I have been approached by some people asking me what I tell kids during savasana (final relaxation) in my kids yoga classes. My answer is that it depends on how the class went and what I feel the kids need at that point. In other words, this is not a standardized test, which gets prepared ahead of time and is given to everyone no matter what their individual needs are. This is more like an intuitive approach to their relaxation, given the theme, poses, and games followed during class.
I will try to be less abstract. Overall there are three types of relaxation techniques I use at the end of classes. They are visualization, muscle relaxation, and the previous two combined into one. With no doubt, I prefer the last technique, which explores body awareness and also provides freedom to explore guided imagery (by the end of class, you have at least an idea about what the kids are interested in that day). Visualizations tend to work well with kids because they have not raised too many walls around their imagination yet (what a shame it is to block all that!), and usually can ride along the ideas presented without a problem. The second one is also called progressive muscle relaxation, and I’ve been through it a couple times in adult yoga classes, when the instructor guides you to tense and relax each muscle group. As you can imagine, when done plainly with the kids is not very much appreciated, so you have to add some fun to it like using a feather to touch muscle areas, for instance.
There are many wonderful techniques involving mindfulness to practice with little and bigger kids. Counting breath is a great way to introduce mindfulness to them, and slowly increase the count for inhales and exhales as they raise their lungs capacity. Similar to that is a technique which also works for teenagers and adults. It is called ‘Ten Breaths’. Simply pay attention to your breathing for the next ten breaths, that means counting one for each combination of an inhale and exhale. As thoughts pass by, it is easy to get distracted and not get to number ten, having to start from the beginning again. It is important to teach non-judgment at this point, when the person should congratulate herself/himself for noticing she/he got out of track, and simply restart the count. This helps the person doing the exercise realize how easily we get distracted, specially in this era of much time dedicated to social networking and texting. Most importantly, this exercise helps us realize how to get back on track, over and over. And overcoming self-judgment.
On the other day, two of the students in my kids yoga class were sisters, one being 7yrs old, and the other, 4. During final relaxation, I invited them to lie on their backs on their mats, close their eyes, and relax a few major body parts I knew they knew of. Then, I guided them on a hot air balloon ride with a special detail. They had a bucket filled with love inside the balloon with them to throw down on someone who they chose; it did not have to be anyone taking class with us; anyone they knew and wanted to feel loved. I ended the relaxation time throwing in a few more different senses to the experience, such as feeling the wind on their hair and faces, etc. At the end, we sat in circle, as we usually do, and talked about the experience. I asked if any of them would like to share who they sent love to; everybody wanted to share. When it was the older sister’s turn, she said, “I chose to send love to my little sister.” How lovely! Literally.
The paragraph above describes a bit of how I bring the combination of mindfulness and visualization into the relaxation time at the end of my kids yoga classes. Most kids, after coming to the class at least once if not on the first time already, are able to stop chatting or shouting out comments during this time. Sometimes they get shushed by classmates, who are very interested in following the visualization. It is important to understand that the guided imageries do not impose limits to their imagination – they can add their own flavor to the stories, and even share the stories with the rest of the class at the end. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is known to help people connect to themselves, improve happiness, reduce stress and increase focus. It increases our awareness and helps us handle the present with less judgment.