Yoga for Calming Children's Nervous System

Sensory Regulation Solutions, Restorative Yoga Poses
Clinicians look for activities to help children to self-calm and self-regulate. A child who is over-responsive and reacts too easily to stimuli would benefit from using the restorative poses as a self-calming activity. They can easily be added to a therapist’s toolbox. When a child is feeling angry, anxious, or traumatized, a basic restorative pose can feel very safe and comforting. Positioning the body with props under the knees and neck feels extremely restful and self-contained and can include an eye pillow. For children with sensory, trauma, balance, sleep, and regulatory issues, relaxing in a basic restorative pose allows the body to yield into the earth and feels secure.

Sensory Corners: Partitioned Environments with Less Stimulation
A sensory corner is a quiet and secluded area in a classroom or home for a child to relax and minimize extra stimulation. It can be portioned off with furniture, a small tent, a screen or a specified place. Adding a few simple props in a sensory corner in a classroom would allow for restorative poses. A sensory corner would be enhanced with the picture of the pose posted on the wall. The restorative poses support the body in all planes, so there is no tension in having to hold the body up. When the limbs, head, neck and chest are supported so a person isn’t striving to hold against gravity, an effortless state can occur.

Simple Restorative Poses for the Classroom, Home or Therapy Session
A simple pose that needs no equipment is “legs up against the wall” where you lie supine on the mat and place your legs at 90 degrees on the wall. Another simple pose that can be done in a classroom is having a child stack their fists one on the other and simply put their head on their fists to rest while seated at the desk. Or they can sit on the floor and put the legs through the chair legs and rest the head on the chair seat either on fists or stacked hands. The body doesn’t have to work at all in a supported forward seated posture with a pillow for the torso, called supported child’s pose. Have the child sit with the knees folded under them and ask them to bend forward from the hips. Lay the entire torso and head over a large cushion that allows them to rest. The child can also sit on the floor with legs extended and place a therapy ball between the legs while leaning forward over a ball for a restful seated pose. Or on a mat, Child’s pose can be used as a restful pose, where the child kneels and bends forward laying the torso onto the mat. The head rests down on the hands or the hands can come to the side of the body. These restful poses allow for a deep rejuvenation.

Legs Up on the Wall
In a restorative pose “legs up against the wall” place the child supine on the mat and place his legs at 90 degrees on the wall or on a chair. To get into this pose, simply have the child put one side of the hips up against the wall, and then swing the legs up onto the wall as they lie down on their back. Position the buttocks near the wall according to comfort level.
•  Instruct the children to sit next to a wall and position the right hip next to the wall, with legs extended straight alongside the wall.
•  Instruct the child to swing the legs up and rest the legs on the wall while lying down in supine. Some students may prefer a folded blanket under the hips.
•  Legs can be also placed on a beanbag chair, wedge, chair, or stabilized ball.
•  Give children a blanket, towel or sweater as body temperature may drop.
•  Adolescents with a large torso may need neck support with a rolled towel. The neck should not be hyper-extended backward. Adjust as needed with props to support and raise the neck for proper alignment.

Adapted Equipment Version: Legs on a ball
Legs on the wall can be adapted for special populations or situations by using a chair, stabilized ball, a low bench, wedge or bolster depending on the size of the child. In this adaptation, the legs are flexed at an angle of 90 or more degrees and positioned on a ball. This works well in a sensory corner, therapy session or added to a sensory diet regimen for a home program.

The Belly Elevator (Practicing the Three-part Breath)
•  Place a toy, tissue, paper, ball or animal on the student’s belly.
•  Begin the deep three-part breathing.
•  Notice the breath coming into the belly
•  Watch how the inhale makes the toy go up with the abdomen extending.
•  Watch how the exhale makes the toy go down with the abdomen contracting.

Resting on Stacked Fists on Desk
•  Have the child stack his fists one on top of the other at the desk
•  Put the head on the fists to rest while seated at the desk
•  Do the equal or counting breath (count 4 for the inhale and exhale)

Child’s Pose
A restful pose to do after doing active poses, is Child’s pose. This can be an alternative for Sponge pose in a sensory corner for a child who doesn’t want to lie down.
•  Start in a quadruped position
•  Sit back onto the heels, lower the chest to the thighs
•  Extend the arms forward, chin to the chest or place arms along your sides
•  Lean over equipment such as pillows, blankets, towel rolls, or bolsters for a supported Child’s pose.
•  For an adapted, restorative or seated pose for children who don’t want to lie down, extend the legs out in front of the body with a V and place a pillow, bolster, or ball between the legs placed in front of the body. Instruct the child to lean forward onto the supports used and hug their arms around it while resting.

Sponge Pose
•  Have the child lie down on his or her back on a mat or rug to rest
•  Place arms at sides and put the palms face up on the floor
•  It is also referred to as the Do-Nothing-Doll pose
•  While resting, the body temperature drops
•  Offer a blanket, towel, or jacket to keep warm
•  For a seated pose, lean over a pillow or bolster placed in front

TIPS AND TAKE AWAYS
1.  Watch for somatic and physiological responses
2.  Be flexible. If a child wants to stop, respect that
3.  Be creative. Alternatives to Sponge pose are Child’s pose, legs on the wall, leaning over a ball, hugging a bean bag chair or seated with head on desk
4.  Avoid forcing or overly focusing on any child
5.  Only use praise
6.  In a one to one session, you can play quiet music to create a calm ambiance and repeat a simple sequence for 10-20 minutes and rest in Sponge pose.
7.  Enjoy yourself and be happy with small results. It is ok if the children don’t want to do all the poses. The children gain from being in the presence of your calm state and “breathing into stillness.” Have fun and keep at it.

Yoga can be offered to students from early childhood to adolescence for calming, alerting, mood management, and deep rest for rejuvenation. By building a sensory corner at home or school, implementing breathing into a sensory diet program, or helping a student have more movement breaks in class or with smart board yoga adaptations, we are offering students a connection to the mind and body. Exploring with a flexible mind, a sense of humor and enjoyment is key for the teacher/therapist. As we relax into the poses, we open emotionally to a somatic exploration. We begin understanding the application of Brain Body Tools.