Sensory and Yoga Circle Time for Preschoolers

Sensory Yoga originated from serving populations of students with mixed skill levels in a group. Some students had sensory processing issues and needed extra cueing to be successful with a movement oriented circle time. As a preschool itinerant OT, I would offer to do 10 minutes of circle time. I would combine my experience of using sensory processing activities with yoga. I might add tasks that utilized the tactile system or touch and proprioception or information to the joints and vestibular or movement such as rocking. I coined the term “sensory yoga” when I added these qualities to an activity. Often teachers will welcome a break from the traditional circle time. Without going into a lot of detail with the teachers, I would explain how yoga could be helpful for self-regulation, reducing behaviors and movement skills for the class. I emphasized that breathing can help children’s nervous systems switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic, explaining that this helps the kids become calmer. You can demonstrate this by doing several poses, deep breathing and a relaxation pose such as the Sponge.

•  Suggest a “push–in” during preschool or school age circle.
•  Explain that yoga is relaxing, includes breathing and reduces behavior issues.
•  Note the preventive nature of body based focused activity.
•  Promote how yoga can contribute to avoiding anxious behaviors.
•  Use a visual image of a pose on a card, iPad, or notebook.
•  Demonstrate the pose and ask the children to imitate you.
•  Educate teachers with a yoga DVD of music and postures.
•  Allow the children to become accustomed to the poses.
•  Practice the sequence repeatedly in the same order.
•  Embrace each child at their own pace and capability.
•  Watch for tolerance and response to the calming ambiance.
•  Choose a video, if needed that is calming and appropriate for your group.
•  Beware of videos with fast images and distracting animation.
•  Choose a temperately animated video.
•  Utilize a sensory yoga group as preparation for seated work, before a rest time or as a break in the day between activities.
•  Have fun with the results.
•  Stay in the present moment, avoid judging the experience.

I have held many sensory yoga groups at preschools and school programs. The groups took place in an integrated classroom with typical and special needs children ages 3-5 years old. This 10-15 minute sequence was tolerated well. If you wish, you can add a longer relaxation in the last 2-3 minutes. Plan a 2-minute re-orientation and transition back to the circle time schedule. Allow for variance, depending on your group.

I always demonstrated the poses myself and had a picture to show the group. I would mix doing some sensory activities in with the poses. If the kids were lying on their stomachs, I might go around the circle and apply deep pressure with the large green ball on each child’s back. Sometimes, one child demonstrated the pose along with me. It was evident that most children loved to do yoga poses that had an animal name. The children stay interested and want to move their bodies.

Walking around the circle, I held up a picture of each pose for the children to see. Keeping my voice quiet and gentle, I engaged the children by asking questions such as: “We are going to do a pose like a dog. Who has seen a dog stretch? Who has a dog at home? What is your dog’s name?” This allowed me to stay engaged with the individual children and monitor who needed some extra attention. We would then do the pose of Downward Dog together. This also would meet some of the teacher’s goals for the group for following directions, focusing and paying attention.

Doing circle time yoga in a group also revealed to the teacher and myself unidentified sensory processing issues or poor motor planning skills in the children. I would make a mental note of who couldn’t follow the directions, wasn’t able to distinguish between a command to lie down on their back or stomach, became overly excited or couldn’t self-calm, I would mention my findings to the teachers and make suggestions for further evaluations if needed.

•  Medium size green therapy ball
•  Small squishy koosh
•  Vibrating toy (optional)
•  Pictures of the poses (on cards, iPad or a notebook)
•  Bean bags for eye pillows, wash cloths or paper towel
•  DVD if you prefer to not demonstrate

“Today we will be doing some movement, breathing and imitating the shapes of animals with our bodies. Who wants to be an animal? At times we can make noise and other times we have to be very quiet. Before we start, I will be passing around the large green ball. When it is your turn, you can say your name and tap the ball as hard as you wish. After your turn, pass the ball to your friend and then sit very quietly. Show me you are ready by looking up here at me.”

•  Lights out or dimmed
•  Lay mats or towels out in a circle
•  Give children their own safe space
•  Begin with a sensory warm up activity
•  Breathe deeply (the equal breath teacher counts the beats out loud. Inhale 3, Exhale 3. Repeat 2-3 x)
•  Practice poses
•  Relax in Do-Nothing-Doll pose
•  Sing

•  Proprioceptive activity “to tap the ball” helps some children settle down
•  Introduce Mountain pose for line-up and for standing still
•  Breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system for calming
•  Singing at the end of poses creates deep relaxation

Preschool Poses
Start in a seated pose. Begin by having the children inhale and raise their arms. If you do a backbend always do a forward bend to follow and balance the body. Always do poses on both sides of the body. We always inhale as we arch, extend up and exhale as we flex, fold in and come down. These poses may be used for school-aged children through adolescents. If this sequence is too long for your client, you may shorten it. Pretzel twist, Belly breathing or equal breath, Cat and Cow, Sphinx, Downward Dog, Upward Dog, Tree, Mountain, Table, Bridge, Butterfly (flutter knees), Lion, Child’s pose, Sponge pose, Sing names of the students. Or design a song of calming, inspiring words such as: snowflakes falling silently, sun shines down on me.

•  Sponge pose: Lie down on back in the Do-Nothing-Doll pose
•  Lie on the back with arms relaxed and palms up, legs spread slightly
•  Offer a blanket or sweater during sponge as children may become cold
•  Increase the relaxation with bean bags or towels as eye pillows
•  Allow the children to rest for several minutes after the poses