Breathing, postures, and relaxation can have a significant impact on the nervous system, especially when paired together in a mindful way. Children, youth and adults can all benefit from learning these skills, especially during times of stress.
Traditionally, our goal is to teach coping skills such as breathing or mindfulness practices before a stressful event, in hopes of being proactive. However, sometimes there is a need to learn skills reactively. Perhaps you are already overwhelmed, trying to be a parent, work, pay bills. Or maybe your child isn’t falling asleep as fast as normal, or has stomach aches or headaches. These are just a few examples of how our body tells us we are stressed.
So, let’s learn about some concrete skills that can actually slow the release of Cortisol (the stress hormone) and create a nervous system that is calmer and more balanced.
Dr. Marie Dezelic, in 2013, created this image called the “Window of Tolerance-Trauma/Anxiety Related Responses”:
THE WINDOW OF TOLERANCE, DR. MARIE DEZELIC
This image shows what coping skills are trying to produce. The top and bottom of the image describes anxiety and trauma related responses in the body. Can you think of a time when you have witnessed a response like this? I personally remember a time when I was in a classroom and witnessed a child throwing a chair because of anger, or even the exact opposite response when a child slept through class.
What we are trying to do through these three elements of yoga is to bring a child or person back into “the Window of Tolerance.” The Window is the center of this image where a person is “calm, cool, collected and connected.” Yoga is a perfect environment to bring the nervous system back into regulation by utilizing the body-mind connection. Other forms of exercise or coping skills tend to involve one element or another: either calming the brain or calming the body. But yoga does both! I like to think of it as TWO FOR ONE!
Let’s explore these three elements: Breathing, Postures, and Relaxation.
Did you know breathing is one of the only conscious ways we have control over our nervous system? Most nervous system responses happen on their own. Think about digestion, for example. Our body just does it for us! We don’t have to tell our belly to digest the piece of pizza we just ate. However, breathing is one way we can tell ourselves to slow down our breath, which creates a calming response in the nervous system. Scientists have discovered that your inhale is associated with your Sympathetic Nervous System (Fight, Flight, Freeze Response), and your exhale is linked to the Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest and Digest).
BLOOM YOGA ACTIVITY: DRAW YOUR BREATH
With that information, we can learn how to elongate the exhale to promote the “Rest and Digest” response in the nervous system.
Extended Release Exhale
Breath in for a count of 3, try filling up your chest, rib cage, as well as your belly while inhaling.
Breath out for a county of 5 or 6, release all the air out of the body.
Find a count that feels good to you. The goal is that your exhale is longer than your inhale. Try and practice breathing for a minute or two, a few times a day. Or utilize this breath in times of stress, or before bed to promote the relaxation response in the body!
I don’t know about you, but I find I can’t think about anything else when I am standing on 1 foot in Tree Pose…..HA! However, in all seriousness, certain postures can have different effects on the body and nervous system. My yoga school, Shambhava School of Yoga™, taught us all the different effects of categories of postures. For example, forward folds can be calming, back bends can be energizing, twists can be calming and promote organ stimulation and so on!
For the sake of this blog, lets focus on calming postures for the nervous system! Rhythmic movements can have a significant impact on your body as well. Think about a baby having a hard time sleeping, and then gets rocked by a caregiver. Can you think about ways to provide your body with rhythmic movements whether through yoga or other exercises? Then also incorporate stretches that feel good to your body? There are so many online resources here! Perhaps you check out an adult yoga class online and see which postures feel calming to you! Or maybe you are looking for something for your child…. Check out Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube! Illuminate Colorado’s YouTube channel will also have some yoga resources for you to teach your children! Explore and have fun!
Relaxation, other than your normal sleep patterns, can have a profound impact on your body and mind! Another reason why I love yoga so much is the fact that relaxation is just a part of a typical yoga class!! Someone tells you when to do it and you don’t have to remember! Relaxation, especially the guided type, can really help the body and mind calm down and recover from the stress of the day. There are so many ways to give your body time to rest. Maybe you find a guided meditation? My favorite app is called “Insight Timer.” It has over 5,000 free mediations, calming music, and timers as well! Or you could just choose to breath for a few minutes while laying down and listening to your favorite song! There is no wrong way to rest! There are many scripts available for mindful rests for children, I am including one I have adapted for children here! I will also be recording this meditation and others for children on our YouTube page in the next few weeks!
BLOOM YOGA ACTIVITY: DESKTOP MEDITATION
Putting it all together
We know that children and adults thrive from some sort of routine! Can you make these three elements a part of your routine? Give your body and mind time to decompress and rest.
Sarah Crisafi is the program manager of Bloom Yoga, providing children, families and professionals in the system with an innovative service that is beyond the typical “bare minimum” of service that is often offered. Bloom Yoga utilizes the whole person approach, enhances known protective factors that can help strengthen families, aids in the prevention of child maltreatment and provide an environment for post-traumatic growth.
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