build mindfulness skills.”
Start with Child’s Pose. Extend your arms out in front and gently “spider” or “piano” walk your fingers all the way to the right side of the mat, back again, and then to the left. “This is a great time to offer [kids] a prompt,” Lorenz says. “‘Notice how the floor feels under your fingers. Is it cold? Or warm? Does it feel smooth or rough? Whatever you notice—is just what you notice.’”
Erika Prafder is a veteran writer and product reviewer for The New York Post and the author of a book on entrepreneurship. A long-time yoga enthusiast and Hatha yoga teacher, she edits KidsYogaDaily.com, a news source for young yogis. The working mother of three resides in a beach community in Long Island, New York.