Yoga for Sweet Dreams
For the average child, school days are long and often followed by sports or play dates. Add homework and other extra-curricular activities to the mix, and your kid could be a bit keyed up at bedtime due to being over tired and over stimulated. That's why, for many parents and children, bedtime can be tricky. Yoga can help your child release all the tension they may pick up throughout the day so they can get a healthy, revitalizing night's sleep.
Here are a few yoga-based activities that you can do with your child before bed to help him/her relax and sleep:
The moon reflects the sun and mirrors the mind. A moon salute calms your mind and gets your body ready for rest. Start in Mountain Pose, standing upright with your belly pressed back against your spine and your arms long down your sides. Inhale and reach your arms overhead, extend your right leg far to the side and relax into a deep lunge, right elbow supporting body on knee or hand supporting on the floor behind your right knee. Fan your left hand over your head, trace your eyes to the tips of your fingers and breathe for 5 deep breaths.
Inhale, straighten your right leg and exhale, stand with arms out in a star. Then repeat the same thing on the other side.
Finally, all phases of the moon are symbolized by a full, lateral circle of the body. Inhale, raise your arms up to the ceiling, and slowly allow your arms, shoulders, and torso to lean to the right, then inch your way down, then reach to the floor in between your legs. Inhale on the way up as you finish rising up on the left, making a large circle as you come up to the starting position. This sequence may bring on some yawns. That means it's working!
Unity “Hook Ups”
Brain Gym is a modern therapy that brings focus and calm by techniques which cross the mid line of our neurological system. I use Brain Gym all the time with my students and have found it a wonderful compliment to yoga.
Here's a great Brain Gym exercise that promotes relaxation: Sit with your legs in a criss cross position and extend your right arm in front of you, thumb down and say “One for me.” Then extend your left arm forward to meet the right, thumb down and say “One for you.” Cross right over left, clasp hands and bring both arms under to rest against your chest and say “Together in unity” and breathe 10 deep, long breaths from the base of your seat all the way to the top of your head.
In Brain Gym, they say this “reboots your brain” to cause an immediate clarity and calm. In yoga, if you try to touch your belly back to your spine, the breath will travel more up your back and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for digestion and relaxation.
I invented this exercise years ago out of necessity. My little boy was hyper and often violent and we as parents were desperate to soothe his anxiety and pain. Little Egg is a sensory game that soothes in seconds. Years later, my kids still ask for it!
Have your child rest in a fetal position, on their knees, curled forward over their legs, or what yoga calls “child's pose.” Cover them with a comforter or blanket and press your hands gently but firmly down their spine as you ask “I wonder what my baby will look like?” You can pretend it’s a dinosaur or a bird, anything you want. Then, make a big fuss when they stir and "crack" the egg and claw out from under the covers. They emerge to “Happy Birthday” and “Welcome to the world little baby. You are so beautiful!” Don’t be surprised when they want to do it all over again and again.
My husband took an acting workshop and learned a great tool for finding the character within. I find this technique can soothe a child spooked by nightmares by empowering them to start their sleep with positive thoughts.
After you've done Little Egg and your baby has hatched and fed on imaginary food, let them snuggle down and ask them to compose a letter in their minds. Ask them what or who inspires them and why. Then ask what they would imagine as a happy dream -- does it relate to what they find inspiring? Encourage your child to describe the dream with lots of detail, ask the color of things, the sounds, the smells. Remember: this is a dream, so anything can happen!
In the morning, be sure to ask if a snippet or two of what they had described the night before slipped into their dreams. Either way, you know they fell asleep stretched out, oxygen rich, and empowered with visions of something positive, instead of something lurking under the bed!
Susie Lopez is the creator of Look Up Yoga, a DVD series designed to get public school children in New York moving, learning, and growing. Susie teaches for and is on the board of Bent on Learning, New York's largest supplier of free yoga in the public school system. She is also the co-founder of the nutrition education program FIVE for Kids, which has been adopted on the national scale by the American Heart Association. Connect with Susie on Facebook and Twitter.