Part 6 - Movement
The movement aspect of Yoga is known as Yoga 'Asana' which involves getting into certain postures and positions to help with postural alignment, change of position, stretching the body, easing digestion, engaging the muscles & bones, exercising the body, strengthening muscle tone, building strength, flexibility, cardio etc. But most importantly it is designed to help us feel more comfortable, at ease and grounded in our bodies. Though it is the most popular aspect of Yoga practice in the west, it is there to help us practice all of the other aspects of Yoga - such as Meditation and Mindfulness, for if we are physically uncomfortable, it's very difficult to practice sitting still, and focusing on the breath for example.
Different children and young people need and benefit from different practices, and as parents, carers, guardians who are with the child the most, tend to have a good sense of what the child best benefits from in terms of movement and change of position, and also will have a good sense of what the child's current capacity looks like for reaching the most comfortable and beneficial positions.
There are very simple postures and movements that you can try with your child, but the way in which you engage with them is important, so always using the breath, and encouraging the child to regulate their breathing is very effective and important when going into, staying in, and coming out of postures and positions. In Special Yoga we don't encourage children to hold or retain their breathing but support them to maximise and regulate long deep inhalations and exhalations so that they can stretch, bend and twist in really calming and relaxing ways which will engage key areas of the body. Also repeating the movements as many times as necessary is effective to allow the body to 'register' what is happening which allows for deeper relaxation and released tension that may be caught or stuck in the body.
River Flute by Kevin MacLeod
Part 6 - Movement
Seated positions - whether in a chair or on the floor, the positions can be adapted to the child's position and body:
Arm stretches: You can focus just on the hands if you wish to begin with by breathing in to extend and open the palms and fingers fully, and then on an exhale, contracting and closing the fingers and hands rolling into a fist shape, try practising the fluctuating movement with deep inhales and exhales several times. Flex and bend the wrist as comfortably and gently as possible, again moving with the breath, bending the wrist, bring the hand inwards on an inhale, and flexing the wrist, allowing the hand to move outwards on an exhale. Also making circles with the wrists moving the fist shaped hand round and round in circles supporting the child's wrist with one hand and moving the fist shaped hand with the other, starting with the right hand first. You can also use your thumbs to massage the wrist by pressing gently on the skin and rubbing circles around the wrist areas slowly.
Stretch and flex the wrist Interlocking your fingers and hands with the child's fingers and hands, sitting in front of child or behind (whatever is best for you and the child) whilst explaining the movement with them in a soft encouraging voice and tone, lifting up the child's hands and arms in a straight line up towards the ceiling or sky on an inhale, ensure that you breathe in deeply as you stretch with the child up towards the ceiling or sky. Either stay here to breathe in and out for 3 breaths or synchronise the movement with each inhale and exhale - Breathing in to reach up to the sky, breathing out deeply as you slowly bring the arms back down. Then try the same thing but this time reaching out to the sides, this time probably best to sit behind the child to guide the movement so their arms stay by the sides of their body instead of reaching in front of them towards you. Alternatively, stretch one arm at a time, starting with the right arm first. Reaching out to the sides as you breathe in encouraging your child to breathe deeply, allowing your breath to be audible as an anchor for their awareness and as you breathe out allow the arms to come back to the sides of the body, or take it further by exhaling fully and hugging the child's arms around their own body. As you stretch the arms out to the sides and up to the sky, see if you can assist the child to stretch their fingers outwards too, opening and extending the whole of the palm of the hands. You can also massage the child's elbows by bending the arm in towards the body, holding the wrist gently with one hand, placing the elbow in your other hands palm, and circling the palm and elbow together in circling motion one way and then the other. Shoulder and arm massage are very effective before starting these stretches and practices, starting with the shoulders, working your way down to the hands and finger tips. These can all be practised seated or lying down supine.
Seated twist: Whether sitting on the floor or in a chair, encourage and allow the back, spine, neck and head to all be nice and straight, and then placing one hand on the opposite knee i.e. - left hand on right knee or right chair arm rest if seated in chair, then placing the right hand behind the right hip, or behind right arm rest, and encouraging the child to twist and look over or towards their right shoulder, supporting the twist perhaps by placing your hands on the child's shoulder, and with each exhale, slowly and gently twisting the shoulders to the right, only go as far as the child comfortably allows, and ensure the lower back doesn't slouch but remains nice and straight with the rest of the body.
Seated bend: whether sitting on the floor or in a chair. Take the child's right hand, breathe in to reach the right hand up towards the ceiling/sky and then keeping the back, neck and head all nice and straight, on an exhale encourage the child to bend into the right side of their body, maintaining the straight spine, the body bends from the hips and waist, but keeping the backside evenly resting on the floor or chair. Keep the arm reaching up and over to the right side, and then after 3 breaths, come back to centre on the next inhale, bring the arm down on an exhale. Repeat again on the same side (before going onto the other side) if you want a thorough stretch in the side body, alternatively, go on to the other side straight after.
If the child is sitting in a chair, you can try leg stretches, by bringing the right leg up and towards the chest, bending the knee, and flexing the toes and foot towards the knee on an inhale, place one hand on the knee to support the movement from their and your other hand supporting the sole of the foot as you push the leg gently towards the abdomen, and then after a couple of breaths bringing the leg out straight, pointing the toes away from the body, and relaxing the leg back to the foot plates or ground.
Seated fold: If the child is sitting in a chair, take off their harness if they have one, keep foot straps and belt on, support them to reach their hands up towards the sky on an in-breath, stretch the spine, straighten the back, and then on an exhale, allow them to fold their body forwards leaning the heart space forward towards the thighs and knees, keeping the back straight as possible, hinging from the hips, head faces down towards floor, and hands reach towards toes. Stay in the fold for 3 breaths or repeat the movement 3 times, whichever suits your child best. Allow the fold to be nice and slow, as the child may feel dizzy or uncomfortable if they fold forward and/or upwards too quickly.
From sitting on the floor, have the child straighten out their legs in a straight line (like train tracks I usually say) reach up towards the ceiling or sky, straighten and lengthen the back, and you breath in to stretch up and breath out folding forwards, leaning the heart space forwards, hinging from the hips, trying to keep the back as straight as possible, bring the head towards the knees, bend the knees if you need to and bring the hands towards the feet or ankles. stay in the fold for 3 breaths or repeat the fold 2 more times, remembering to breath in to stretch up, and breath out to fold forwards nice and slowly.
River Flute by Kevin MacLeod
Part 6 - Movement
Prone positions - Prone is when the child is lying on their front, this is often a pleasant change of position for children who have difficulties with digestion:
Cobra: Helping the child when lying on their front to bring the elbows and forearms in straight lines, keeping the elbows slightly in front of the shoulders, stretching up, bringing the heart space forwards and relaxing the shoulders. Come up on an inhale, and support the child from placing your arms and hands underneath the arm pits, helping to gently lift up and away from the ground, staying here for 2 or 3 breaths and then releasing slowly back down on an exhale.
Superman/superwoman pose: The child lies down fully, with the face to the floor/mat, arms out long away from toes. On an inhale, the arms, head, neck and chest all rise up away from the ground looking forwards, watching how the arms rise on the inhalation, and come slowly back down on an exhalation, either stay lifted for 2-3 breaths or come up and down slowly with each breath in and out. Again you can support the child to lift up, by standing behind them (ensuring your back is straight and comfortable) , placing your hands underneath the arm pits and upper arms and on the inhale lifting with them, letting them lead the movement. To extend the stretch, on the next lift the child can raise their legs up in the air as well as their arms.
Locust Pose: Lying on the belly, with the arms down by the side of the body, palms facing down, to start with you can lift the right leg up and away straight from the ground on an inhale and back down on an exhale, and then left leg up and away on an inhale, and back down on an exhale. And then both legs together rising up and away in a straight line from the ground.
Bow pose: Whilst lying on the belly, bend the child's legs and feet towards their backside and bring then with the child's support together, assist them to reach their hands back and clasp onto their ankles, then with the breath, support them to begin to lift the head, neck, shoulders and upper body up and away from the ground as much as they comfortably want to go. Staying in the pose for 2-3 breaths and then releasing on an exhale.
Downward Dog: Usually after practising Cobra, one moves into downward dog, by curling the toes under, lifting up through the hands, lighting the hips up high and sending the weight back to the heels, and feeling the palms pressing into the ground, all the way up t heart space, walking the feet and bending the knees as you need to, keeping the head towards the ground and coming back down when you are ready.
Tabletop: If the child can weight-bear, they can come to tabletop position placing the hands directly underneath the shoulders and the knees directly underneath the hips, and the lower legs and feet in straight lines like train tracks. Keep the chest and naval lifted to support the back and lengthen the neck and spine.
Cat/Cow Pose: From tabletop, we can drop the belly down (keeping all limbs lifted) the head looks up for cow pose on an inhale, and then on an exhale, arch the back up towards the ceiling/sky and send your gaze down, head comes towards the ground for cat pose. Keep fluctuating from cow and cat pose with each inhale and exhale.
2-legged table: Coming back to tabletop, ensuring the back is nice and straight. Take the left arm out in front and the right leg out behind both in straight lines, and balance on the right arm and left leg, staying straight and still as you breathe deeply, when ready release the left arm and right leg back into neutral table top and repeat on the other side for the same amount of breaths and then come back to neutral table top on the next exhale.
Child's pose: A very restful position, send the hips and backside back onto the heels, resting the hips on the heels, bending the legs, and bringing the head towards the ground in front. You can either have the arms stretched out resting in front of you or the arms resting back by the sides of the body, just ensure the shoulders and neck are resting whichever is more suitable for the body.
River Flute by Kevin MacLeod
Part 6 - Movement
Supine positions - Supine is when the child is lying fully down, with their back to the floor:
If the child is lying down from the beginning, I would do all the arm stretches, wrists, elbow and hands movements listed in the seated positions section, and then move onto the supine postures.
Full body stretch followed by ball: Once comfortable in a lying down position, ensure that the body's mid-line is centred, and then support the child on an inhale to reach their arms up and away from their toes (not towards the ceiling) past their head, see if they can point their toes away to further deepen the stretch with or without support. Then on an exhale, help the child to come into a ball bringing the legs into the chest, bending the knees, wrapping the arms around the shins coming into a fall. Repeat the fluctuation of full body stretch on an inhale to curling up into a ball on an exhale. If the child is not yet able to curl into a ball, just allow the hands and arms to relax back by the side of the body.
One leg in, one leg out: On an inhale, bring the right knee into the chest, keeping the left leg out and straight, flex the toes up to the sky, and with each inhale and exhale, deepening the stretch of bringing the knee closer to the chest, some children may like t take it deeper by bringing the head and neck up towards the knee, relaxing the shoulders and shoulder blades as much as possible, if the child wants to try this but requires support, place one hand behind the neck, stretching the fingers out to support the neck, head and shoulders. On an exhale release the head slowly back down and bring the right leg out to match the left, and then repeat on the left leg.
Supine twist: On an inhale bring both knees into the chest, bending the lower legs in coming into a ball, support the child to take both knees to ground on their right side, and encourage them to look over their opposite left shoulder, you can support them further by resting your hand on their left shoulder and with each exhale gently pressing down on the left shoulder, and pressing your other hand on their knees to deepen the twist, only if it's comfortable to do so. Stay in the twist for 3 or more breaths and then bring the knees back to centre, squeeze the knees into the chest gently with an inhale and then on an exhale, take the knees down to the left side, head turns towards right to continue on the other side.
Supine bend: Also known as crescent moon because of the shape the body makes. Once again, on an inhale stretch the arms up above the head away from the feet (not up towards the ceiling), pointing the toes if possible, and then on an exhale bringing the arms over to the right side whilst still pointing up and away, and bringing the legs coming over the right side also, trying to keep the back, neck and head nice and straight bending from the waist. Stay in the bend for 3 breaths and then on the next inhale coming back to centre stretch the whole body, and then on an exhale bending into the left side.
Yoganidrasana: Stretch the whole body once again on an inhale bringing the fingertips and toes as far away from each other and then on an exhale bringing the knees towards the chest, but with space between the knees, soles of the feet touch, encourage the child to reach for their ankles by reaching in between the space between the knees as their head lifts slightly off of the ground, and the feet reach towards and behind their head, breathing deeply, supporting if you need to by holding the soles of the feet together and gently supporting the back of their neck and head.
Bridge pose: Whilst lying down, bring the soles of the feet to the ground, directly underneath the knees, straight line in the lower legs, allow the arms to rest by the sides of the body, palms facing down, and then support the child on an in breath to lift their lower, mid and possibly even upper back off of and away from the ground, ensuring you are comfortable, you can support by placing your hands underneath the backside and waist of the child so that the stretch is not too strenuous for them. Staying either lifted for 3 breaths and coming down on the next exhale or coming down on an exhale for a rest, and then lifting again on an inhale, coming down on an exhale and so on.
Double Leg raise: Some children may like to lift their legs off of the ground, keeping the back nice and straight resting on the ground, bring the legs up and away from the ground keeping them straight and together, moving potentially up so that the soles of the feet are facing the sky/ceiling. Release slowly back down after 2 or 3 breaths on an exhale.
River Flute by Kevin MacLeod