If you’ve got a toddler on your hands, you know that calling tantrums “intense” isn’t even a slight exaggeration. Usually, when a tyke hits, say, the 2-year mark or so, coming up with creative solutions to keep them from having a meltdown becomes less of an occasional need and more of an everyday challenge. Though bribing your clever one with special snacks and extra screen-time will likely work, there’s another (healthier) alternative: yoga. Yes, really.
Not only can all those vinyasas tame your nerves and help you unwind after a stressful day — some poses can also give your wild child a chill pill.
Rebecca Dalley, personal trainer, yoga instructor and co-owner of Downtown Yoga SG, explains that while there is little research specifically analyzing children and yoga, there have been several studies — from Harvard University, for example — that have found the practice to be a complementary tool that decreases stress related to the constant stimulation and pressure that children face. “Practicing yoga on a regular basis reduces sympathetic responses [fight or flight] and affords children the opportunity to be more self-aware while increasing the function of the parasympathetic nervous system,” Dalley tells SheKnows.
Sounds way better than planting kiddo in front of Moana for the millionth time. Here are some poses to try with kids — they’re bound to help you both relax.
How to do it: Often nicknamed “crisscross applesauce,” this is a super-simple way to find a seat and take a moment to just be.
“Have your child come into a seated, cross-legged position and encourage them to sit as tall as possible, like a string is being pulled from the top of their head,” Dalley instructs. You can even have them “bring the index finger and thumb together on both hands and rest them, palms up, on their knees” if you like, she adds. From here, she says to encourage kids to inhale as they imagine their belly is filling up like a balloon, getting bigger and expanding. Then, they can picture a balloon popping and deflating as they slowly let out their air. It’s recommended to repeat this for one to two minutes (or as long as your tot will resist squirming).
How it helps: Dalley explains that the key component of this exercise is the breathing. Because the toddler is hyper-focused on the thought of their beloved balloon, they aren’t paying attention to distractions. This lets them get in all those healthy deep breaths, instantly calming their nerves.
How to do it: Since most toddlers have their animal noises down pat, this pose can be a fun one for them to practice. Talk to them about cats and cows and then demonstrate the pose for them.
As Dalley explains, “Be a scaredy cat and round your spine and pull your belly in and up. Press into your hands and get really round like a cat who is stretching up. Exhale through your mouth. Now relax your lower back like someone is going to sit on it, and lift your chin looking up towards the sky. Take a big breath in say ‘moo’ like a cow.” Once the child has the hang of it, they can go back and forth between cat and cow for about a minute.
How it helps: This pose doesn’t just warm up the spine and stimulate the central nervous system; it teaches your child the importance of connecting your breath with your movement. It’s also a great playful way to introduce yoga (since many kids need a little more entertainment and a little less Zen vibes).
How to do it: With a young kid around, there’s already a roaring animal wreaking havoc (especially when they’re overtired/hungry/on a sugar high). Channel that relentless energy into a yoga pose that will calm them down and also make them giggle.
Teach toddlers to sit like proud lions on their heels, with their hands resting on their thighs. Then demonstrate how to master the Lion’s pose. “Pull your chest forward and stick your tongue out, making a roaring ‘Haaaaa’ sound through your mouth. Then, round your spine and drop your head,” Dalley says. Repeat this as long as the tyke wants to growl.
How it helps: “This type of breath is very detoxifying,” Dalley explains. “Also, opening your mouth and expressing your face helps to stimulate the brain through the nerves in your face, creating a sense of relief and also happiness.”
Downward-Facing Dog pose
How to do it: This tried-and-true position is one many yogis return to when they have aches and pains or need to center their energy. The benefits hold true for children too according to certified yoga and SUP (stand-up paddleboard) yoga instructor Jess Amendola.
Start on all fours with a flat back. Then tuck your toes under and lift your hips up to the sky, with your pint-size sidekick mimicking your moves. “Work towards making a triangle shape with your body with straight arms and straight legs. Most importantly, make sure your back is straight, with your knees bent if you need to,” Amendola explains. To keep the kiddo engaged? Amendola suggests having them make barking sounds. A little fun never hurt!
How it helps: As much as your own brain might feel like it’s sometimes cross-wired, your child’s growing, ever-expanding noggin is working double-time. That’s why Downward Dog is such a helpful position; it calms their thoughts and helps release stress.
How to do it: Another fun one to do with a hyper child is Cobra pose. Starting in tabletop with a straight spine on all fours, lay down on your tummy while the child copies you. Then Amendola says to extend your legs long behind you and place your palms by your sides. “As you hug your elbows in tight to your body, lift your head and chest, coming into a gentle backbend. Think about lengthening your spine, extending tall through the crown of your head, and imagine yourself a long, slithery, snake,” she says. You can even encourage your kiddo to slither like a snake with their tongue out, which also helps them to breathe deeply.
How it helps: The next time your toddler wakes up on the wrong side of their Corvette bed, get them into this pose after breakfast. Amendola notes that because this position increases circulation, it helps to bring some much-needed blood to their brain, improving cranky moods.
How to do it: Amendola nicknames this one “Ladybug” since the little one will look like a snug critter when they’re relaxed in this pose.
“From tabletop pose, gently sit back on your heels and relax your upper body on your thighs. Your arms can reach long in front of you or rest by your sides,” she says. From here, little babes can just rest, soaking up the calm of being cradled.
How it helps: After a day of running around at the park (or let’s face it, running everywhere), this one will help relieve their tired muscles and take their energy level from three cups of coffee to chamomile tea quickly. They might like it so much, they’ll fall asleep!
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