Tomorrow (Saturday 10th October) is World Mental Health Day 2020 and there has never been a more important time to consider the mental health of our children.
One of the ways we are supporting children at Stepping Stones is to offer our children the opportunity to take part in a weekly yoga practice with a qualified instructor. These sessions, run by Wholesome Hedgehog, explore yoga postures, breathing and relaxation techniques in an engaging and accessible way for young children, with the aim of supporting the development of healthy minds and healthy bodies.
The benefits of physical activity for mental health and wellbeing are widely shared. Over the years they have been increasingly recognised by mental health professionals, doctors, neurologists and teachers. In a yoga practice the mental and physical wellbeing of a young person is carefully nurtured. Each session helps to support learning, physical development, social skills, concentration, body awareness and managing emotions.
Béa from Wholesome Hedgehog shares:
“When I share yoga, I hold three elements in mind - connection, creativity and confidence. In the context of supporting children to be mentally healthy, all are relevant.
Yoga helps us to connect with ourselves honestly, notice sensations in our bodies, and acknowledge and accept the emotions we are experiencing. For young children, this can help to form the basis of emotional literacy and of self-care; treating ourselves with kindness and recognising feelings and needs, as well as learning how to meet those needs (such as taking time to rest, sharing a worry or releasing energy).
Being part of a community in an activity, especially at a time when we are physically distanced from others, helps us to stay connected to others and to the wider world. Children also use these interactions to build social skills.
Literal connection to the ground through seated or lying postures in yoga can help children to feel calm and settled, as can discovering breathing techniques. This can be especially helpful in times of uncertainty, for children experiencing anxiety, and for some children with special educational needs and disabilities.
Yoga offers a safe and non-competitive environment for children to “have a go”, whether that’s sharing their ideas with others or trying something new with their bodies. Repetition week-to-week gives opportunity for children to notice progress or recall familiar poses, building confidence and helping to cultivate perseverance and resilience.
Creativity is at the heart of what I share. It might show up as me offering a theme in a different way to reinforce another aspect of learning (which can also help to build familiarity and increase confidence), children contributing their own ideas to a session, exploring together different ways of moving, or welcoming questions and celebrating curiosity!
Creativity supports wellbeing by elevating mood when we are able to express ourselves, alleviating stress, boosting brain function and fostering courage.
Through practicing yoga, children are beginning to build a toolkit of skills and resources which they can use to help them navigate the challenges and changes of everyday life.”
Tips for continuing yoga at home
Utilise resources. There are lots of good videos and groups out there specifically tailored to children. Cosmic Kids is a great one. For children who enjoy a more explorative approach, there are numerous sets of yoga cards available, many of which have ideas for mindful activities and games as well as postures and breathing techniques.
Share your practice. Schedule it into your week and make it a family activity. Evenings are a great time to use yoga to unwind. If you have your own yoga practice, roll out an extra mat as an open invitation!
Start simple. Yoga isn’t just the physical postures - sit back to back and notice each other breathing for a gentle, connected practice. Look out for simple postures (perhaps named after animals!), or focus on a simple chant or mantra to start with. Children love practising balance and there are lots of good balancing postures out there!
Focus on breathing. It doesn’t get simpler than this! A child more aware of their breath will ultimately become more connected to their body, their emotional responses and to their overall wellbeing. Blowing bubbles together is a brilliant starting point as the longer exhalation can have a calming effect.
Make it fun. There are so many other distractions in the house so it’s important to make it engaging and fun. Make it into a game, or tell a story through the postures. Perhaps choose a favourite book and add some yoga postures or breathing as you share it.