Quiet time and relaxation are a part of every children's yoga class. It is a practice that grows from class to class and from age group to age group. Children don’t just love it and crave it, even though it might take them a few trials before they realize it, they actually really need it.
Kids lives are not stress free, and we can make this world a better place by showing them ways to unwind and relax. Here are key elements to remember when guiding children into relaxation:
1. Your Voice
Our voice is the instrument that leads the students to relax. When you guide a relaxation, speak in a deep and clear tone, and keep a slow rhythm with breaks between sentences. It is in these short breaks that the students go deeper into the relaxation.
Speak loud enough so that people won’t need to make an effort to hear you (if they do need to make an effort to hear you, it is not relaxing any more), but soft enough so that they can relax.
Color your voice; you can still be a bit dramatic and descriptive in the tone of your voice to match what is happening in your guided imagery story.
2. The Environment
When we guide someone into a deep relaxation, they have to trust us fully; as they let go and surrender to the relaxation they are allowing themselves to be vulnerable. If we can create a protected and safe environment, we will make this process easier for our students.
Close the door and make sure that no one will burst in and make a noise that will startle your students. Create a quiet, warm, and comfortable space for the relaxation to happen. Soft background music can be very helpful as both a neutralizing agent for other disturbing noises and also for creating a pleasant atmosphere.
3. Creating an Atmosphere
Use incense and candles (watch for fire hazards), music, and even blankets. You can dim the light but don’t turn it all the way off as some children don’t like the dark.
Music is always the strongest tool to create the right atmosphere. Use relaxing music or nature sounds… but not a thunderstorm or lions roaring in the jungle!
4. The Posture
Let your students relax in any pose they find comfortable. This can be on their belly, on their back, or on their side. If it fits your theme, ask them to sleep like a snake on their belly, curl-in in Child's Pose like a caterpillar waiting to be transformed into a butterfly, rest on their back in Starfish Pose, or lie down on their yoga mat towel, relax on their magic carpet, or doze off on the yoga cloud.
5. Deepening the Breath
The deeper we breathe, the more oxygen reaches our muscles and the easier it will be for our bodies to relax. Take about ten deep breaths before starting the guided imagery.
Always begin the relaxation with a few deep breaths. It activates the relaxed nervous system and makes the children automatically more relaxed and calm. You can guide them to:
- Breathe more deeply than usual.
- Breathe deeply enough that you can hear your breath.
- Listen to the sounds of the waves in your breath; when you breathe in, the waves come close and when you breathe out, the waves go back into the sea.
- Breathe deeply enough that you’ll be able to feel how the breath moves your body; when you breathe in, your body expands and lifts, when you breathe out, everything relaxes.
- Breathe deeply enough that you feel how your breath moves your partners head, or another object on your belly.
- With every breath that you take, your body becomes lighter and lighter, so that you can slowly fly.
- With the inhalation, the body expands, and with the exhalation, it relaxes and sinks closer to the yoga mat.
6. Guided Imagery
In guided imagery, you take the students on a magical journey within themselves. It should always be a pleasant and comforting journey, and it’s best if it’s connected to the theme of your class.
Like any good story, this inner journey should have a beginning, middle, and an end. You can go into as much detail and description as you like; or you can just slowly guide the participants with a general guideline, letting them fill the story with details of their own imagination.
When you do guided imagery, try to use as many senses, sensations, and feelings as you can. The more facets of your being that you can bring into your description, the more real it becomes for the brain, and the more powerful the experience will become.
Describe to your students not only what you see around you in the journey, but also what you hear, feel, sense, smell, taste, etc.
7. Gradual Ending
The influence of the relaxation will last longer if you come out of it gradually.
Jumping out of the relaxation can be unpleasant. When the guided imagery ends, let your students stay in silence for a moment before you guide them to take a few deep breaths, wiggle their fingers and toes a bit, stretch lightly, yawn… and only then open their eyes and sit up gradually.
A nice way to end the relaxation is to whisper the name of each child in their ear accompanied by a positive affirmation or a compliment about their practice today as an indication that they can slowly sit up. In family yoga classes with young children, I have them get up first and 'wake-up' their parents with kisses and hugs.
We don’t clap after relaxation. There is a magic that happens on its own that we try not to disturb. Don’t rush the children (and parents) out of it.
Because everything is naturally relaxed and quiet at this point, for older children, these few moments after the relaxation are the best time to meditate. You can just sit silently with them for a moment or guide them through a short meditation.