Using Yoga & Mindfulness to Defuse Stress at Home & at School
It does little good to attempt to de-stress the lives of our children if we, as parents, teachers and caregivers, don’t first look at our own lives. One of the ways children learn how to navigate the world is from observing, processing, and internalizing how the adults around them act and react in daily life and relationships. As the old (and accurate) saying goes: Actions speak louder than words.
Think about it: if you tell a 5-year-old who has just lost her favorite stuffed animal, “Honey, don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find it. Let’s take some nice deep breaths and focus on finding it together!” and then, when you can’t find something important of your own (wallet or car keys, for example) you become anxious, irritable, frantic and increasingly impatient with those around you, what do you think your kids learn?
The first step in removing yourself from the cycle of stress is noticing you are in it. Noticing is an important practice in yoga and mindfulness. It entails creating a space or a pause, then inquiring, feeling, recognizing and reasoning.
How often do you do this in moments of difficulty? Most of us seldom notice in this way, particularly in difficult or stressful situations. So ask yourself these basic questions to help you recognize if you may be experiencing and reacting to the effects of stress in your daily life:
- Do I often feel overwhelmed - at home, work, in the classroom (or all of the above)?
- Do I find myself always in a hurry?
- Do I find myself getting frustrated easily with my children, my significant other, my co-workers, the drivers on the road, the people in the grocery store? Etc.
- Do I get a full, restful nights sleep on a regular basis and wake up feeling refreshed?
- When I’m stressed, how do I release it? Be honest with yourself. Has whatever you do helped you move beyond the mindless, chronic stress cycle?
- Is my mind constantly racing?
- Do I feel mentally alert or mentally foggy? Do I feel calm and generally happy, or mostly tense and anxious? Are my thoughts often positive or negative?
- Do I often feel tension in my body? Do I even notice how my body feels?
- Do I react calmly in the face of difficult situations with my family, friends and children, or do I blow things out of proportion?
- Do I find myself yelling at my children regularly, even for small things?
- Do I breathe, smoothly, evenly, fully? Or is my breathing short and erratic? Do I sometimes even hold my breath, especially when I’m tense, angry, or stressed?
Noticing is a muscle strengthened by practicing yoga. The reason we put our body in different positions in yoga is not only to create strength, flexibility, and balance - but, primarily, to Notice, with a capital “N.” You notice how you feel and react, where you feel and react, you notice your breathing and how it feels and reacts.
Movement follows breath in yoga. In that way, mind, breath, and body are engaged together in a common goal. A powerful combination.
The leader of that trio is the breath. Why? Well, one basic reason is that breathing has the power to affect our nervous system - in other words - the power to change how we feel, and therefore how we think - and therefore, how we act. Breathing can be a natural shot of calm. Bodily tension releases, the mind slows, which leads to an overall feeling of balance and calm. The opposite of stress.
The beauty is, when you begin to act from a mental and emotional place of calm, of noticing, of balance - it won’t matter if the day’s seas are serene or stormy - you will navigate both with greater consciousness, intent, clarity, and ease.
You don’t have to be able to bend yourself into a pretzel to experience these benefits. A skilled teacher, simple postures and movement led by simple, conscious breathing (breathe in, breathe out), are all you need to begin. Self-regulation through breath and movement is the body’s innate way of maintaining balance. Modeling this level of self-regulation is one of the best things you can do for your child. They will follow your lead, or better yet, they will not develop the habits that impede their own natural tendencies toward self-regulation.
The bottom line? You are one of your kids’ most valuable resources when it comes to learning healthy patterns of living and relationship. The tools are out there, and they are also inside of you. You just have to notice them, reach for them, and get started.