Create Your Own Magical Meditation Stones

Today's guest blogger is children's yoga teacher and professional artist, Meg Schaap! Meg teaches the after-school yoga classes at Travilah Elementary, Beverly Farms Elementary, Primary Montessori Day School, and Dufief Elementary.

Magical Meditation Stones

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Meditation stones are a creative and fun way to help children learn how to meditate. Kids love making their own magical meditation stones, or you can make one as a special gift for your child.  Check out the step-by-step instructions below!

What you need:

Once you have all of the materials, take a few minutes to get quiet, close your eyes, and think about what you are going to paint on it. It can be anything; some suggestions are: a flower, heart, flying bird, a tree, a butterfly, or anything you like.

Next, find an even spot on the rock, where it is easy to paint on. Get the paint, put all the colors you need on a plate and dip your paintbrush in the cup of water and then dry it a little on the paper towel. Decide which color you want to start with. I find it easy to outline whatever you want to paint and then you use other colors to color it in. Every time you use another color you clean your brush and dry it on the paper towel if you want bright colors. Make sure your paintbrush is not too wet or too dry when you paint. Also you can let the paint dry in between so the colors are not bleeding through each other.

If you make a mistake, you can easily wipe the paint off and start over again. Once you like what you painted, you let it dry for an hour and then get the spray sealer, and just spray one or two times and let this dry again.

There you are….. you have your own magical meditation stone!

The stone can be used as a focal point during meditation or relaxation - for example, your child can place the stone in front of them to look at the image, or lie down, close their eyes and place the stone on their belly as they relax.  I tell the children in class that the stone is magic; when you focus on the stone, all the magic goes inside of you!

- Meg Schaap

Creating Relaxing Bedtime Rituals for Your Child

I'll just come out and say it, bedtime with children can be challenging.  For some parents, "challenging" might even be an understatement.   I've definitely had my share of difficult times putting my child to bed.  Sometimes kids have a hard time unwinding from the busy-ness of their day and falling asleep (many adults can probably relate to having that problem, too!).    

Luckily, yoga gives us many powerful tools that can be used to promote calm and relaxation in children and adults.  Below are a few of my favorite, time-tested calming bedtime resources and rituals that I've used to help my son calm down and fall asleep more quickly and easily.  You can try them out with your child (and even use some for yourself!) and mix and match to find the unique rituals, routines, and resources that are most helpful for you and your child.

Bedtime stories that promote calm minds and open hearts

One of my all-time favorite bedtime book collections is the Buddha at Bedtime series by Dharmachari Nagaraja.  I have read the original book in the series, Buddha at Bedtime: Tales of Love and Wisdom for You to Read with Your Child to Enchant, Enlighten and Inspire with my son since he was 5, and he still enjoys reading and re-reading the stories at age 9.  All of the stories are short, usually about 2-3 pages, include colorful pictures, playful animal characters and simple, child-friendly plot lines. They focus on a specific teaching such as gratitude, forgiveness, and honesty, and end with a brief aphorism from the Buddha about the lesson in the story.  The book also includes instructions on child-friendly meditation and relaxation exercises that you can practice with your child before or after reading the stories. My son, who like many children, finds it difficult to wind down at night says he feels more calm and relaxed after reading these stories.

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We recently started reading one of the sequels, The Buddha's Apprentice at Bedtime: Tales of Compassion and Kindness for You to Read with Your Child - to Delight and Inspire, and found that it is just as entertaining and calming as the original.  There are additional child-friendly meditation and relaxation exercises in that edition, too.  Though I haven't read the rest of the books in the series, I would imagine they are all just as wonderful as the original.

Aromatherapy for a relaxed mind & body

Aromatherapy uses the power of smell to affect our mood, usually with the use of essential oils. One of the most popular essential oils for promoting relaxation is lavender.  There are several ways to use aromatherapy to help your child relax at bedtime.  The first way is to use a diffuser in your child's room to disperse the scent of lavender throughout the room.  I really like the SpaRoom diffusers from Bulk Apothecary because they are small, inexpensive, and effective.  However, any diffuser will work - so find your favorite one! Since every diffuser is a litte different, you should follow the instructions for your diffuser for adding essential oils.  Plan to start the diffuser at least 10 minutes before bedtime to give it time to fill the room with the smell of lavender.  

Another method of using aromatherapy at bedtime is through the use of lavender aromatherapy spray which you can easily make yourself by getting a small spray bottle and adding 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil, then filling the rest of the bottle with water.  I use this spray at the end of all of my yoga classes, and most children love it!  However, every child is different, so be sure to check in with your individual child's preferences.  The spray can be sprayed on pillows or sprayed directly over the child (make sure their eyes are closed!), reminding them to take a deep inhale as you spray to receive the relaxing effects of the spray.  When my son was younger, I called it "sleepy spray" as a reminder to him that the spray would help him relax and fall asleep.

Of course, if your child doesn't like lavender, choose another essential oil of their choice - other scents known for their relaxing qualities include ylang ylang, orange, and rose.

One note of caution about essential oils: essential oils should NEVER be ingested. Please keep essential oil and aromatherapy bottles out of the reach of young children.

Guided Imagery & Relaxation Exercises

Guided imagery is the practice of using imaginative stories to promote a quality of relaxation.  There are a number of books with child-friendly guided imagery prompts.  It is up to you, the parent, to read them aloud in a slow, calm voice as your child closes their eyes and imagines what you are describing.  There are a number of books that I think are really wonderful, especially the Imaginations series by Carolyn Clarke and Stress Relief for Kids: Taming Your Dragons by Marti Belknap.

Prior to a guided imagery practice, you may want to start with a practice known as progressive muscle relaxation to help your child's body relax.  To do this, tell your child that when you mention a part of their body, they will squeeze it tight when they breathe in, and then make it loose like jello or spaghetti when they breathe out.  Start at the toes and work your way up to their face and forehead.  Then finish by having them squeeze their whole body tight, and then soft.

Music

The music we listen to affects our brains and can influence us in becoming more energized or calm depending on the quality of the music.  While my son would prefer to listen to pop music on the radio at bedtime, he falls asleep 10 times faster when I put on relaxing music like you might hear in a spa.  Two of my favorite albums are Steven Halpern's Music for Healing and Chakra Suite.  

Eye Masks

I started using eye masks for the children in my yoga classes a few months ago, and let me tell you, it made a HUGE difference!  Children who had a difficult time relaxing and staying still at the end of class suddenly wanted longer relaxation time, and were able to keep their eyes closed and bodies relaxed longer.  The effect of having something over your eyes to keep light out as well as provide a tactile reminder to close your eyes is so powerful.  Plus, there's lots of cute ones for kids, including this Pokemon themed eye mask (which I may buy as a birthday present for my son!).

Massage & Oil

Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, recommends daily use of sesame oil massage to promote relaxation and overall well-being.  You don't have to use sesame oil, but massaging your child's feet, lower legs, neck, forehead and temples with lotion or massage oil is a great way to help their little bodies relax at night.

Wishing you and your child a calm, peaceful, and relaxing night's sleep tonight and every night!  

- xoxo, Andrea

 

Teaching gratitude for happier, healthier children

"It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it is gratefulness that makes us happy..." - David Steindl-Rast

In almost all of my kids yoga classes, I start class (or sometimes end class) by going around in a circle and having each child name one thing that they are grateful for in that moment.  I remind the children that scientists have done studies that have proven that bringing to mind things or people we're grateful for helps us to feel happier (or in social-scientific terms "increased positive affect"). I let them know that we can actually change our brains by practicing being grateful - it is a super power inside of us that we can use to feel happier and more peaceful inside!

Practicing gratitude is such a simple, yet profoundly beneficial practice for children and adults. Here are a few simple practices that you and your children can do together to build up your "gratitude muscles":

1. Bedtime Gratitude Practice - each night at bedtime, my son and I tell each other 5 things that we are grateful for. It helps us both feel happier and more connected to each other.

2. Gratitude Board - one of the first things that people see when they enter my home is a big dry erase board, known as my "Gratitude Board."  Sometimes, my son and I have a competition to see who can write down the most things they are grateful for, sometimes friends and visitors add things they are grateful for to the board, and every time we walk by, it is a visual reminder to remember to be grateful in that moment.

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For those lucky enough to have chalkboard paint on their walls, a gratitude wall is a beautiful addition to any room!

3. Gratitude Journals - Gratitude journals have been shown by social science research to be a validated method for increasing happiness.

For many years, I kept a gratitude journal where each day I would write down the things I was grateful for. Now, I use the Bliss app for a more high-tech version of a gratitude journal (though I'm thinking of switching back to my low-tech journal in 2018). Children and adults can create their own gratitude journals to write in daily as a practice for cultivating gratitude.  You can use any kind of notebook or journal you'd like, but I really like these journals because children can personalize and decorate the journal covers before writing inside.  Children who are old enough to write, can practice writing 5 things they are grateful for when they wake up and 5 things they are grateful for when they go to sleep.  Children who are too young to write, can draw pictures of things they are grateful for. Parents and children can sit down together and write in their journals together as a daily or weekly family ritual.  

There are so many practices that can help us to cultivate gratitude in our lives and in our children's lives.  I'd love to hear how these practices have worked for you and your family, and any other gratitude practices that you and your family enjoy! Please post in the comments section below, or send me an email at info@shiningkidsyoga.com

Wishing you peace, love, and yoga!

- Andrea

PS - special thanks to my amazing son, Quinn, for helping me write this blog post!

 

 

Back-to-School Breathing

Heading back to school can bring up a whole bunch of emotions - excitement, anticipation, and sometimes, anxiety.  If your child is feeling some back-to-school jitters, here are two simple breathing techniques that can help your child to feel a little more calm and peaceful:

1. Air conditioner breath (sitali breath) - lots of kids love curling their tongues, so if that is a favorite activity for your child, have them curl their tongue as they imagine sucking in through a straw (there will be a little sucking noise while they're doing this) and then breath out slowly through their nose.  Tell them to feel the cool air on their tongue as they breathe in (that's why I call it "air-conditioner breath").  Breathing in this way slows down the breath, which promotes a relaxation response in the body, it also produces a cooling sensation which can be helpful as kids can often feel warm or flushed when they're feeling nervous.

2. Starfish breath - have your child stretch out their arm in front of them and spread their fingers like the shape of a starfish.  Have them take the pointer finger of their other hand and trace up and down each finger slowly.  Each time they trace up, breathe in, each time they trace down, breathe out.  Instruct your child to do this as slowly as possible. Breathing in this way puts your child's focus on the action of looking at their hand and tracing instead of getting caught up in anxious thoughts and slows down their breath which promotes a relaxation response.

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Both of these breathing practices can be done at home, school, or any time your child needs to feel a little more calm and peaceful inside.   These and other breathing exercises are taught in our before and after-school yoga classes for kids!

How To Make Your Own Yoga Jenga Game

A few weeks ago, one of my private clients was stacking her yoga blocks during our session and mentioned that it felt like she was playing Jenga. I'm always thinking about new activities to do in my classes with children, and her comment got me thinking...what if I created a Jenga game that included names of yoga poses, so every time someone pulls out a piece, we do the pose?

So, I bought a new Jenga game, wrote down a bunch of pose names and some special breathing practices on each of the pieces, and voila - Yoga Jenga was born!

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This is a great way of spending time together playing games as a family, and practicing yoga together, too!

I can't wait to play this game with all of my yoga students in class this fall!

Want to make your own game?  Here are some pose and breathing ideas to get you started!  Feel free to add in your favorites, too!

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Practicing yoga with your kids

As a yoga teacher, I get pretty happy when I get to do yoga with my son, Quinn.  We laugh, fall down, and help each other stretch and open our bodies.  It's a chance for us to connect and be present and let go of the busyness that can often envelope our day-to-day lives. I know the days when he will want to do yoga with me (or do anything with me) are limited, and so I savor each double down dog and lizard on a rock pose we do together. 

I love being able to bring yoga to other families, too.  To show them new ways to connect with each other through poses, games, and relaxation.

This summer, I'll be offering 3 Family Yoga Workshops for children ages 5-11 and their parents. If you'd like to join me, you can sign up your family for one, two, or three classes (discounts available when you sign up for multiple classes!).  I look forward to seeing you and your family on the mat.

~ Andrea