Children today are busier than ever. This morning, my 9 year old son woke up early, ate breakfast, went to school for 7 hours, had a snack, played outside with a friend, rushed to lacrosse practice, ate dinner, got ready for bed, read a few pages in his favorite book and then went to sleep. Oh yeah, he also had to squeeze time to complete his homework and study for an upcoming spelling test!
While sitting at the kitchen table, he was very frustrated after a long day at school and the last thing he wanted to do was review his spelling words. Sensing his frustration, though cliché, I advised him to take a few deep breaths, walk away, build something with his Legos (to redirect his thoughts) and then come back to the table five minutes later.
When he returned, we practiced Take 5 Breath together and repeated it five times. Deep breathing helps to relax the nervous system as well as oxygenate the brain. Children are in their optimum state for learning when they are both relaxed and alert. Now that he was more relaxed with his mindful breathing, it was time to awaken his mind. We started to do Punching Bag Pose, punching our hands across our bodies all the way to the floor, then back up again. Crossing the mid-line of the body helps the left and right sides of the brain to communicate. Bending forward not only has a natural calming affect on the body, but taking the head below the heart, helps to get more freshly oxygenated blood to the brain. We then balanced on one foot in Tree Pose to help focus the mind. We concluded with some Eyes Around The Clock making big eye rolls in one direction and then the other direction, to continue to awaken the mind. One more deep breath together and he was ready to tackle his spelling words.
It does not always work and there is not magic formula for homework time to run smoothly every day. Sometimes children (and even adults) are just too tired or emotional to come back to a place of being both relaxed and alert. But as we practice these skills with our children, they begin to learn them on their own and they can begin to regulate their own energies. When my 10 year old daughter, who has been exposed to yoga most of her life, gets annoyed with her brothers, she begins to breathe deeper and knows it will naturally calm her down. What a great tool for our children to have! And by the way…these poses work to help calm and focus adults too!
Take 5: Sit cross-legged. Lift one finger at a time as you breathe in through your nose and count in your mind: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Pause for a second with your hand up. Slowly breathe out through your nose and count backward – 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, putting down one finger at a time for each number. Repeat.
Punching Bag Pose: Sit comfortably on your heels or cross-legged. Clench your hands and form fists. In tandem with your breath, punch across your body one arm at a time, like you were swinging at an imaginary punching bag. Stay focused, as your head and eyes turn from side to side watching the punch of the arms. Try to keep the punching action at shoulder height.
Tree: Begin in Mountain Pose. Lift one foot and press your foot against the inside of your other leg. You can use your hand to place your foot anywhere between your ankle and inner thigh. Avoid the knee joint. As your balance gets stronger, you’ll be able to raise your foot higher up your leg. Bring your hands to your chest, palms together in Namaste position. Then raise your arms up above your head. Stretch them out wide, like the branches of a tree. Separate your fingers. Balance and breathe. Now repeat on the other side.
Eyes Around the Clock: Use this technique anytime you need to soothe and rest your eyes.Take any seated position. Rub your hands together until they feel hot, then place the palms of your hands over your eyes. Let them soak up the heat. Keep your fingers close together so no light comes through. You can keep your eyes closed or open. Imagine a clock hanging in front of your eyes. Move your eyes to each position around the clock like this:
- Look up and down, from twelve o’clock to six o’clock and back to twelve o’clock;
- Look right to left from three o’clock to nine o’clock and back to three o’clock;
- Look diagonally from one o’clock to seven o’clock and back to one o’clock;
- Look from eleven o’clock to five o’clock and back to eleven o’clock.
- Now start at twelve o’clock and look at each number around the face of the clock.
Then, start again at twelve o’clock and move in the opposite direction. Circle the cock clockwise three times, then reverse. Try to keep your head still and move only your eyes.