During a 900-hour yoga therapy training, I learned many techniques to help adults and kids with anxiety. Over and over again, I would realize that specific yoga tools presented were actually YogaKids poses or techniques. YogaKids founder Marsha Wenig had incredible vision and insight into how to help children, and her program has helped thousands of children and families since she first began teaching over thirty years ago. Marsha once shared with me that she met with a gifted intuitive who told her she would have thousands of children. his prediction came to fruition as Marsha has helped so many children and families with her life-changing techniques and tools to move through life with not only ease, but abundant joy.
“I am so stressed” is a common phrase heard daily from kids grade school to college as children deal with demanding schedules, pressure to excel and are bombarded with social media and technology. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that over 30% of adolescents have experienced some kind of anxiety disorder and an estimated 8.3% have had severe impairment. Symptoms and signs of anxiety can include fatigue, muscle tension, sadness, restlessness, loss of interest, agitation, tiredness, feeling nervous, disturbance in sleep or appetite, increased breathing rate, excessive worry and restlessness. Causes of anxiety include: school demands and frustrations, negative thinking, changes in body, problems with friends, not enough sleep, taking on too many activities, unsafe living environment, and past trauma.
Anxiety is closely related to fear which is a response to a perceived or real immediate threat. Anxiety is linked to the fight or flight response which stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Stimulation of the SNS can be constructive such as improving sports or test performance or public speaking. Problems arise when the SNS response is too strong, turned on too easily or not turned off when danger is absent.
Behaviors and Techniques to Decrease Stress
Move or exercise regularly. Exercise helps to release endorphins that reduce feelings of anxiety. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is highest in the morning – so scheduling movement first thing in the morning will help to decrease stress.
Eat regularly. “Hangry” is a new term used to describe what may happen when we are hungry. Children, when hungry, may get agitated or angry. A healthy diet should include fresh foods, warm foods, warm water and little or no stimulants like caffeine — especially in the AM. Make eating healthy fun! Check out the YogaKids Bendy Blog for fun and easy recipes that your kids will love like snowman skewers.
Decrease negative self-talk. Negative words have been found to release a stress response. Encourage kids to practice gratitude. A gratitude talk is a great way to end every day, having your kids share or write down experiences from their day that they are thankful for.
YogaKids AM Sequence for Anxiety
This morning sequence starts with energizing poses to discharge anxious energy, and includes a few poses that take a lot of focus to keep students in the present moment. It ends with nurturing calming poses to set them up for a peaceful day.
Volcano – From Mountain pose, bring the fingertips together at the chest. Jump feet apart. With palms together at the heart, breathe in. Watch your hands as you raise them over head. Breathe out as you explode arms outward. Lower arms to your sides and return hands to heart. Erupt and release again and again and make loud volcano sounds. Repeat at least 4 times.
Brave Warrior (Virabhadrasana II) – Stand with feet wide apart, arms parallel to the floor, and front foot at 90 degrees with knee bent over the ankle. Keep the back foot turned slightly in. Say, “I am brave!”
Bold Warrior (Virabhadrasana I) – From Brave Warrior, turn your hips toward the front leg, keeping the leg bent. Raise arms straight above the head and say, “I am bold!”
Powerful Warrior (Virabhadrasana III) – From Bold Warrior, shift weight onto the front leg, pick up the back foot and leg and stretch it behind you. Keep both legs as straight and strong as possible. Stretch arms forward and say, “My own power I can hold!” Repeat the Warrior series the opposite side.
Shake Like Jelly – Shake like jelly. Shake all over. Go crazy. Jiggle, wiggle, and giggle.
Ragdoll Ann and Ragdoll Andy – Hang out in a forward bend. Breathe in and feel your whole body lighten. Breathe out and fold yourself in half, bending from the hips. Loosen your neck and let your head and arms hang down. To come up, place your hands on your tailbone and inch your fingers up your spine, feeling the bumpy vertebrae as you slowly straighten back up to standing. Repeat at least 4 times.
Eyes Around the Clock – Imagine a clock hanging in front of your eyes. Move your eyes from 12 to 6 and back to again. Look right to left from 3 to 9 and back. Look diagonally from 1 to 7 and back, then 11 to 5. 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. Try to keep your head still and move only your eyes.
Child’s Pose – From heel-sitting pose, open knees a little, so the belly relaxes between the thighs. Bend at the hips and fold forward, letting the shoulders drop down and the arms lie back along the sides of the legs with open palms facing upward. Place forehead on the floor. Rock back and forth. Take at least 5 breaths.
Peace Breath – Close your eyes. Relax your face muscles. Let your skin drape over your bones like a soft blanket. Breathe in. Breathe out and whisper the word “peace.” Do this 3 to 6 times. As you say the word, feel the peace inside you. Send peace to the animals, trees and plants. Send peace to your family and friends. Send peace to countries in the world that are at war. Send peace to all the people you love.
O is for OM – Sing the sound “Ommm.” Feel the Om dance throughout your body and throat, bringing a sense of happiness and peace. Repeat at least 3 times.
YogaKids Bedtime Sequence for Anxiety
This evening sequence releases tension in the spine, calms the nervous system and ends with a gentle technique to leave children feeling focused but very calm.
Sunrise Sunset – From kneeling, interlace the fingers above the head and stretch the palms up. Exhale and drop your hips to the right as the arms drop left like the sun setting. Inhale and arc the arms overhead like the rising sun and drop them to the right as the hips sit left like the sun setting. Repeat 4 times.
Moo and Meow – From all 4’s, arch the spine to the sky and inhale, exhale and round the back as you meow. Repeat at least 4 times.
Child’s Pose – From heel Sitting pose, open knees a little, so the belly relaxes between the thighs. Bend at the hips and fold forward, letting the shoulders drop down and the arms lie back along the sides of the legs with open palms facing upward. Place forehead on the floor. Rock back and forth. Take at least 5 breaths.
Swim Ducky Swim – Lie down on your back. Place a rubber ducky on your belly. Breathe gently in (your belly button rises) and out (your belly button sinks down.) Give your ducky a slow and gentle ride with your breathing. Keep the focus on the exhale breath, and try to lengthen it gently. Continue for 2-5 minutes.