Why we need to teach our children how to relax

relaxing - port mac

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.

the road to feeling (anxiety) free

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When the mind experiences stillness it also experiences spaciousness. Like a blank canvas there is potential and possibility that cannot exist when it is already full.

Thoughts normally spin around in our minds at break-neck speed. They come fast and furious and there is barely even time to recognise where one ends and the next begins, let alone time to process them all.  When we meditate we still the body and focus our mind and individual thoughts come into sharper focus. They start to slow down enough that we can start to separate this mental noise from the quiet that exists in the background. On a good day we may even find that the stretches of time between thoughts expand, and we begin to experience longer stretches of (relative) silence. When this happens the balance of power shifts. The ‘quiet’ that previously provided a backdrop to the thoughts now begins to feature more prominently and starts to take a seat up in the front row.

With longer stretches of silence between our thoughts we gain a sense of more space, and with this comes freedom.

How?

  1. Our mind is less cramped with thoughts.
  2. Our mind is not being dragged around trying to follow the constant flow of changing thoughts.

Freedom can only be found when the mind is unburdened by these restrictions.

By settling the mind the quiet stretches between the thoughts become longer and we are creating an environment of stillness and spaciousness. As with a blank canvas there is potential and possibility that cannot exist when it is already full. A blank canvas holds the potential for new, fresh marks to be made and is free of old conditioning. When our mind is spacious it too becomes open to new possibilities.  We may discover new pathways, new ideas and new solutions. 

Discover the road to freedom for yourself.  Clear some space in your mind on a regular basis-

  • meditate –  to actively quiet the mind
  • practice mindfulness – to create discipline of single-pointed focus
  • do one activity at a time – to reduce overstimulation of the mind
  • carry out a regular breathing practice – to calm the nervous system and give mental clarity

How do you maintain a sense of freedom in your own life? Let me know your thoughts.

xM

Maintaining Balance In A Busy Life

eggshells

I often do this exercise in my yoga classes with both adults and children and I encourage you to try it. It is simple but offers rich insights. It is a balance exercise. Stand with both feet hip width apart, spine tall and now close your eyes. Just notice your feet on the ground and how your weight is distributed. Now, eyes still closed, slowly begin to walk forward as though you are on a tightrope, stepping one foot directly in front of the other, heel to toe. Notice what happens.

What we find of course is that it is very difficult to balance, and the reason that I encourage you to try the activity for yourself, despite what may seem predictable, is so that you can feel the adjustments your body makes as it endeavours to maintain balance.

This physical experience of trying to keep our weight centred teaches us something. Whilst in the process of gripping our toes, wobbling around and using our arms to help stay upright we may learn a valuable life lesson. In the same way that we make adjustments to find physical balance so too we balance our lives -we hover around the centre. The less we overbalance the less likely we are to fall, so the key is to try not to stray so far from your centre that you topple over.

This metaphor is a useful reference point for me and one I come back to often when trying to maintain steadiness amongst life’s unsteady periods.  The first step is to check in with my true priorities and highest values and this helps to remind me where I want my life to be heading in the first place – it resets the course. Life is a constantly changing landscape and we need to keep readjusting the direction we are heading in order to stay on track. We are constantly presented with challenges and choices that guide us closer to or further from our ideal.

The more frequently we examine our bearings, the better chance we have of staying on, if not close to the path that brings us happiness and wellbeing. From this proximity it requires only subtle alterations to get back on track, rather than having to make a complete u-turn or not know how to get back at all. It is similar to a meditation practice where we are aware of the mind’s tendency to wander and so we keep watch, and redirect it back towards the breath as often as is necessary. Some days we are able to stay vigilant and keep re-focussing our attention whilst on other days we may get distracted by thoughts and plans for our day ahead and lose sight of how we intended to use our time on the cushion altogether.

When life feels out of balance it may be time to reconnect with our foundations. We may need to re-evaluate where our own mid-point is located by reassessing how successfully we are balancing work and play, activity and rest, the spiritual and the hedonistic, time with others and time alone, eating for wellness and eating for convenience etc.  This list will be different for everyone  as each of our struggles vary, but if we can become present with where we are at we can usually identify where the imbalances lie.

Balance is an approximate place. It is close to the middle but there is some leeway for error. By trying to live close to the middle most of the time we are less likely to be destabilised by life’s challenges.  If we stop to regularly evaluate where we are in our lives we have a better chance of staying centred and it is around this mid-point that we operate at our optimum, feel happy and experience wellness.