In Kids with Anxiety Part1: The Breath, I gave some ideas about how to use breathing techniques to help a child who has anxiety. Breathing practices are one part of yoga. When we say the word “yoga,” most people think about the poses, but there are actually 8 main parts (limbs) of yoga. Breath (pranayama) is one limb and the poses (asana) are another. In another post, I’ll explain all 8 limbs of yoga. In this post, I will discuss yoga poses that, when combined with the breath, can help a child with anxiety.
Connecting movement and breath is what can make yoga a type of meditation. Many call it meditation in motion. Concentrating on the breath while in the pose helps the child to stay in the present moment. If she is only thinking about the future or the past, she is not in the here and now. Bringing the attention to the breath helps her stay in the present. For kids who have anxiety, the movements and poses of asana connected with their breath can help them to settle their minds and break the cycle of worry. To connect the breath and the pose, the child can take a certain number of breaths in the pose feeling her belly rise and fall or move from one pose to another using her breath as a guide for her movement.
Lots of poses can help a child with anxiety. He should find something that feels comfortable while still stretching his body. It’s this combination of ease and effort that makes yoga so wonderful for the body and mind! The following are some suggested poses.
Easy Seated Pose
Many kids call this pose “criss cross applesauce.” The picture is my son J who has a form of autism. Ideally, he would be sitting up straight for easy pose, but the important thing is that he’s doing yoga. He’s sitting still and he’s breathing. He’s out in nature and he’s happy. This is great!
Jaxson has his hands in anjali mudra (at heart center), but the hands could be in any number of mudras (I’ll discuss these in another post) or even just resting on the legs. Comfort and stillness are the main objective. Thirty seconds to 3 minutes of stillness and breath would be ideal! If your child can sit longer, that’s great too!
Downward Facing Dog
Downward dog (down dog) is an upside down V. The child presses her whole palm into the floor while keeping her legs as straight as possible without hyper-extending the knees and pressing her heels toward (but not on) the floor.
This pose stretches lots of different muscles. If the child needs to move in the pose, she can walk her dog by pressing one heel toward the floor while bending the opposite knee and then switching with the breath. Tying the breath to this movement can help the child to stay in her body and out of her anxious mind.
Warrior 1 & 2
Warrior 1 and warrior 2 work together to form the warrior series. The feet stay firmly planted with the front foot straight ahead and the back foot turned slightly in. The front knee bends until it is directly over the front ankle.
For warrior 1, the hands reach up to the ceiling with the shoulders relaxing down and the ribs are turned over the front leg. The child should take 2-3 full, slow breaths here before moving into warrior 2.
For warrior 2, he turns his ribs so his shoulders are directly over his hips and he is opened out to the side. His arms reach out to the sides and his gaze is turned over his front arm, in the same direction as the bent leg. He should stay here for 2-3 full breaths before switching feet so he can do the warrior series on the other side.
Many children (and adults) find this pose to be quite calming. The big toes should be touching, but not crossed. The knees can be together or apart and the hips are sinking down toward the heels. The forehead is on the floor with the arms stretching forward, wrapped around to touch the heels, or resting on the floor. If her head won’t comfortably reach the floor, a yoga block or rolled blanket can be placed under her forehead. The child can breathe here for several minutes.
The pressure of the forehead on the floor calms the nervous system. Having the head below or even with the heart, lowers the blood pressure to help calm a nervous child.
Legs Up the Wall
This pose is a favorite of many kids (and adults). This is usually the first pose that I can get people to practice at home for two reasons: it feels good and it works!
The child can lay on his back with his legs as flat against the wall as possible. His bottom should be against the wall. If this causes strain in the hamstrings (back of the leg), a block or rolled up blanket can be placed under his lower back. The feet are flexed.
This pose relaxes the nervous system. It can lower the blood pressure and relax the heart rate. And this pose helps with insomnia when done for a few minutes before bed or when waking up in the middle of the night. Many students have found this pose to be quite effective!
Savasana is sometimes called corpse pose, resting pose, or sleeping pose. For this pose, the child lays flat on her back allowing her feet to flop out and her arms to flop away from her sides. She can close her eyes or soften her gaze downward. The main idea with this pose is to relax.
Savasana and easy pose are great for meditation and breath work. In savasana, the child can easily draw her attention to the movements of the belly and chest while breathing. Guided meditation and deep relaxation can be used in these poses as well. (Another article will cover guided meditation and relaxation for kids with Anxiety.)
These poses are great for kids (or adults) with anxiety. Regular, daily practice is the best way to help children who have anxiety. This practice should not be long. Fifteen minutes or so may be ideal, depending on the age of the child.
What poses have you found helpful for your anxiety?