Practice with your family: Yoga therapy tips to relieve stress at home
By Kim Searl
Imagine yourself as a child, not feeling safe at school. Being a kid in the modern world can be tough, with challenges ranging from bullying—cyber and not—to terrorism. Then press pause, and our whole world is under attack by a viral pandemic that affects us all. Parents are finding themselves navigating their own fears while trying to create safety and security for their families.
Not sure whether your child is coping well? Obvious signs of a poor response to stress might be changes in eating habits or appetite, headache, new or recurrent bedwetting, nightmares, sleep disturbances, upset digestion or vague stomach pain, or other physical symptoms with no underlying illness.
Sometimes the signs of unmanaged stress are more subtle, though, so it’s a good idea to take proactive steps to build resilience regardless of how you think your kids might be handling a tough situation.
As a yoga therapist, I’ve been using a few simple methods to help families boost their resilience to stress.
1. Fun movement: Lay some yoga mats or beach towels out in a circle. Jog around the outside of the circle in one direction. (This one works with two or more people* and kids up to grade 4.)
The person who is “it” calls out FREEZE! and everyone stops. Then the same person calls out MELT! and everyone becomes a puddle on the floor. The same person next asks everyone to
GROW BACK UP into their choice of shape—a tree, a mountain, a chair…Then someone else gets to be “it”: Start again, jogging around the circle in the opposite direction.
Afterward, have a brief rest on the mat where everyone pretends to be still and quiet like a mummy.
2. Creating space: “Bee breath” is a great yogic technique for creating some alone space even when there are other noises and distractions around.
Place your index fingers on your ears as if to plug them. As you inhale, close your lips. Exhale, humming Nnnnn as loudly or as softly as you like. This sounds like bees buzzing and is a great way to briefly block out the noise and distractions of the outside world.
3. A moment of stillness: Designate a silent hour in your home every day.
With no electronics running (yes, this includes the washing machine and dryer!), have everyone put their mobile devices in a basket, turn the TV off, and so on. Let the house fall quiet. Listen to the sounds in the house, outside the house, and inside your own body.
Or let the kids join in while you do your own practice! A client who’s been doing virtual yoga therapy with me during stay-at-home orders describes her experience, which isn’t the same as a solo session but brings its own rewards:
Today’s yoga practice is exactly what I needed.
I had my 4-year-old in the living room with me during the practice. Yes, she talked to me and she did [the practices] with me for about 7 minutes. I still got so much out of today’s practice. It calmed and relaxed me after a day full of questions that only a 4-year-old would think to ask.
Afterward, my daughter asked if she could lay on the blanket I had been laying on—she had me cover her up and told me to breathe with her. She was watching, taking it all in, and learning the whole time I was practicing. This wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t forced to be at home with her.
Connecting with your family through yoga and play can be an enriching and rewarding experience. Many children rarely have the opportunity to explore “inward/within” themselves, and it is a great gift for a parent to model self-regulation and self-care skills—especially during a pandemic.
Kimberly A. Searl, MS, C-IAYT, practices yoga therapy in Monroe, Michigan, to support clients with autism, chronic pain, and trauma. She also works to bring mindfulness to schools. Find her on Instagram, Facebook, and the TEDx stage.
*If you had two people playing, you could put down extra mats/towels, or run around the outside of a room or the dining table for a larger running area. There is space for lots of creativity in all of these techniques!