It was when I was studying for my Law degree at Warwick University that I first became aware of Yoga and meditation. That was almost twenty years ago! (Where does time go?) I was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of books I had to read, the pages and pages of notes to revise and the impending exams so when a friend suggested we went along to a Yoga class to try and calm down, I thought 'What is there to lose?'.
For that one hour each week, I felt like I had nothing to worry about, it was my time to be calm with like-minded people. I stretched, I breathed, I relaxed. And I was hooked. Ever since then I've turned to Yoga whenever I needed to reset my body and or my mind. I call Yoga my 'Ctrl, Alt, Del'. Whatever kind of day I've had, even half an hour of Yoga brings me back to earth. I am calm and focused again and I am ready to take on the world. It gives me a sense of perspective and makes me happy.
So when I hear stories of youngsters getting stressed and anxious around exam time, whether that's SATs, GCSEs, A-levels or even music and dance exams I want to tell them all to try Yoga to see if it will help. I am passionate about the benefits of Yoga and Mindfulness for children and young people. Afterall, that's why I started YOGADOO. It's my aim to make Yoga accessible for as many people as possible. There's no need to head off to a Yoga studio in your lycra, although that's cool too. You can practice Yoga anywhere, wearing anything, at any time. Even by practicing 30-40 mins of Yoga a few times a week, you'll feel the benefits.
My opinion is that Yoga and Mindfulness should feature in everyone's life - whatever their age, but it's an essential part of a revision timetable during exams. YOGADOO is running a teens (12-16 years) Yoga and Mindfulness class on Tuesdays 5pm-6pm at Widcombe Social Club (starts Tuesday June 14th). £36 for 6 weeks, £6.50 Pay as you go. Limited to 15 spaces. Relaxation techniques, yoga, group work and beginners acro yoga - all to some great music!
To for more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org or to book: http://buytickets.at/yogadoo/53716
Here's five tips for helping a young person to relax using Yoga and Mindfulness.
- Breathing exercises: Becoming aware of your breath is the first step towards relaxation. Take deep breaths in through your nose (take around 5 seconds to inhale), holding for a couple of seconds, then forcefully breathing out through your mouth (taking around 8 seconds to exhale). Repeat this at least five times. You can extend the length of time it takes to breathe in and out, but make sure your exhale is always longer than your inhale.
- Visualisation: Lying on your back with your feet, slightly wider than your hips, arms out to the side, palms facing up and eyes closed. This is known as Corpse pose. Breathe deeply and visualise yourself somewhere you feel calm. Maybe a beach? Maybe in a field surrounded by wild flowers? Remember that feeling of calm, remember the smells. Stay in that place of calm and relax.
- Stretching: It sounds obvious, but a good stretch can relieve tension and help relax the body. Some of the easiest stretches are Cat and Cow. Go onto 'all fours' so you are on your hands and knees. Make sure your knees are under your hips, and your wrists are under your shoulders. Begin with your back flat. Take a big deep breath in. As you breathe out, round your spine up towards the ceiling, and imagine you're pulling your belly button up towards your spine. Tuck your chin towards your chest, and let your neck release. This is your cat-pose. As you breathe out, arch your back, let your belly relax and go loose. Lift your head and tailbone up towards the sky — without putting any unnecessary pressure on your neck. This is your Cow pose.
Slowly move back and forth from Cat Pose to Cow Pose, and connect your breath to each movement — inhale for Cow Pose and exhale on Cat Pose. Repeat for at least 10 rounds, or until your spine is warmed up.
- Body scanning: This is a great technique to use if you or your child is having trouble sleeping. I use it with my son Freddie (who is 7) if he can't settle at bedtime. Lying on your back in Corpse pose (see above), you can do this with the child lying in their bed or a comforable place on the floor. Find a calm and quiet place. And ask the child to close their eyes and breathe deeply in and out. You're going to make your child aware of the different parts of their body, and in turn 'switch off' or relax each body part. Start with the toes, saying something like 'be aware of your toes, let them sink or melt into the bed or floor, feel them sinking and sinking, and them release your toes. Your toes are now relaxed.' Work all the way up the body, slowly. Toes, feet, shins, knees, thighs, hips, belly and so on. Take your time, asking them to focus on their breathing and relax. My son rarely makes it past the belly before he is asleep!
- Child's pose Again, it's a very simple Yoga pose, but it's a complete reset and stretches your lower back and relaxes your entire body. Start on your knees, and drop your bottom down to your heels. Drop your body forward so your belly is on your knees, stretching your entire body. Rest your arms in a relaxed position either out in front of you with palms on the floor. Or arms towards your toes with your palms facing up. Your forehead should be resting on the floor. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. You should feel a gentle stretch in your back, shoulders and neck. Stay here as long as you feel comfortable.
By Lucy Aston, Founder of YOGADOO.