The percentage of children who experience anxiety and stress is now a staggering 47% in Australia1 (above that of most other developed countries, including USA and Canada). School pressure is a major cause of stress in kids, and psychologists are finally joining the dots.
Stress at school is a ‘pressure cooker’
Stress at school can be attributed to many factors including:
- Fear: The fear of academic failure or just not being good enough.
- Social anxiety: Peer pressure, criticism and social interaction difficulties.
- Feeling overwhelmed by homework: Many teenagers in particular feel unable to cope with homework.
- Class participation: Students often feel very stressed when they can’t answer questions properly.
Outcomes of toxic stress in children
- Impaired brain development: Stress hormones can reach toxic levels in a child’s brain, inhibiting the development of intelligence and creative thinking. High levels of early stress have also been linked to impaired emotional development2.
- Illness: Headaches, digestive problems and a weakened immune system are some physical stress symptoms. Mentally, stress can cause mood-swings and depression.
- Behavioural problems: Various behavioural problems stemming from stress may include: increased absenteeism, hostility and aggression.
- Dropout: Stress can lead to higher dropout rates.
Yoga – a powerful tool to reduce stress in children
While stress is an unavoidable part of life (and mild stress can be motivating), yoga offers simple ways to reduce the toxic impact of stress on a child’s brain, body and nervous system.
Yoga also gives children tools to recognise and reduce stress before it becomes an escalating problem.
“Yoga creates children who are bright lights in this world, increasing their self-awareness
and strengthening their bodies.” – Shakta Khalsa
5 simple yoga practices for kids (to de-stress fast)
These ‘tried and true’ yoga practices work every time
1. Balloon Belly Breath
Sit or lie down – be comfortable.
Place both hands on your belly.
Close your eyes and imagine your belly is your favourite coloured balloon.
Breathe in and expand your hands away from your belly – imagine your balloon expands with your bands.
Breathe out and slowly bring the hands back as your balloon deflates.
Practise this breath for a few moments (5-10 breaths is ideal).
Stress benefits: Controlled breathing in the abdominal region relaxes the body and releases muscular tension. This practice alone can reduce stress fast, especially if lying down.
2. Tree Pose
Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Feel the connection to the earth through the soles of the feet.
Shift your weight onto one foot and bend the other leg at the knee.
Place the heel on the ankle or upper inner thigh of the standing leg.
Balance by fixing your gaze at a point.
When steady, raise your arms above the head, and press your hands together in prayer pose.
Hold for a short time, then release slowly. Practise to the other side.
Stress benefits: This pose helps a child to become grounded, centred then balanced. The balance element helps to focus and balance the mind and emotions. Balancing poses are also empowering for children and self-confidence is developed.
3. Downward-Facing Dog
Start on all fours with hands directly under the shoulders and knees under the hips. Fingers are stretched out and pointing forwards. Toes are tucked under.
Now breathe in – and as you breathe out lift your knees and straighten your legs, pushing your bottom upwards as much as possible.
Let your head be down and loose. Try to relax the neck.
Breathe slowly and start to press the heels towards the floor.
Start with 1-2 rounds, holding the pose for a few breaths if possible.
Optional: Mentally repeat: “I am strong.”
Stress benefits: Locked up tension in the body is released, and this brings physical and mental stress relief. Blood is circulated into the brain, revitalising a tired or stressed mind. Strength and flexibility is developed, bringing a sense of empowerment and confidence.
4. Child’s Pose
Start on all fours (on your hands and knees), then sit back onto your heels.
Rest your forehead on the ground with arms outstretched in front or alongside the body.
Close your eyes and notice a sense of relaxation and comfort.
Feel that with each out-breath you’re gradually letting go.
Let yourself stay in this pose for a few moments.
Stress benefits: This pose is protective and comforting, and can give a feeling of shelter from the world and its pressures. It calms and balances the adrenals, and therefore quietens a stressed mind or nervous system.
5. Relaxation: My Place in Nature
Lie down and close your eyes. Imagine you are lying on soft green grass. It’s a warm sunny day. You can smell the soft grass beneath you. A gentle breeze touches your face. Smell the clean air around you. Perhaps you can smell the grass. You are lying under a big old gum tree with a thick solid trunk. You think it must be 100 years old. Solid and strong. You know this old tree. You know the touch of its bark. Notice if it is rough or smooth . . . and notice the colours of the bark. Imagine you stand and put your arms around it and feel the coolness against your cheek. You smile . . . the tree has given you strength and energy as well as peace and calm.
Now see yourself let go of the tree and lie down underneath it. Slowly begin to wake up your body. Wiggle your fingers and toes.Have a stretch and sit up.
Stress benefits: Creating natural, peaceful environments in a child’s imagination can have a profound effect on stress levels. And kids love visualisation practices, even the older ones.
Teaching yoga to kids helps to de-stress the teacher!
Teachers (and parents) who teach yoga to children can also receive the many benefits of yoga for themselves. When you teach or share yoga, there’s a focus for your attention and you’re connecting with the child in a deeper way.
Reducing your own stress levels makes you feel better of course, but it’s also influencing the students in your class. One of the greatest gifts you can give is peace.
If toxic stress remains unchecked in children the negative consequences can become lifelong problems. As adults we may overlook or shrug off stress as just a part of life. However, a child who is experiencing high levels of stress (whatever the cause) will suffer on many levels: physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and academically.
An easy solution: Yoga offers a powerful yet simple solution to the problem of stress in children. The 5 simple yoga practices given in this article alone can make a profound difference to a child’s life.
Change a kid’s life – learn how to teach yoga to kids
If you are interested in teaching yoga to kids (and reaping the benefits at the same time!) read more about our Kids Yoga Education programs. Or if you just want to talk to us to find out more then contact us here. We’d love to hear from you.
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References and useful links