Diane Hargraves is a qualified yoga teacher who has been practicing yoga for more decades than she would care to talk about. She’s also my stepmother. So I asked her to share her expert opinion on how yoga can help our highly sensitive children – she kindly agreed to share her wisdom. So without further ado, over to Diane.
“Now I may be a little biased. As a teacher and practitioner of yoga and meditation for many years, I have witnessed, first-hand, the benefits of yoga, not only to my own health and happiness but also to other peoples.
In the years that my own children were growing up, I noticed that my son was a child who, I now understand, could have been highly sensitive. He was demanding of attention and was always subdued in other people’s company. When the time came for him to start nursery school, we had a very unhappy little boy who clung to his mother’s legs and did not want to join in. He was overwhelmed with the busy new classroom environment, and we had to deal with tantrums and resistant behaviour on a daily basis. He was exhausted, but wouldn’t sleep and we were frustrated and tired as we pursued avenues of inquiry as to why, what and how to deal with his behaviour.
If I had been aware then, of what I know now, I may have approached things differently.
My son is grown up now, but our daily lives now are even busier and noisier than then. More and more people are turning to yoga and meditation to recapture some peace of mind; and in the world of the highly sensitive, these ancient practices are highly practical ‘tools’ to use at the end of a hectic and stressful day.
There are many techniques children can use to reduce their stress and relax. Depending on the child, some may work better than others but here are 8 basic reasons why yoga and meditation can help a highly sensitive child.
1. Yoga is an active way of calming the body and mind, connecting with the nervous system through simple awareness of the breath.
2. It’s as simple as breathing. By using some tried and tested breathing techniques a child can experience a sense of slowing down or calming. Try this simple one:
“Breathe in deeply through your nose, then release your breath slowly- like a pressure cooker making a pssssss sound bringing the teeth together.”
Not only does this breathing exercise help calm a child down, it’s fun too – especially if you weave a story into the exercise.
3. Yoga can calm a child’s busy mind. A skilled teacher can guide an individual or small group through a mindful practice, taking a child’s focus away from sensory input around them to focus their attention inward. This helps create calm in a highly sensitive child’s often too busy mind.
4. Yoga is fully inclusive and not at all competitive – a child does not need to be physically fit or have good hand-eye co-ordination. Highly sensitive children often do not enjoy team or contact sports and yoga provides a great alternative.
5. Yoga is fun! In a small group combining fun with exercise really works. Children can go on adventures where they fly like a bird, grow tall and strong like a tree or make lots of noise like a roaring lion. Yoga encourages a child to use their creative imagination.
6. Yoga increases confidence – exercises encourage children to express their emotions vocally and through using creative visualisation techniques we can help children understand just how unique and special they are.
7. Yoga improves concentration – balancing postures help children to concentrate and focus their mind; keeping their mind in one place instead of letting it wander, something of particular benefit to those HSC who are easily distracted.
8. Yoga teaches children how to relax. This is the most important reason of all, in my opinion. Furthermore, yoga teaches children that it’s actually ok to relax! Beneficial in fact. Using the ‘tense and release’ technique children experience what it’s like to feel tension, and then let it go. This progressive muscle relaxation offers a wonderful way to relieve stress and anxiety. A teacher can guide a child through a visualisation exercise – (a kind of story in this instance). An excellent resource for this kind of material is calmforkids.com
Here’s an excerpt taken from a relaxation exercise which is currently on the Calm for Kids website:
“Imagine your mat/the floor is a piece of hot toast and you are a little ball of butter gently melting over the toast.”
Highly sensitive children often need down time to recharge after a busy day. They need quiet time to process their day so any techniques that help calm them before they reach the point of overload are valuable.
Some of the more simple techniques can be practised together at home and it is a question of experimenting to see what works best for your child. Just before bedtime is often a good time to practice some yoga or mindfulness exercises to help your HSC let go of the busyness of the day and unwind into a restful sleep.”
Time to share: Do you and/or your children practice yoga? Have you tried breathing techniques or visualisation exercises with your HSC? We would love to hear from you about your experiences: what has worked to help create calm in your home, as well as a relaxed HSC.