Children and grownups that enjoy city-living often spend most of their day in crowded, loud and overstimulating environments. Just try a rush-hour commute on the subway or visit a school cafeteria at lunch time and notice what happens to your nervous system. It can be difficult to calm down and find some peace in the midst of all the chaos but that is precisely why yoga and mindfulness practices are important and beneficial for all of us.
"Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of these things and still be calm in your heart." - Unknown
But it is not always easy to settle directly into relaxation, especially for children. We need to provide a mindful transition to channel the energy from frenetic to calm in an interesting way so children can respond with curiosity rather than resistance.
Read on to learn our top three methods for transitioning to relaxation.
Looking for ways to quiet your nervous system and create calm and stillness?
Try our Top 3 Transition Techniques!
Transition 1 - Conscious Breathing
Our breath is the #1 way to trigger a relaxation response in our nervous system. You might ask "But I breathe all the time....why am I not relaxed?" The relaxation response is triggered when we bring our conscious awareness to our breathing and allow our attention to deepen and slow our breathing pattern.
By mentally observing the quality, length, sensation, frequency of our breathing, we move ourselves into the present moment and can regulate our emotional state by regulating our breathing. The more we practice conscious breathing, the easier it becomes to drop into relaxation, even during times of stress and anxiety.
Try this: Deep Conscious Breathing
Sit comfortably with a long spine or lie down on your back. Place one hand one your belly at your low ribs and one hand on your chest. Breath in deeply, feeling your belly, ribs and lungs expand. Breathe out slowly feeling your ribs and chest relax and your belly contract. Continue breathing, keeping your eyes open to follow along with the video below or gently closing your eyes to bring your attention inward.
It takes only a couple minutes of deep breathing to alter our physical and emotional state and you can do it anywhere!
Transition 2 - Get Physical
Sometimes, when we are breathing to calm, we may start to feel tension in our body. It was probably there all along, a natural response to a stimulating or stressful environment, but we didn't notice it until we turned our attention inward.
We physicalize our emotions all the time. Do you ever clench your jaw when you are angry or frustrated? Do you slouch when you are uncomfortable or unsure? Do you tense your shoulders toward your ears when you are worried or anxious? Do you feel your heartbeat race when you are nervous or scared?
All of these are normal and often unconscious responses to stress. By releasing physical tension, we can find deeper and more beneficial relaxation.
Try this: Cobra Breathing
Lie on your belly with your forehead on the floor and your palms on the floor under your shoulders. Your elbows will be pointing up toward the ceiling. Bring your legs together like a cobra tail, with the tops of your feet flat on the floor and reach your toes behind you. Breathe in and lift your head, shoulders and chest away from the floor without putting much weight into your hands (use your back muscles). Breathe out and slowly relax your torso and head back to the floor. Continue this movement as you breathe slowly and deeply as possible.
Try this: Tighten / Release
This can be done standing, seated or lying down. Breathe in through your nose and tighten/clench all your muscles starting at your feet and working up through legs, hips, belly, hands, arms, shoulders to your ears, jaw and face. Squeeze and tighten as much as you can. Breathe out through your mouth and completely release letting all your muscles relax at once. Repeat a few times until your feel your body is soft, relaxed and heavy.
Transition 3 - Focus Awareness
We have addressed our emotional and physical states and are ready to relax! But then our mind starts racing, reviewing our to-do lists, rehashing a conversation from earlier or simply daydreaming. The more we try to quiet, the louder our mind becomes. Try focusing your mind on your breathing, counting your breaths. Or you can focus your awareness on something external to occupy the mind.
Sound is a wonderful tool to focus our mind. When leading relaxation with children, invite them to close their eyes and "turn on" their ears. Ring a chime or singing bowl and ask them to see if they can follow the sound. You can also use your voice as a focal point by sharing a guided meditation or visualization. Try our Floating Raft Relaxation or come up with your own!
Try this: Sound Meditation
Sit comfortably, lie down, or lean against the wall, making your body very still and comfortable. Close your eyes, be very quiet. Open your ears wide and listen to any sounds you can hear that are far away. Maybe in another room or even outside. Don't worry about what the sound is, just notice it. Bring your hearing closer and listen for the sounds that are in this building. Bring your hearing closer and listen for the sounds that are in this room. Bring your hearing even closer and listen to the sounds of your body. Listen to your body - it has a lot to say.
We are all individuals and an important part of mindfulness practice is self-inquiry. Experiment and find a method that works well for you. You could choose to do one or all three transitional components. If you are using more than one, play around with the order until it feels right for you.
Remember, children will respond naturally and instinctively to mirror your state. If you want them to calm, start by calming yourself.
What are your favorite ways to transition to peace and stillness? We would love to hear from you!