As the school year is beginning here in the southern hemisphere, and I am about to resume all my regular classes and client sessions for the year, I am in the process of thinking about and planning themes for my next term of children’s yoga classes. I have been fielding enquiries and having meaningful discussions with fellow parents regarding such issues as anxiety and sleep issues in children, and the ways in which yoga’s ancient wisdom offers skills and a means to address this modern day phenomenon. With an increasing incidence of children being medicated for anxiety disorders and depression today it is seems that children are lacking the space in their lives to slow down and just breathe.
Children, like adults, need the opportunity to connect with themselves and feel the freedom to just be. They need a safe space to explore without expectation, experiment without judgement and fail without consequence. This space is created when children have plenty of unstructured play time, enabling them to explore their own interests and get lost in a flow that arises when one is totally absorbed in what they are doing. When we step outside of an activity to see how we may be perceived, or we become aware of an audience, the experience becomes less authentic. We are no longer just ‘in’ it. The precious and somewhat precarious flow is broken by positioning ourselves on the outside of the experience, and outside the present moment.
Creating opportunities for our children to have ‘free’ time is fundamental to their wellbeing. As identified by The American Academy Of Pediatrics, it is through play that healthy brain development takes place. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master. This helps to build self-confidence and life skills. Unfortunately our hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities often come at the expense of free child-centered play.
I recently felt the need to address this concern in my own life when, at the start of 2012, my children changed schools. The change was more radical than we had initially realised, and by mid-year we were finding that school commitments were encroaching heavily on our family life as well as onto my children’s after-school play time, which had always been a rich and highly valued part of their day. Life was feeling cramped and the changes we were all experiencing as a consequence did not feel healthy or balanced. These circumstances created the perfect prompt to take some long-overdue time off and put some space back into our lives.
Like most, I had never before been able to take an extended period of time away from life’s commitments. On this occasion however, with a deep and desperate yearning for space and freedom, the stars seemed to align, possibility presented itself, and I did not waste time putting things in motion. We very soon found ourselves at the start of a two month adventure.
Without any real plans in place I set off with my children, drove 2000 kilometres from home and began the challenging and confronting task of detoxing from busyness. Whilst we spent our days exploring the forest, making friends with neighbouring horses and their owners, reading, playing, walking, making, doing yoga, etc. I found initially that I had to consciously remind myself that there were no deadlines, no time limits, no expected outcomes and no goals to reach, except of course the overarching one to let go more and more. Daily yoga and meditation helped me with this adjustment along the way. My children took very little time to adapt to a slower pace and in fact thrived in an environment where there was time to meander and get involved in whatever opportunity arose, and there were many. Our curiosity and creative energies took us on adventures each day and in no time at all the life we were living felt like a true coming home. There was an unrivalled sense of peace and quiet. It was noticeable to all of us that we were feeling so happy and nourished, and we tried not to think about this special time having to ever come to an end.
It was such a treat to be together without life’s endless and seemingly unavoidable distractions constantly calling. We could be completely spontaneous each day and follow whichever road we stumbled upon. There was always enough time to play and daydream, and be together, and be alone. There were lots of imaginary games, conversations and adventures that spontaneously presented themselves and so much more. There were many times along the way that the experience was intense and had its challenging moments, and from these we also really grew.
The two months away were an utter treat for our souls. It was a true lesson in the riches of simplicity. With less complexity and busyness in our lives we experienced new levels of contentment and fulfilment. We were able to reconnect with ourselves and bond deeply with one another.
When the time came we were very sad to leave our private wonderland, but so happy and enriched by the experience of having visited. We had indulged in lashings of unplanned and unstructured time, helped ourselves to an unlimited amount of space and learnt the true value of rest and slow living.
I realised that in the spaciousness my children had learnt techniques for self-care, relaxation and self-fulfilment and I feel that these tools that will help them to navigate life’s challenges with a little more ease.
We all need regular rest for our wellbeing, but no one more than our children. May we indulge them and ourselves a little more regularly and experience the joy that life has to offer.