Why we need to teach our children how to relax

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Childhood has seen a marked change over the past 30 years and so too has our children’s mental and physical wellbeing.

We as parents all want our children to live in emotional balance and to show resilience and stability in the face of life’s challenges. We wish for our children to be happy and well-adjusted and much of what we do is motivated by this desire. Whilst our loving presence, our own example and steadfast support contributes greatly, the levels of stress experienced by children today is estimated to have increased 45% over the past 30 years.

Childhood has changed markedly over this time and so too has our children’s mental and physical wellbeing. There is less opportunity for free, unstructured outdoor play, less time for families to prepare nutritious, home-cooked food, a huge increase in sedentary, electronically-mediated entertainment, and far greater exposure to consumer advertising and adult media.

With these changes come a new range of stressors that children today need to learn to manage in order to experience balance and wellbeing.

Some of these new stressors include:

  1. Overstimulation by online activity, gaming, etc. sees children exposed to more experiences, sensations, noise and activity.
  2. Overscheduling means that children have less down-time in which they can relax and unwind.
  3. Having choice and following their own interests is crucial to a child’s development but with children’s lives increasingly directed by adults they may experience tension around a lack of autonomy.
  4. A sedentary lifestyle which provides little opportunity to release physical tension.
  5. An increase in standardised testing in schools provokes considerable anxiety among students that seems to increase with their age and experience.
Educating our children how to manage the mental, emotional and physical stress they face is an important part of their learning.

It is important they know how to effectively and positively manage their stress before it starts to manage them. Teaching children relaxation techniques provides effective coping strategies.

Relaxation techniques are effective in helping to:

  • ease physical tension and restlessness and calm the nervous system
  • gain power over negative thoughts
  • manage anxiety provoking emotions
  • boosts the immune system
  • helps improve sleep
  • supports children’s minds by sharpening concentration

Relaxation techniques to help reduce stress and anxiety:

  1. Meditation gives children of all ages awareness of and power over their thoughts and feelings without supressing them. It aids in developing self-awareness and self-acceptance and in turn builds self-management strategies. The discovery of an internal sense of calm, even amongst the chaos,  leads to greater happiness and wellbeing. Starting with just 30 seconds at a time of ‘watching your thoughts’ and building up from there can be extremely effective.
  2. Yogic breathing exercises help to slow the breathing rate and calm the nervous system. ‘Watching the breath’ and feeling all the sensations in the nose, throat, belly etc or ‘counting the breath’ up to ten breaths and repeating helps to build concentration and can become a complete meditation in themselves. Placing the hands on the belly can also provide a focal point and helps to ensure deep breathing into the belly is maintained throughout.
  3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation or Yoga Nidra both help to release physical tension from the muscles, lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. It is a great technique to use before going to bed to ensure a restful night’s sleep. Invite your child to close their eyes and breathe slowly as you name parts of the body/muscle groups, inviting each part to tense up for a few seconds before releasing and relaxing. Start with the feet, legs, hips, belly and chest, then move on to the hands, arms, shoulders and neck and then finally the back, neck, throat, face and head. You can also use a visualization of healing, loving light that pours into each part of the body as you name it. This exercise also helps to keep the mind focused and away from negative thoughts and feelings that can cause wakefulness.
  4. Legs Up The Wall pose. Lie down on the floor or on the bed and lift your legs up onto the wall, so your back lays flat on the floor, your buttocks are at the juncture of the floor and the wall, and your legs are up the wall. This yoga pose is known as a ‘cure all’ and is perfect for calming the nervous system, slowing down the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.
  5. Hot Water Bottle. Taking a hot water bottle to bed can warm the body and allow it to relax more easily. I also encourage my children to lay it on the belly, encouraging better digestion which can be an issue for nervous tummies.
  6. Visualization. There are some great guided visualizations for kids in the form of books or audio CD’s. Some of our favourite scripts which I love to read to my children before bed have come from the book Nightlights  by David Fontana . The CD Indigo Ocean Dreams by Lori Lite also makes lovely listening for younger children.
  7. Music. Actively listening to or drawing to soothing music helps to focus the attention on the senses and away from negative thinking.
Children who are taught some of the above techniques who recognise that stress is a part of life, and that there are strategies to help them cope with challenges positively and effectively, will develop into healthier teenagers and adults, physically, mentally and emotionally. By teaching them some of the techniques listed above we are setting them up for life.
If you have  a Tween that would benefit from learning some of these skills and so much more you may enjoy the upcoming Resilience For Tweens and their Parents Workshop I am hosting on May 24th In Melbourne, Australia.
Resiliency helps our children navigate the inevitable hurdles, challenges and triumphs of childhood and adolescence. Resilient kids also become resilient adults, able to survive and thrive in the face of life’s unavoidable stressors.
This workshop offers a unique opportunity to connect with your tween and explore resilience together using art and yoga in a fun, gentle, supportive environment. You do not need any previous yoga or creative experience to be a part of this workshop.  You do however need to bring a sense of curiosity and a willingness to spend some precious, uninterrupted time with your child exploring new terrain.
More info over here...
Michelle Seelig is the proud mother of 2 creative, courageous girls and has worked in health and well-being for 25 years. She is a qualified Yoga Teacher, Health Coach and an artist with a Masters degree in Art Therapy. Using art, yoga and coaching practices in her workshops Michelle combines her skills and insights to deliver a unique, creative and transformative experience.

Mindful Benefits Of A Digital Detox

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It is called a web for a reason and without some mindful awareness of its entrapment it is not just our time that gets tangled up but also our minds.

The other day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across a link to a great piece in the New York Times. I jumped across to the lengthy article and had a read. Once I’d finished I returned to Facebook, pausing to read some things in more depth, skimming over others, and leaving comments here and there.

Sound familiar? I am sure this is a typical snapshot of all of our social media interactions.  We flit seamlessly from one thing to another. This is true of most of our online activity. Social media aside, web-surfing lures us from one interesting site to another and I even find just answering emails takes me into the maze. It is called a web for a reason and without some mindful awareness of its entrapment it is not just our time that gets tangled up but also our minds. A single interaction can agitate the mind enough to cause an entire avalanche. You find yourself snowed under with streams of open tabs to come back to and a mind that has travelled far and wide and has lost track of where it was.

The risk here is that our minds are becoming conditioned to being constantly stimulated and eternally engaged. Our minds are presented with fewer and fewer inbuilt opportunities to sit still and be quiet. The previously uninhabited spaces in our lives are now filled in, filled up and filled out. The mobile nature of the devices we carry make sure of that. The quiet little windows of time that spontaneously presented themselves – standing in line, sitting in the waiting room, stopped at the lights, waiting at school pick-up time, are fast becoming non-existent. These little gaps left time for us to ponder, daydream, reflect, notice and people watch. These are not activities that we schedule into our day and so by filling this time we go without them. These incidental activities, shall we call them, reward us without warning or fanfare. They provide mental relaxation, some down-time for the mind,  and when they are absent from our lives our mental-hygiene suffers and can leave us feeling constantly distracted and overwhelmed.

Our minds are moving from one thing to another in such quick succession that we don’t have time to digest the information let alone process our emotional responses to it.

Knowing when it’s time for a digital detox.

Our need to constantly ‘check in’ agitates the mind. We struggle to rest in stillness as there is always a task at hand (or more literally in hand). Our minds begin to scan the device-driven to-do list (emails, social media updates, follow-up phone calls etc.) for anything that can occupy our time. Eventually it becomes an unconscious time filler that we reach for in our spare moments. As soon as it becomes an unconscious habit it sits very close to an addiction pattern. This is perhaps a good indication that it is time to switch off and break the cycle.

I took the opportunity over the weekend to turn off all devices and experience life without distraction for a couple of days. I was starting to feel wired and the monkey mind had become a hyped-up beast that was difficult to settle, even during meditation. In the absence of any undue stress or tension I could feel the restlessness building from technology constantly tugging at my skirt tails. I felt that it was time to switch off in order to restore balance and create more space and time. My instinct was to go back to the simplicity I once knew before devices were the norm.

Unplugging was a hugely rewarding way to take a breather. Almost immediately there was a sense of calm that came with feeling there was more time and space for things, not to mention the relief of not being constantly interrupted by a smartphone. Each time the temptation arose to check a device or look something up (like where to eat in a new part of town we were visiting) I refocused my attention on how calm and quiet my mind felt, and how grateful I was to recalibrate in this way.

Taking a little (or a lot) of time away from devices helps to raise awareness around the behaviours that agitate our mind. This experience made me aware of small ways that I can adjust my day-to-day use of technology so as to minimize some of its effects on my mental wellbeing and I have been implementing them ever since.

I highly recommend that you try it for yourself. Once you resist the initial temptation to reach for a device you will be well on your way to discovering a whole new (old) world that leaves you feeling renewed, relaxed and recharged and very much more connected to yourself and the world around you.

Let me know how you go.

Perhaps you have already done a digital detox. What did you discover?
Leave a comment below.

May your week be a centred one.

xM

 

Pear, Almond and Ginger Chia Pudding

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A protein-rich breakfast is an integral part of setting up our mood and energy for the day. This first meal can help stabilise blood sugar levels and  prevent an appetite roller coaster that leads to cravings late in the day and after-dinner snacking.

Mornings are my favourite time of day. A new beginning awaits and this motivates me to start the day well. I love to wake early and squeeze in a bit of ‘me’ time before the rest of the family rises. This, along with a well-balanced breakfast, sets me up well for  the day ahead and helps me sail through the demands of the morning-rush feeling centred and energised.

I love simple, clean flavors to tickle my taste buds awake in the morning. Keep it clean and gentle on the body also by reducing refined sugars, allergens and chemicals in your breakfast.

Today’s recipe features nutritious Chia seeds. They are simply and quickly prepared to create a breakfast pudding that will boost energy, provide Omega-3 fatty acids for healthy brain and nerve function as well as a good dose of anti-oxidants, that help to remove free-radicals from the body. Chia seeds also aid digestion, stabilise blood sugar, and lower cholesterol. They are a good source of Magnesium, the mineral that helps to keep us relaxed. Magnesium is depleted with increased stress levels, reduced sleep, caffeine consumption and regular exercise, so many of us can use an extra dose.

Chia seeds have the ability to absorb 10 times their weight in liquid, creating a unique gel-like pudding. It takes only a couple of steps to prepare and creates a tapioca-like texture.

This gorgeous, delicate pudding can be made the night before and served up to the whole family for breakfast. It can also be portioned out into smaller, transportable jars for a great grab and go breakfast or mid-afternoon snack.

Little note: I always make an extra serve or two of the roast pears (below) as they make a great school lunchbox treat.

Pear, Almond and Ginger Chia Pudding

Makes 2 generous serves.

INGREDIENTS

Chia Pudding:

  • 1/2 cup Chia seeds
  • 2 1/2 cups organic, unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons honey (or other preferred sweetener). I use Leatherwood honey which has gorgeous, floral flavours – but of course any will do.
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Combine almond milk, honey and spices in a bowl or large jar.
2. Add Chia seeds and mix well.
3. Chill in the refrigerator overnight or at least 4 hours to allow the Chia seeds to swell.

light Chia jar

Roast Pears:

  • 1 large organic pear
  • cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F
2. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
3. Slice pear into wedges and remove core.
4. Arrange on tray with skin side down.
5. Sprinkle pear wedges generously with cinnamon.

Chia - Pears on tray
6. Roast in oven until tender, approx 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

Chia - Baked pears

Assemble pudding and pears and top with a sprinkle of slivered almonds.

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Enjoy!