Finding Calm through Yoga

By Mia Girard, TLC Occupational Therapist & YogaKids Instructor

During my routine Monday morning yoga class, I was reminded that my favorite part of practice is savasana. To me, this final pose is like a delicious dessert, something to savor at the end of a really yummy meal. I found myself lying there thinking about springtime, change, and new beginnings, and wishing I could recruit and share this fantastic, relaxed, connected, and organized feeling whenever I so desire!  The spring is a time of year full of transitions for myself, my family and also the kids that I work with at the TLC Learning Center.  Savasana, such a nourishing, sweet, soul-satisfying pose, helps me feel as though I can take on anything that life dishes my way! 

Finding Peace in a Busy Schedule

So then, after class, I began to think about how I can accomplish this task, using yoga like the YogaKids pledge reminds us: “anytime, anywhere to calm myself, energize myself, and make myself feel better.” I am reminded of my most difficult time of day, the after-work pre-dinner time frame when I am running low on patience, life gets briefly super busy, and my sensory system is most sensitive and fragile. Doesn’t it seem like everyone needs a bit of you then? To help with homework, answer the phone, cook dinner, pick up a something at the store, go through the mail, see who is at the door, answer a text message, etc.? Sometimes I feel as though if one more person needs my attention I am either going to run for the hills or cry like a baby. Not a very pretty picture, is it?  As an occupational therapist I am more aware than most of my sensory system; what calms and soothes it when I am frenzied, what alerts it when I am drowsy, and what disturbs it and sends me into a fight or flight response. Most of the time I have enough wits about me to remember my strategies: take a break for a minute or two, spritz myself in a calming essential oil mist, do some alternate nostril breathing, a forward fold, a sun salutation or two. While I might not be able to enjoy savasana at this time there are other yoga poses and tools that I can access to find the serenity within me. I have ways to regroup and re-enter my world with a refreshed mind, an open heart, and a calmer sensory system.  

Sharing Calming Choices with Children

Not all children are able to do this. In fact, many are not. One of my favorite things about YogaKids is that it gives us the opportunity to teach children about the art of self-regulation – the ability to calm or energize to meet the demands of the environment at that moment. More and more often children need strategies to learn how to calm and center themselves. While we adults may have developed many strategies without even being aware of them, children benefit from learning strategies from us! So maybe in my kitchen in the evenings, I can more openly share that I am about to enter into a fight or flight response, and communicate with my family what I am doing when I start my ‘Finger Flowers’ deep breathing and why it helps me! Maybe I create a spot on my fridge or wall for pictures or hand-written sticky notes of my favorite calming choices to remind myself and empower my family to build upon and use them!  

So put on your detective spectacles over the course of a day or so and see what your children do to calm themselves. Do they rock in a rocking chair, chew gum, take a bath, swing on the swing set, ask for a hug? From their choices, see what you can glean to enrich the sensory opportunities they are seeking and expand upon them. For example, if they like rocking chairs think of yoga poses that involve rocking like Rocking Horse or Rock ‘n Roll. Do you own a child-sized rocking chair, and might this be a perfect gift at a birthday? If they self-regulate through the use of their mouth, consider if deep breathing through Take 5, Finger Flowers, or Polar Bear Pose might be good choices for them. If they like the warmth and feel of being in a bath, try offering them a 2-3 pound heated and scented rice pack as a strategy to calm. In your time with your child, notice what helps him or her to settle down.  Share these observations with your child so that you have encouraged the ability to self-regulate within AND outside of the coziness of your home.  Empower children to develop for themselves the art of self-regulation!

Finger Flowers

Finding Inner Peace: Calming Choice Boards

By Mia Girard, TLC Occupational Therapist and YogaKids instructor

Transitions are difficult for everyone, kids and adults alike. It's hard to transition to something new – a new schedule, new school, new job, new season, new whatever! While it can be exciting, it can also be a bit anxiety-producing and unnerving.  This is especially true for small children, who often don't know what to expect from a new experience, new face, or just a new activity sequenced in the day's normal events.

Calming choice post-it's to pick from in stressful situations.

Calming choice post-it's to pick from in stressful situations.

During my routine Monday morning yoga class, I was reminded that my favorite part is savasana. To me, this final pose is like a delicious dessert, something to savor at the end of a really yummy meal. I found myself lying there thinking about transitions and all that is new to my family and the kids that I work with, and wishing that I could recruit and share this fantastic, relaxed, connected and organized feeling whenever I so desire!  Savasana -- such a nourishing, sweet, soul-satisfying pose. It helps me feel as though I can take on anything that life dishes my way!

After class, I began to think about how I can accomplish this task using yoga like the YogaKids pledge reminds us: “anytime, anywhere to calm myself, energize myself, and make myself feel better.” I am reminded of my most difficult time of day: the after-work, pre-dinner time-frame when I am running low on patience, life gets briefly super-busy, and my sensory system is most sensitive and fragile.

Doesn’t it seem like everyone needs a bit of you right then? To help with homework, answer the phone, cook dinner, pick up something at the store, go through the mail, see who is at the door, answer a text message, etc.? Sometimes I feel as though if one more person needs my attention, I am either going to run for the hills or scream like a baby.

A calming-choice board in the Yogakids classroom.

A calming-choice board in the Yogakids classroom.

Not a very pretty picture, is it? Most of the time, I have enough wits about me to remember my strategies: take a break for a minute, spritz myself in a calming essential oil mist, do some alternate nostril-breathing, a forward-fold, a sun salutation... While I might not be able to enjoy savasana at this time, are there other yoga poses and tools that I can access to find the serenity within me? Ah, yes!  And these help me regroup and re-enter my world with a refreshed mind, an open heart, and a calmer sensory system.  

Not all children are able to do this. In fact, many are not. One of my favorite things about YogaKids is that it gives us the opportunity to teach children about the art of self-regulation, the ability to calm or energize to meet the demands of the environment at any moment. More and more often, children need strategies to learn how to calm themselves. How can I help my kids learn them?

One way is to more openly share when I am about to enter into a fight-or-flight response. This allows me to communicate with my family what I am trying to accomplish when I dive into a forward-fold! Another way is to create a choice board: a place for pictures or hand-written sticky notes of choices. In this case, calming choices that work for both myself and the others in my family.

I often use choice boards at work with the children and within classrooms as I find that the visual reminder can help more than a verbal cue to remember strategies. After all, when I am nearing a fight-or-flight moment, the last thing I want is for someone to suggest I calm down! With a visual reminder of options for calming choices, it empowers rather than recommends a choice. The key is making sure that the pictures or choices used on the board will work.

How do you know what will work? Put on your detective spectacles over the course of a day or so. See what your children do to calm themselves. Do they rock in a rocking chair, chew gum, take a bath, swing on the swing set, ask for a hug? From their choices, see what you can glean to enrich the sensory opportunities they are seeking and expand upon them.

A few calming yogakids pose choices

A few calming yogakids pose choices

For example, if they like rocking chairs, think of yoga poses that involve rocking, like Rocking Horse or Rock ‘n Roll.  If they self-regulate through the use of their mouths, consider deep breathing through Take 5, Breezing, or Sitali Breath. If they like the warmth and feel of being in a bath, try a 2-3 pound heated and scented rice pack as a strategy to calm.

Depending upon what you find that works, creating a calming choice board for your home (or your classes) can empower children to develop for themselves the art of self-regulation.

The Power of a Pledge: Yoga with Kids

by Mia Girard, TLC YogaKids instructor and Occupational Therapist

Maya Angelou once said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I love this quote and want people to remember from my interactions with them that I made them feel good on some level. Often I am reminded of this quote as I am planning and teaching my YogaKids classes, thinking of ways to help my YogaKids feel confident, celebrated, and validated in a memorable way.

For me, the YogaKids pledge is an important part of how I create a loving, safe and memorable community within my classes. I make a point to recite the pledge with the kids regularly. I find that it not only has special meaning for me, but also special meaning for them. For me, its importance lies in the fact that it delineates some of the expectations of our class, as well as the overall purpose for participating. For the kids, it becomes a consistent and routine activity that they can anticipate and participate in. It allows them to feel purposefully connected to the class, to their peers, to me, and to people and things in their world.

I also feel it is important to live by the pledge myself. If I simply treat the kids as the pledge suggests, I see that I have made them feel celebrated and honored in a memorable way. This is my job as a YogaKids teacher and I find it extremely important. As an Occupational Therapist, my classes include children of all abilities and our pledge has morphed and changed as the need arises. The pledge is as follows: 

  • I believe in myself.
  • I love and honor my body. 
  • I will do my personal best.
  • I will stay on my mat to keep us all safe.
  • I will be kind and gentle to myself and others. 
  • I can use yoga anytime, anywhere to calm myself, energize myself, and make myself feel better. 

I have found that if I treat children in a way that honors and shows fidelity to this pledge, they not only remember me but more importantly, the pledge and the connectedness that we share in yoga. After all, yoga means to join together or unite. So, for me, the pledge is: 

  • I believe in them.
  • I love and honor their bodies. 
  • I acknowledge them doing their personal best (often).
  • I help to keep us all safe in class.
  • I am kind and gentle to myself, the children, and others.
  • I model and teach them to use yoga anytime, anywhere to calm themselves, energize themselves, and to help them feel better!

I remember realizing the meaning and importance of the pledge years ago in one of my first YogaKids sessions. One of my students was a beautiful child with cerebral palsy. She had limited use of her legs and feet and yet participated beautifully with modifications in every aspect of the class whether it was balancing poses, or Michaelangelo's Drawing with My Feet activity.

Her mother shared with me that one day she found her daughter upstairs with her dolls, playing. The girl had arranged her dolls in a circle just like the one we sit in during YogaKids, and was pretending they were in the midst of a YogaKids class. She picked up one doll, moved it gently up and down as if giving it life and movement, and said "I believe in myself.” She then picked up another doll, moved it up and down and said  "I love and honor my body.”  She continued this way, until the dolls had recited the entire pledge, word for word.

To hear that she incorporated the pledge into pretend play with her dolls made me realize that she felt connected, comfortable, and confident in our class. While her body presented her with significant challenges, she was able to rise above that and, at least in those moments, love and honor her body, her grace, and her beauty. When children bring yoga home and practice off the mat, it validates for me the connection between our classes, the YogaKids pledge, and Maya Angelou's quote, that "people will never forget how you made them feel." I hope that all children who take a YogaKids class leave feeling as strong and good as that little girl.

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TLC offers YogaKids classes throughout the year for all full-day preschool students, and as an after-school enrichment class for children up to age 12. To learn about TLC's programs for children eight weeks - 6 years old or YogaKids after-school program, call TLC at (303)776-7417.