I still remember going to my first ever yoga class in the local festival hall. I had gone along with a friend at their suggestion, and I liked it I think!!, at least I kept going and they didn't, and 20 years later it's what I call work, so whether I did or I didn't it started a life long journey!!.
In that first class, I realised I had no co-ordination, that there were muscles in my body I had never used before and that lying on the floor quietly for 15-20 minutes was the hardest thing I'd done in a long time and sent me into complete panic, the room was spinning and I just wanted to get out of there. Considering i'd just graduated with a 2:1 from a four year university degree that felt quite significant. Surely lying down for 20 minutes is easy, right?, wrong!.
And so it was that for a long time I simply left the class after the physical part of the practice. I am glad that no-one forced me to lie down and be still, because I would never have gone back, but I was missing out on a very important part of my yoga journey. I can't remember what eventually made me decide to stay and give it a shot. Perhaps it was a simple as I just got to a point where I had reaped the benefits of the physical practice and my mind had slowed down enough to allow me to be still. Did it even matter if I relaxed or not?, actually the physical practice of yoga originally existed to allow yogis to sit for extended periods in meditation, so when I learnt this years later in my BWY yoga training it all made sense. I'm happy to say it quickly became my favourite part of yoga and still is!.
If physical yoga practice is predominantly concerned with keeping the body free and healthy to sit in extended periods of meditation, then meditation must be a pretty big deal, and indeed it is. Most people have heard of meditation, ask anyone to meditate and they will likely put their thumb and one finger together, hover their hands in the air and starting 'oming', even the kids do this when we mention yoga!.
Yoga relaxation, focused breathing and mindful meditation have been proven to increase alpha wave activity in the brain, and there are many benefits of this. To list a few; clear thinking, reduced tiredness, creativity, improved immunity and memory, reduction in stress and anxiety, energy redirected for healing and rejuvenation, the list goes on. That's why it's an integral part of yoga and why even children's classes attempt a period of stillness.
The title of the blog is, when is relaxing not relaxing. Why we should never force children to lie still in yoga. So you may wonder why I've been waffling on about the importance of relaxation. Surely I've made a pretty good case to say we should all be pined down and forced to relax. Obviously we know this would be wrong!
The traditional relaxation pose in yoga 'the corpse pose' (lying on the back arms by the sides - as if dead! so definitely no moving.) but like me not everyone will respond favourably and children who don't may be labelled naughty or disruptive.
Lets take a minute to think about why children might be unable to lie still or quiet, and why in extreme circumstances they may even get up and run around, when we ask them to relax.
They are too active to lie down - this can be especially apparent in children with special needs, trying to force them to lie down would not only be wrong but would result in distraction for the other children. Some children who are active might not like being alone with their own thoughts and the sensations they produce, they could be too immature to process these,we would not insist on these children being completely still.
They lack confidence or feel anxious - some children take time to adjust to new activities they want to 'check it out' before they commit, and so they might prefer to just sit, given time they might feel it's okay to lie down or they might not. Susan and I have seen both in our time teaching children. Either way if they aren't disturbing others, does it matter? we believe not, at this age we want to offer children tools to use in later life.
Lying down is a threat - this may encompass the two situations above, but it may also be something more serious. Consider a child who may be abused or who sees the abuse of others, they may associate lying down with vulnerability and pain. Anyone who feels threatened by their environment will find lying down difficult and it certainly won't be relaxing.
The important thing to remember is that what is relaxing to one person may not be to another and in extreme cases it might be the complete opposite of relaxing, invoking feelings of fear and anxiety and this would be counter productive. This is why we would never force a child to lie down in relaxation, we offer them the opportunity to lie on their back, their front or their side, but there is always the option to remain sitting and those that need it can be given something visual to concentrate on.
It might also be as in my case that they just aren't ready, any part of a yoga programme should be an invitation not a force. Make sure at the end of every relaxation that no child is confused, lost or unhappy.
When Susan and I started developing the Yoginis Yoga programme, we very much kept the individual perspective at the forefront of our minds and this led us to develop our values. Two of which are individuality is important and nurture, with this in mind we always let the child lead. That's not to say we discourage discipline and rules but that we remember the basic premise of humanity, kindness and understanding and we offer our approved coaches continual support to allow them to deliver this.
We offer training programmes for those already working with children in schools, nurseries and other registered childcare providers and youth groups. Our training uses yoga techniques but has been developed and designed to work with the needs of children to allow them to access tools for life. Why not take a look at our training and feel free to drop us an enquiry, we offer the flexibility of group or online training to fit your needs.
Perhaps you are a parent reading this and interested in using yoga in your home, take a look at our Parent Zone.