As a parent of two kiddos with 10 years of experience working as an Occupational Therapist,I know how hectic life can be for modern day families with ALL types of kids. I know how pulled we can all feel, how overstimulated life can be, and how at times, we can all feel like we have way too much technology and real life to process. This feeling affects parents and kids alike, and if left untended, can lead to high stress levels within the family, and difficulty with everyday tasks.
It's my yoga & mindfulness training that grounds me and reminds me of the importance of one simple, easy to implement concept--a peaceful space. I believe every child deserves a designated space in their home environment to use as a retreat from the world or a time-in. When we offer a child this opportunity, we both model and teach the importance of respecting the brain's and body's need for downtime, which translates to a happier kid and eventually, a healthier adult across all spectrums.
Through my life's work, I have found that creating a peaceful space in your home or classroom can be one of the most beneficial, low-budget, practical and easy strategies. It's fast and easy, and it supports a developing nervous system and soothes difficulty with sensory processing! A peaceful space can also prevent meltdowns by nipping overwhelm in the bud. It empowers a child to feel a sense of control over his or her own environment. These spaces encourage the use of self-regulation and calming techniques that can generalize into a healthy, calmer adolescence and adulthood.
The best part about these spaces is that they are
Screen Time that Works for the Family! Apps & Online resources for Peace and Sensory Support for Kids.
As a yoga teacher, a parent and an occupational therapist, I walk a fine line between embracing the digital world wholeheartedly and high-tailing it to disconnect from it. Fortunately, my personal guideline of focus on the kind of media to which I expose my kids is what keeps me balanced on that fine line in a healthy way.
Every family benefits from screen time guidelines that work for the individual family needs, though the individual needs will vary between every family and between every child within each family. Though I don't feel there are any one-size-fits-all blanket statements for screen time boundaries for any child, I do feel that parents know their kids best, and they can help the kids determine what kind of screen time is right for them. In my family, I focus on distinguishing between screen time that lifts them towards a more peaceful and empowered life and what kind of screen time limits their function in life or withholds their contributions to the world. When we focus on the quality of screen time and how it supports the individual needs of each child, I think we can find screen time that works for the entire family!
Once I tease out the quality of screen time, the duration of time usually works itself out. Given the context of our environment and purpose, I am able to set a time-frame keeping in mind that our bodies need to move big movements for 10 minutes of every hour at a minimum to maintain good cognitive function and self regulation.
I tend to recommend apps and resources here that support a parent and child through real life as opposed to drawing them away from it. I also like apps that can involve both the parent and child working together because all research points to kids thriving with increased parental connection. When screens are utilized as a way for parents and children to come together harmoniously regarding life management, I think that's a tool worth using! I have done my best to include apps and online resources that would involve both a parent's agenda (teach and guide a child towards a happy, healthy, independent life) and a child's agenda (learn and discover through play). This is by no means a complete list. I invite you to comment and share apps that you feel support peaceful living, sensory enrichment and support through modern life.
Here are some resources that I personally and professionally use for sensory enrichment and peaceful family living for preschool and elementary aged kids (many are linked to iTunes store, but are also available on Android devices).
First Then Visual Schedule by Good Karma Applications cost: $9.99 This is not a cheap app, but when it comes to schedules, you will spend about that for supplies and time spent creating one yourself or buying one online. This is a time-management, attention and schedule support for those who benefit from a structured environment and it helps to lower anxiety through transitions. This is a convenient way to carry a schedule with you out of the house. If kids demonstrate worries about saying goodbye to you at school or demonstrate resistance towards any part of the daily routine, or have difficulty staying on task independently, schedules can be an amazing salve for the struggle. I use schedules often, even in my yoga classes and private sessions, which helps kids feel empowered and more at peace about moving through a daily routine over which they have very little control.
iEarnedThat app by Kidoc, LLC cost $1.99 This is not your mother's star chart. It is a multi-sensory way to move towards a goal. I love that as an app, you can take with you in the community, or help a child move towards a goal in multiple environments. I appreciate the multi-sensory components of the puzzle element (visual-spatial and visual motor). I love how the puzzle pieces can be a playful and engaging way to move towards a goal. Any time you add play and fun into the mix, you encourage intrinsic motivation so that the extrinsic motivation (actual physical reward) ends up just being bonus! I always love the rewards that strengthen family connection and involve fun family activities such as a special family outing or activity, etc.
From the App store: “Turn any picture of a desired reward into a 3Dinteractive jigsaw puzzle of up to 60 pieces. Set the goal and have your child earn their reward one puzzle piece at a time.”
LetterSchool Multisensory writing app. Cost: $ 2.99 As an OT, I am compelled to highlight a writing app. This app is for preschool and younger elementary school children. I love LetterSchool from a sensory perspective, and how it teaches kids the structured motor sequence of writing each letter. Both of my kids love it, too! This is the one of only two apps (the other is Articulation Station) I have included that promotes a more sedentary and individual activity, but since it is a fine motor and cognitive task, I feel it's appropriate. My kids have enjoyed this app so much, that I began setting an app timer (see Kaboom App Timer below) to remind them when it's time to take a break.
Articulation Station: cost: Free (for articualting P) purchase sounds individually up to $49.99 for all sounds and activities. Created by a Speech Language Pathologist and offers practice at word, sentence and story levels (not a substitute for a good SLP, though). Target sounds can be purchased as needed. Kids love that you can record their voices for playback. Articulation is tied into the vestibular, tactile, proprioceptive and auditory processing sensory systems. Work on one area, and you positively affect the others! Plus, this is a fun way to work on articulation. Remember how I feel about fun? Strongly. Fun circumnavigates functional deficit. Play more, my friends.
Kaboom App Timer cost: $0.99. Simple app timer that reminds the kids when it's time to take a break. It has worked well for our iPad mini, though I notice it doesn't have the best reviews. Set a time and when the time is up, the device will lock and require your passcode to unlock it.
Me Moves App: cost: $9.99 for ages 3 and up. Visual Motor integration with calming elements. Also exercises attention, focus, rhythm and timing and bilateral (both sides) motor coordination. This is an expensive app by my standards, but it addresses so many sensory systems in such an engaging way, I feel it would be a disservice to exclude it. It would be wonderful to use when a child has to be relatively still (waiting rooms, airplanes, cars, etc) because in addition to offering good brain development work, it also has a calming element so desperately needed by many kiddos. Recommended for ages 3 and up.
Yoga Spinner App by upside down games cost: $0.99 Yoga for kids! What more do I need to say? Nothing really, but I will anyway. This app exercises the vestibular system (movement and balance) and proprioception (posture and body awareness) with strength building in a fun game format. Play yoga by yourself or enjoy partner poses with others!
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street. Cost: FREE. For ages 2-5, but my 6 year old loves it as well. This app works on calming techniques such as belly breathing, and demonstrates examples of creating multiple solutions for solving problems. I really love this app. It models deep breathing and offers solutions to common difficulties for preschoolers (such as putting on shoes, taking turns, saying goodbye to parents at school, etc). And it's FREE! My 4 year old loves to breathe with the monster, and I have been able to use "breathe like the monster" as a cue for her when she gets frustrated.
My First Yoga Animal Poses for Kids. Cost: FREE Great for younger kids or kids that need a sensory break. This is a very simple app that demonstrates animal themed yoga poses with audio instructions.
Gratitude Journal 365-Diary for your Happiness cost: FREE or upgrade for $1.99
This app allows you to upload pictures and type in your gratitude. What an awesome way to practice gratitude with your child! Many kids with sensory differences or neurological diagnoses (such as ADHD, ASD, Asperger's, SPD) have increased stress responses. A gratitude practice has been demonstrated to increase mental health, boost a feeling of happiness, lower stress responses and lead to easier time with transitions, changes, and unexpected circumstances, according to recent research. I highly recommend this app for any kid, though. Gratitude benefits all humans, and teaching a practice in childhood can be a gift of prevention in adulthood. I admit, I hog this app for myself. It's really a lovely practice to do something fun with the cell phone pictures I take every day and turn them into a gratitude journal on my phone!
Sleep Meditations for Kids: by Christianne Kerr cost: FREE (also see her bedtime meditation app for $4.99)
Christane has a beautiful accent and soothing voice. This app offers 4 audio tracks that help children up to age 12 calm down and transition to sleep peacefully. Lest we forget that the screen can just be used for listening, this awesome meditation app reminds us!
Too Noisy App Noise level meter cost: Free or upgrade to $2.99
This app is a wonderful way for parents to maintain sanity in the car when the noise level rises (ahem, I would know). Also works really well for the environment for which it was designed: a classroom. I most love it as a biofeedback tool to support a child toward learning voice modulation (how to be aware of and regulate voice volume when a child speaks too softly or too loudly). I have kiddos that have no trouble projecting voices, so this app allows us to throw a little play into keeping voices at a volume I can tolerate. Less hounding from me, more ability for my kids to recognize on their own what is too loud and what is just right.
TracknShare LITE - cost: Free or upgrade to pro. A self-help life management journal to track and share your health symptoms, life goals, mood, exercise, habits, and remedies. cost: FREE
If a child is old enough, he can track this on his own, but I think it's also an amazing way for a parent to track a child's life management to better understand what affects a child's sleep, stress, etc. Also see it's sister app: Autism Tracker LITE, which is geared more for behaviors that are typical of children with Autism, sensory processing disorders and ADHD.
Calm Down Now: cost: $1.99 Empowering tools and relaxing sounds for instant help with panic attacks anxiety sleep yoga & meditation. This app is geared more toward adults, but I love the sound bank where you can combine different sounds at your own choosing (ocean waves with flute), which is great for assisting with relaxation for sleep. It's easy enough so that kids can choose which sounds they want to combine as a fun way to relax before sleep.
Free website for Visual Learning: Eyecanlearn.com excellent FREE website that I have recommended to many of my clients! Offers visual attention and visual processing exercises.
Free Website for Sensory Support: A Sensory Life http://asensorylife.com/
“Three steps for sensory success...Educate. Embrace. Engage. Respect a Child's Sensory Differences...It Will Change How You Respond”
Yoga Hammocks with Exclusive Online Kids' Aerial Yoga Demonstrations (shameless plug). This is my version of using the digital world as a tool for managing real life in a well way. My hammocks delivered to you with exclusive online access for watching demo/instructional aerial yoga videos. I wouldn't put it out into the world if I didn't believe in it and know it to be helpful to the WHOLE child. Get more information HERE.
How do you use screen time as a positive tool for your family life? Do you have any resources to add? I'd love to hear about your thoughts in the comments below!
9 Reasons a Yogapeutics Aerial Yoga Hammock is the gift that keeps on giving to the brain, body & family!
Yogapeutics Hammocks are especially helpful for ANY kid (even the grown-up kind) :
1. Yogapeutics hammocks allow the multi-sensory information and movement that a child's brain needs to process information, learn, attend and develop in a healthy way. Our modern day, sedentary yet overscheduled society doesn't leave a lot of room for the type of movement which research shows is necessary for brain development (inverting the head hanging, gliding, balancing, receiving traction & compression of all joints of the body, and having a space to get away from the hustle of life). Did you know that just 15-20 minutes of this type of movement can have a positive effect on behavior that lasts hours? Yogapeutics' hammock allows you to provide this necessary movement and calming, comforting space to your child at your convenience in your own home!
2. 110 degrees outside? Blizzard coming in? Your indoor hammock keeps your kids from cabin fever and protects a parent from insanity! If you live in a location with extreme seasonal weather, there are some times of the year where attempting to obtain outdoor movement opportunities is considered borderline insanity (i.e. August in Austin). The hammock is an awesome way to receive movement when the weather prohibits outdoor adventures. The hammock is also known to maintain any parent's mental health when staying indoors is required. However, hammocks can be set up outside on swing sets or on healthy trees that are assured to support dynamic forces. We do not recommend you leave your hammock outside overnight. The fabric integrity can be compromised by weather.
3. Hammocks are a calming sensory retreat and physical boundary from everyday overload. Research shows children are more stressed as early as 1st grade than in any other time in US history, and that kids can sense stress in their parents lives even when parents do a good job of trying to protect them from it. Teaching stress management techniques to kids is imperative in today's society. As little as 15-20 minutes of child-led movement time or relaxation time in the hammock can have a positive effect on behavior and stress levels for hours to come! In my workshops, I call such sensory retreat a "peace place." I believe it is essential to have a peace place in every home & school environment where the child can go to calm & self-regulate, receive physical comfort from the compressive support of the fabric and have a sense of respite from the hustle and bustle of modern times. Research supports this belief, too!
4. The hammock has many intentional, calming elements. The hammock allows a static and evenly dispersed compression of the body, which is calming to the nervous system (much like a massage is calming). The blue color was chosen intentionally because it has been demonstrated in recent studies to be psychologically calming and to encourage creativity. When inside the hammock, the fabric is sheer enough to see through, and the material breathes easily so the child doesn't get overheated, but the slight concealing nature of the fabric also decreases visual distraction and allows a calming inward focus to be practiced. The linear movements of swaying and swinging have long been shown to calm a nervous system. In fact, the first thing parents naturally do for their newborn babies is to sway and/or swing them into a soothed state. This hammock allows a child to receive such movement, but because the height can be adjusted and the hammock can move in all directions, the child has complete control of how much and which way the movement is facilitated, and to offer a child some sense of control is to also offer self-regulation and self-calming capabilities. Additionally, Yogapeutics hammocks include a "squishy pad," which is like a 20 inch, extra thick yoga mat that can be utilized to make the hammock positions comfortable and as a prop for modifications for the individual person.
5.The nylon fabric is inclusive and supportive! This texture of fabric is tolerated well by kids with tactile sensitivities as it is smooth and seamless. Additionally, it has low to no stretch so while it is malleable to any body shape or size, it simultaneously offers stability for poses and even compression, which is very different than the feeling of practicing poses in stretchy fabric, spandex or high stretch aerial arts fabric.
6. Small space friendly and practical! Unlike bulkier swings with more hard materials, these hammocks don't take up much space (tie them up in a simple knot over your head to have full use of floor space or to remove access to children when unsupervised). Once installed, hammocks are easy to adjust down low to a few inches above the ground or up high using our chained webbing system, which offers about 4.5 feet of adjustable height levels in a few inch increments! I recommend a 6 foot diameter of free space for hammock use, placed at least 4 feet from the wall.
7. Kids won't grow out of these versatile and inclusive gifts! Even the teenagers and adults in the house will be hankering for a hang! All of our hammocks are suitable for adults. The length of the fabric is 7-8 yards long, and the width is 108 inches wide! This is much more fabric than any other sensory swing I've ever seen and allows for two people to get into the hammock (parent and child)! Even my 6'2" tall husband fits inside! Weight limit is 1000-2000 lbs! For advanced poses, the fabric is kinder (less intense compression) to individuals weighing less than 200lbs, for individuals greater than 200lbs, more restorative yoga poses are wonderful in the hammock hung low to the ground! I feel this hammock is for everyone of every age and size! The hardware of the hammock is all safety-rated climbing equipment from my climbing fav, Liberty Mountain, which includes all steel carabiners and nylon safety rated webbing. I've had these in my house for over a year, and you can count on one hand how many times we have skipped a day in the hammock! It's just so convenient right there in the house, and too fun and versatile to ignore!
8. The hammock comes with my wholehearted offering of information to empower you on your aerial yoga journey, online demonstrations so that playful & creative techniques for aerial yoga for kids that I openly share to others. The more, the merrier! When I first bought a yoga hammock almost 2 years ago, there was very little out there by way of instruction for adult use, and certainly nothing for child use. I received a hammock in a box without instructions or information on how to use it safely, and it was up to me to figure the rest out. That's a difficult and expensive way to learn, and most of us don't have time, resources or energy for that laborious route. I get emails from around the world daily requesting a way to learn aerial yoga for kids, and I don't intend to hold any this information back from anyone seeking to better a child's life and play through aerial yoga. That's why I offer an exclusive access to anyone who purchases a hammock to view my demo page with online videos that are regularly added!
9. The hammock is actually only the icing on the cake. The real core offering of this gift, is that it introduces so many kids to yoga in a playful and interesting way. The fun-factor of the hammock brings kids to the mat that may not otherwise come, and often holds them there for a bit longer than if it were all on the floor. As a child develops motor skill, coordination, and receives sensory nutrition for brain development, she also takes with her an ability to trust beyond herself, to try something new for mental flexibility, to practice self development of mindfulness, gratitude and kindness, to learn coping strategies and stress management techniques and develop healthy awareness of her own needs and individual make-up. Yoga is something your child can do his whole life through, no matter age or ability, and it offers a healthy coping technique for walking through life, being himself and honoring his own neurology. Yoga teaches kids how to walk down life's path with a sense of peace, no matter what obstacle they may discover before them. This is more than just a gift or a toy you would give them; it's a healthy way of life and a legacy of love and compassion.
But don't take my word for it, check out what Angie Voss, OTR, has to say about aerial yoga from Yogapeutics on her sensory benefits page! She would know as she's the author of bestselling Understanding Your Child's Sensory Signals (currently rated 4.9/5 stars by 147 reviews on Amazon) and owner of an amazing, free sensory resource, ASensoryLife.com
See my You Tube Video below, which is a sample of the kinds of videos you see on the online demonstration site. Here's a Yogapeutics original rhyme to help kids sequence the steps of Monkey Hang:
Sit up tall.
Grab on strong.
Take a deep breath in.
Make your breath out long.
Eyes look high.
Legs spread wide.
Lean way back.
Feet and toes wrap.
Hands let go, now join the gang!
Here you are in Monkey Hang!
Recent research demonstrates that mindfulness training increases health, happiness and life satisfaction. In my kids' aerial yoga classes, mindfulness curriculum is a solid offering. We learn about the functions of the brain, as well as how being mindful makes us happier, healthier and more successful at being ourselves, no matter our differences. We make mind jars, learn relaxation techniques, talk about optimism, kindness, gratitude (all yogic principles too, I might add) and learn how breathing, movement and relaxing helps our brains and bodies feel better.
Mindfulness puts a pause between what we feel or notice and how we react to it. Mindfulness teaches us to respect and pay attention to how we feel in our bodies so we can better know when we need to cope, retreat, press ahead or buckle down. The responses I have received from both the kids and the parents have been overwhelmingly positive.
Initially, I was inspired to teach mindfulness because of my neurologically focused occupational therapy background and because it was what I wanted and needed to teach my own children. With each and every class, I am more and more convinced that absolutely EVERY developing human benefits from this type of education. However, it can be intense and complex information. Presenting it through the play of yoga increases interest and fun, thus creating neural wiring so they both love and remember it!
As a mother, I am grateful my girls learn the mindfulness principles in yoga class. It makes learning more fun, and it teaches them coping strategies when they are calm and happy, which is the best way to teach strategies that most likely come in handy when you are feeling quite the opposite. Additionally, it gives me references for real life. When their self talk is pessimistic (I can't, this is awful, etc.), I acknowledge how they feel, hear them out, and if it's an appropriate teachable moment, I can also cue them to remember what Optimistic Otis or Pessimistic Pete might say about the situation (characters in our yoga classes) or if they'd like to "stop, breathe and move" to figure out what to do with a problem (like the song we sing in the video). This helps get my point across in a more positive way than just correcting them, and allows them to make their own mindful choices about self-talk. Even at 4 and 5 years old, their ability to do so amazes me, which is further confirmation that kids, all kids, inherently want to do their best for themselves and others and will when given the opportunity to learn how to do so.
Mindfulness training and yoga is especially important for kids with any of the following: sensitivity, big spirit, frequent worries, ADHD or sensory processing differences. Studies show that kids with these natural make-ups will shift into fight or flight/stress response quickly without much warning, and they will need coping tools and self awareness training when they are calm and happy to gain better control and self-regulation over their nervous system responses. These kids can take their natural make-ups and use them as the strengths that they are with the gift of mindfulness.
Check out a few examples of how we playfully learn about mindfulness and ourselves through kids' aerial yoga classes:
1. Turn that frown upside down. Literally! Get your kid to invert the head either by picking them up yourself or by having them turn upside down any way you can imagine! Inversions help bring the nervous system back into balance! Ever see your kids turn upside down on the couch, bed or chair edge? Or hang upside down from a trapeze or playscape? Or lean way back in a kamikaze head dive to invert their heads while you are holding them on your hip? Or do "down-dog" yoga pose at an early age as if they'd been attending class for years? They do that because the head inversion feels GOOD and it is regulating to the nervous system!
2. Breathe! I know it's cliché, but it seriously works. It is the one voluntary way we can shift from the fight, flight or freeze stress response to a more relaxed state. But just telling a kid to "breathe" doesn't usually work well. We need to practice it in playful ways regularly in everyday life when they are calm for it to work as a cue when they are approaching stress or melt down status.
You can cue your kids in a fun way during the day by asking them to send a "b-mail", which is a breathing message to your brain to tell it to relax. Cue them in the car, as they are settling down for bed, before you go into a restaurant or any place where they are expected to be calm. How many messages will they send? How full can they make their inbox? Or see how many times they can make a pinwheel spin in one breath by breathing out slowly through pursed lips for as long as possible. We also light candles at the dinner table and see if each child can blow them all out in one breath. This increases the exhale duration, which primes the nervous system for a more relaxed state and helps all the calming neurotransmitters do their good work in the brain.
Once your child knows how to practice breathing it can work for you like it did for me in the middle of the night last night when my 5 year old jolted me out of slumber at 2am with a case of "the worries." We practiced imagining the thing that was worrying her, then blowing it out with a long breath like the kind we do when we are spinning a pinwheel as many times as we can or blowing out lots of candles on a birthday cake. 5 breaths later she was ready to go to sleep again. No kidding, it can be that easy! It works like a fast acting anxiety med without all the side effects! The best part about it is that you don't have to be a kid to get the benefits. Breathing with long exhales works on ALL human brains.
3. Physically connect without talking. Our brains work best and get bathed in "happy" neurotransmitters and hormones when we receive positive touch from loved ones. Research shows that positive touch creates neural wiring for deeper emotional connection to the person offering/receiving touch. And better emotional connection means better team work when you are together. See if you can send your message of love or support to your child through your body language only. Kids get so much verbal feedback, and most of it is about what they can't or shouldn't do. Sometimes they just need a quiet, calming presence with loving intention focused on emotional connection instead of verbally praising or correcting outcomes and behavior. Physical touch by way of firm pressure (try palms of hands instead of fingers) is tolerated best and generally calming to the nervous system.
In my house, if we are at a distance (across a room or across the yard), we might hold up the American Sign Language sign for "I love you." When we are close to each other, we give "hand hugs" and do a deep pressure massage at the end of the night. Sometimes, when we are walking outside or on the way to school we pretend we are sending the morse code by hand holding and squeezing in a pattern. We end the code with one long squeeze before we talk. Then we see if the other can guess what we "said". Or we write each other love messages on each other's backs (with firm touch--light touch can be too ticklish or uncomfortable) by drawing pictures or writing words. These physical connection practices also teach mindfulness, which has so many positive benefits towards mental health!
It's easy to add self-regulation sensory strategies into your family's everyday life! No need to add it to your plate. Just attach it to what you already do! May you enjoy peace, connection and better self-regulation that finds you through these practices!
I'm putting the final touches on the Sense of Peace sensory and yoga based workshop for parents this week. I created 10 principles, on which I based the workshop, but I'd like to share these principles with everyone because I think they are like wise guiding arrows that help uncover the way along this obscure parenting path. If we can put these principles into place, we can demonstrate to our children a happy, peaceful adult life well worth the childhood efforts of self-regulation and mind/body health.
1. Kids wholeheartedly want to do their best for themselves and others! Children want to demonstrate behavior that is good for themselves and their families. When behavior is out of line, unhealthy or socially unacceptable be sure to check for sensory triggers first. Try to look at the child’s experience through a sensory lens including evaluating all of the day’s activities leading up to the behavior.
2. Educate. Experiment. Over & Over. Kids experiencing a sensory difference don’t understand that others may experience the same sensory information differently unless they are taught this concept repetitively in many contexts. Practice and experiment with various tools or methods to best understand your and your child’s sensory needs. It's ok if they need 57 repetitions. At least, try to let that be ok. Then, as soon as you are both cool with it, know the needs may change and vary as the body and mind matures and develops. Soap. Rinse. Repeat. You can do this. I promise.
3. Be your child's scaffolding, and add a healthy serving of yoga and sensory enrichment to be the mortar for their materials. Much like building a complex architectural structure with different angles and convolutions, raising a child is a complex development. Every kid needs external, solid scaffolding as her brain constructs and develops. This external scaffolding, like that of a building, provides stability so the child can build upon herself and grow. With maturation, that stability is internalized so most of the scaffolding can be taken away and the child can stand independently through the weather of life. The parent’s compassion & guidance, along with sensory enrichment, breathing techniques, and sensory modifications are the strong, solid scaffolding and solid mortar for the raising of a child. Now, I don't mean helicopter through your child's development, but I do mean support your child with compassion, education about the need for movement and breathing, and just keep a rooted and calm presence. Often, what they need most is just the silent solid strength of a parent beside them, guiding them upright when they might collapse, but just connecting next to them as a solid presence as they begin to hold on their own. Remember; where there is construction, there are always periods where things get messy, dirty and precarious! Keep calm, carry on through the hard hat zone and know that organization arrives with further structural completion.
4. Front load to avoid the meltdown mother lode. When it comes to sensory differences, you are going to spend extra time addressing the issue any way you approach it, so remember to frontload some preventative measures and invite sensory enrichment as well as yoga and deep breathing into the daily routine to save you time on the back end of a meltdown or emotional stalemate.
5. Integrate sensory and yoga or deep breathing into your every day routines as they are. Don’t add sensory enrichment or yoga to your already full plate! Be gentle with your busy self! Instead, integrate these approaches into tasks you already do (bear walk from the kitchen to the bathroom, do some deep pressure massage as your child is settling into bed and wrapping up the day's routine, gallop on your walk to school, offer a fidget toy in the car as you drive, etc). This increases meaning and purpose, which increases the positive effect on the brain and self-regulation.
6. Move, breathe, hug. The brain is designed to require frequent movement of various kinds and to receive positive physical connection from others to best attend, process information and learn. Deep breathing is the most efficient way to come out of a stress response. Be aware that our modern day life typically does not naturally provide the necessary level of movement, breathing breaks and positive physical connection. It is our responsibility and health necessity to build these experiences in for ourselves.
7. A few minutes does a body good! Relaxation techniques and sensory enrichment are practical and efficient! It takes 20 minutes for a brain to shift gears out of fight, flight or freeze, but as little as 3-5 minutes to change self-confidence and self-talk when utilizing movement, breathing and posturing. For a 15-20 minute appropriately applied sensory rich activity, the positive effects can last hours!
8. You can positively help the whole shebang! Sensory strategies and yoga are all encompassing and integral. You can’t work on one thing without affecting many others! What benefits a part, benefits the whole! Additionally, sensory strategies and yoga don’t "change" the child, but allows positive neural wiring that supports the child as he is and allows him to thrive authentically amidst natural tendencies and sensory differences.
9. You have 'em? Me too. And that's a good thing! We all have sensory differences, and we all naturally self-regulate using sensory strategies whether we are aware of it or not (walk when you talk on the phone? Cross your legs and wiggle/bounce your foot when sitting? Take a breath and sigh when you are tired/frustrated/at wits end?). We all have sensory differences and preferences and tendencies. They are actually GOOD for us! We only need to offer environmental modifications or support/advocate for these differences when they interfere with the ability to move through life with peace and ease.
10. You are the expert. Yoga is the light. Sensory is the path. A child’s primary caregiver(s)/teachers as well as the child are the best experts on what the child needs are to support his or her natural tendencies so that he or she may thrive in any natural environment and grow to be his/herself. A primary caregiver can have the greatest insight and make the most significant impact on the way the world is shaped for the child. You know yourself and your child best. Trust your instinct, but continue to learn each other and physically connect with each other. The two of you are intimately and beautifully intertwined. Stand strong knowing that just like yoga brings the mind and body into healthy union, understanding sensory differences for children and accepting them as they are with support, love and sensory enrichment brings you into healthy union with each other and sustains a sense of peace amidst any of life's chaos.
Mom, my shoes don’t feel good. I hate them!
They will never feel good to me! Why do I have to wear tennis shoes to school? Please, do I have to?
That’s what I hear every time my daughter’s foot grows enough so that she can’t stuff her foot in her old shoe. She'd rather wear crocs or nothing at all. We have to go through the taxing process of getting new shoes that never feel right at first, even if it’s the same brand/style as before. I listen to her struggle, we go through our options for this sensory difference (we have several), she chooses how to cope. Usually we make it through without a meltdown, but not always. And that’s ok. It takes practice to really understand your sensory needs. We have come a long way already. But it's important you know that my daughter is considered by medical professionals as "neurotypical." She is attentive, physically coordinated, has good social skills and does exceptionally well in a school environment. If you met her, you'd probably never guess she has any sensory sensitivities. And that's my case in point.
I work with sensory differences of all shapes and sizes both in my work life and in my home environment. Every. Single. Day. Admittedly, the journey of watching misunderstood sensory differences in struggling but awesome individuals can be weary, but also incredibly enlightening and fulfilling when I can have a helping hand in it. I’ve only been able to offer that helping hand to those that are either my offspring, or have insurance coverage and insurance approved diagnoses, until Yogapeutics. Now, I have intentionally positioned myself to provide a much more inclusive offering of what I know to be true: human beings are designed to move often and experience life in a sensory rich way. These days, we ‘Mericans we need training to increase intentional sensory enrichment and self-regulation to live happy, peaceful lives. All of us. Seriously.
Regularly, I run into the misunderstanding that if someone has sensory challenges or sensory processing disorder one must also have an Autism spectrum disorder. OR another common misconception is to think that because one does NOT have Autism spectrum concerns that sensory differences are just quirks or personality traits and don't need to be addressed other than to tell them to “stop it!” Other times, we just ignore it, hoping they will eventually grow out of it (and sometimes they do but without guidance they defer to maladaptive behavior in its place). Worst of all is when we chalk it up to purely psychological issues without considering a neurological cause or cohort.
If you take one thing from this post, please allow it to be this: according to current research and my decade of experience: all kids and all adults need a sensory rich life with self-regulation skills training, and that doesn't just come naturally. We need to learn it and practice what works for us in different contexts. To say that a neruotypical child doesn't need sensory enrichment or self-regulation training is like saying, Well, he’s not hungry now, so we won’t have to feed him later. Because eventually, he will get hungry, and he will desperately need some nutrition--of the sensory and self-regulatory kind.
The majority of kids have at least one or two intensities about them that can sometimes affect how they react to or perform daily tasks. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing “wrong” with a child who can’t tolerate wearing shoes because they don’t feel right, or a child who can’t stand to be around loud noises, or a child that can never be still, or a child that procrastinates on homework. Adults have the same issues, by the way. It’s typical to have struggle in some aspect of daily life, which is each child’s individuality displayed as a “difference.” That difference is a part of their natural tendency, their authenticity, and their imprint of magnificence. I don’t want to change that. I don't want to diagnose that. I only want to honor and respect that, but I also want a person to have the tools to refocus it or rechannel that sensory difference if it makes life a little easier for everyone involved.
Sensory differences are in all of us, and without those differences, the world wouldn’t go round quite as beautifully as it does. On the other hand, if we go onward through life without being mindful of our own differences, we are hindered from becoming our best selves. I, for instance, focus best after I've stretched and flipped and spent a little time in down dog. Knowing this about myself, I'll do some yoga early in the day if I know I have an agenda that requires my honed attention. When I honor that aspect of my neurological make-up (sometimes I need a little help with that, myself), I am better in my work and my family life, and I can move toward my life goals--like, say, starting my own therapeutic & aerial yoga gig.
Look at Temple Grandin, whose acknowledgment and embracing of her own sensory differences enabled her to see what the rest of the world couldn’t regarding more humane treatment of animals in agriculture. But you don’t have to be Temple Grandin to experience sensory differences. In fact, no one is exempt from sensory processing differences. Here's what I mean: Who shudders when you hear nails scrape across the board? Or doesn't like the texture of certain foods, or feels a tad overwhelmed when all eyes are on them? Who has a hard time transitioning to sleep or wakefulness? Who sometimes bites nails, twirls hair, loves/hates the sound of the hair dryer? Who has too much energy or not enough focus to attend and concentrate? Who has had a baby that always likes to bounce, be in a swing, be in a vibrating chair or perhaps, the opposite? These preferences or responses can all be stemming from sensory differences. Channeled in a healthy way with mindfulness of their influence on the way we approach and respond to life, sensory differences can ground us, center us, give us insight about ourselves, even perhaps, make such an impact on our work in the world that Claire Danes plays us in a movie. That's the power of our sensory system. It makes quite a statement.
Now, given we all have sensory differences, it is important to point out that they affect each of us individually depending on our developmental age, ability to implement coping strategies and self-awareness. A healthy adult can usually find a way to cope or compensate for sensory difference no problemo, (don't like loud places? Stand at the back of the concert, cover your ears, hang out at the the edges of the event) but kiddos (both with and without an Autism spectrum concern) that are just barely learning themselves and the world can't always articulate why they react the way they do, they need guidance on this. When adults around them suggest their reactions are just temperamental or weird without honoring a sensory difference, a child can feel shamed, lose confidence and go on to find unhealthy coping behavior through the lifespan (addictions, isolation, poor self confidence, poor anger-management). The same goes for individuals with brain injury, stroke, post-concussion, dementia or a host of other neurological diagnoses. If individual sensory differences are not taken into consideration and nourished with sensory nutrition, an individual can demonstrate anxiety, maladaptive behavior, difficulty functioning in daily routines and tasks and sometimes even regression or lack of physical skills such as balance, motor coordination and strength/endurance, just to name a few.
It’s important to notice how our modern, more sedentary culture is moving (or should I say not moving) from a sensory enriched development. Our sensory experience these days is heavy on the computer, sit-in-a-desk-for-many-hours-a-day end, do less art and recess in exchange for more sedentary cognitive work, and without the balancing pull of movement and sensory enrichment, our brain and emotional balance become dysregulated.
But no worries, I actually do have good news in this post. You can rejoice in the fact that the brain can always change and adapt and that sensory enrichment is easy, has an almost immediate affect, and has fun-factor, too! Even better, it only takes about 15-20 minutes to see an immediate and noticeable difference in behavior. 15-20 minutes of balance, & movement (vestibular), and stretching or compression/traction (proprioceptive) exercises and deep pressure to the skin (tactile input) can have a dramatic or a subtle effect. But no matter the amount of effect, there's always some kind of a regulating and organizing result on the brain and behavior when these exercises are applied appropriately. 20 minutes of these puppies (as long as the child or individual does not have an aversion to it) will do quite the magic trick:
Jumping on a trampoline, hanging upside down on a trapeze or bar,
running, pushing something heavy (wheelbarrow, loaded laundry basket, a grocery
cart, a stroller), monkey bars (excellent for building grasp for handwriting, too), jumping jacks, doing an obstacle course on a play scape (let the kiddo make up the sequence!), YOGA, YOGA, YOGA (did I mention that I highly recommend yoga?), digging in a garden, cuddling in a peace place (such as a suspended swing/yoga hammock, a cardboard box a bean bag chair, quiet corner), swinging in a swing, getting a massage, stretching, dancing, laughing, humming, whistling, blowing a pinwheel, smelling essential oils, walking outside and noticing 5 green things, tossing a medicine ball, hula hooping, jump roping, pogo stick jumping, a game of tug-a-war, and playing with or caring for animals.
My daughter does not tolerate shoes well. She came into the world that way. I can't change that about her with the snap of my fingers, nor would
I want to, but with compassion, acknowledgement, and education & coping
strategies (yoga & breathing are included) for her sensory differences,
together, we are able to help her help herself. She wears shoes to school
all day every day. Without exception. I can't tell you how big of a
miracle this is for us. Yes, I spend extra time on the front end finding
shoes that work for her and planning out different options. Yes, it's
often frustrating for me. Yes, sometimes I need a time-out myself.
But the bright, shiny lining is we hardly ever spend that extra time in a heated
battle over shoes. Instead, our time together is spent as a team.
It's us together discovering how her sensory difference can allow both of us to
rise up to challenges of life and walk through it together with acceptance and
confidence. I can only guess it's excellent preparation for tween and teen
years. And I know in my heart these sensory differences and support of
yoga make us both better at being a mother/daughter team and walking this always
surprising and sometimes difficult path of life with a little more ease and a
sense of peace amidst the chaos.
For a great resource on sensory processing differences, see this amazing website of my friend, Angie Voss, OTR.
Additionally, I will be offering two upcoming workshops: A sense of Peace: sensory strategies for home and school life as well as Peaceful Bedtime, Happy Family.
See more on my workshops page. Both of these workshops will benefit
any child, neuro typical, neuro diverse, or even the grown up kind. :)
There aren't many offering kids aerial yoga at the moment, and I chalk that up to the fact that it's quite new to the studio world, and it is a unique fusion of the synergies between sensory integration/enrichment exercises, yoga, mindfulness & brain training, and acrobatics. It takes a niche training to know how to offer that combo, but it just so happens, my life path brought me extensive training in each of those areas, priming me to see what an incredibly beneficial mind/body tool aerial yoga can be, especially for kids.
However, because it is so integrative and so all encompassing, it's not so easy to explain in a few words. I've made a little video (above) to demonstrate the incredibly well balanced mind body class that packs fun-factor, sensory integration, life-skills, and mind/body exercise into a 45 minute span.
I'll sum up a class in just a few words here as best as I can:
We work on positive self talk, and optimism paired with mindfulness strategies as supported by the research in recent neuroscience.
We utilize the 3 major sensations for increasing brain organization and regulation:
1. Vestibular (balance and movement through space)
2. Proprioceptive (joint compression, joint traction, heavy work of the body) 3. Tactile (discrimination between temperature, texture, light touch & deep pressure).
We work on breathing techniques to learn how to shift from fight or flight into a relaxation response and to self-regulate big emotions.
We learn social skills, compassion & empathy skills, peaceful principles such as caring for others and our environment.
We use play to increase attention to and engagement in the work of the mind & body.
We encourage a creative space to honor and develop creativity and generating multiple solutions for life tasks.
After a decade of helping people transform the way they live and perform in their daily lives, I know firsthand how important it is to also include the mind in a physical practice, to utilize the sensory systems, to develop positive self talk, and dedicate to relaxation practice and breath work. The mind reflects the body and the body the mind. We are incredibly interconnected and we cannot tease one from the other. Aerial yoga honors that complexity, yet it allows flexibility and modification for the individual need.
I truly believe children want with all of their hearts to do their best. Given the right tools and information for how they can help themselves, they can feel empowered. I got awfully tired of writing to insurance companies about all the things that are "wrong" or "atypical" about a person. And so I began balancing out my medicalized career by teaching yoga, which holds the perspective that we all have differences, and it is precisely those differences that make the world a more balanced and productive place.
One child may dislike having her feet off the ground or stepping on raised surfaces (what we call gravitational insecurity in the therapy world), and another may swing emphatically for hours on end and leap from raised surfaces with glee (a child needing proprioceptive and/or vestibular information to better regulate the nervous system). In aerial yoga, we can lower the swing or raise it, we can meet the child where they are and help them use their natural state of strengths to find their authentic potential.
It's ok if a child hates to wear shoes. We don't wear them in yoga. We welcome a child that is always wiggling, rolling around and squirming like he's got ants in his pants. The yoga hammock is quite accepting of movement. It's fine if a kid is fearful of going upside down. We just use the mirror (to give them visual feedback) and gradual graded opportunities paired with fun and peer support to meet them where they are. It's fine if your child doesn't know how to sit still. The yoga hammock allows a child to be still, but still receive movement from the hammock's gentle sway. We work our way toward stillness as the child demonstrates need.
Whomever your child is, whatever your child's needs are, they are perfect for aerial yoga and aerial yoga is perfect for them. And if you are still reading, I have a feeling you are the perfect parent for your child because you are obviously learning, reaching out, trying your best with the understanding you have for the benefit of the light of your life. And that, my friend, is all yoga.
If you check out my daily schedule and to-do list, you would probably conclude that I don't technically have time to write this blog. You may not technically have time to read it. For many families, life is so incredibly busy and scheduled these days. We have commitments, appointments, careers, technology and families that pull us in many different directions. For me, this kind of stretch and hurried scheduling can translate to stress in my own body, and despite being a yoga teacher and licensed therapist, I am not immune to it by any means. Unfortunately, I know I'm not alone in my overscheduled life and exposure to stress. However, I have the advantage of knowing what symptoms of stress look like. I have tools to manage it, and I know what kind of negative impact ignoring my stress could have on my health and my children in particular. So I regularly address it. Over and over again. I look stress in the eye and invite it to yoga with me at least 3 times a week where we then shake hands and agree to part ways. The more I do yoga, meditation and mindfulness throughout the week, the less I see of stress and the happier I am. Personally, I'd like my children to have those same advantages and tools within their reach so that they can have more self-control over their stress and feelings within their bodies at a much earlier age than I did. Actually, I'd like all children and their parents to have the tools and knowledge yoga offers because the truth is, modern family life with the wisdom and health management of yoga is a heck of a lot easier than life without it.
According to data from the American Psychological Association, most Americans are suffering from moderate to high stress, with 44% reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past 5 years. Interestingly, stress on a parent can take a toll on a child even if the parent feels that they are keeping their stress under wraps, and I'm not just pulling that statement out of my root chakra. A recent study says that 69% of parents say their stress had only a slight or no impact on their children, but 86% of children say otherwise. Additionally, almost a third of children reported that within a only a 30 day time frame they had experienced a physical health symptom associated with stress such as headaches, stomach aches or difficulty sleeping.*
The good news is yoga, meditation and the mindfulness teachings offered within a yoga class can be the perfect solution to learning how to live a healthy, more mindful life in a fast moving, stressed out society. Recent studies show that meditation and breathing techniques such as those taught in yoga class can shift the brain out of stressed mode and trigger the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system. Additionally, I might add that to teach children yoga, is to offer them the chance to thrive among the chaos, and to allow them to embody valuable life skills and health management strategies they can use their whole life though.
As an Occupational Therapist, I have attended a decade worth of career related trainings that are dedicated to improving therapeutic progress and increasing an individual's functioning in life. However, I have found the therapeutic application of yoga to be the most holistic, integrative and effective for making changes and improvements in the whole individual more so than any other. My experience allows me the insight to see that when both parents and children receive education and training, the results and transformation falls deeper into the heart of the family as well as the individual, increasing a sense of connection and strong imprinting for the longer haul.
Recently, when I asked my 5 year old what would happen if she couldn’t do yoga any more, she said it would be "bad." Then she looked at me with a solemn stare and said that if she couldn’t do yoga ever again she would turn into “a sad, sad puddle.” As a yogini, I can relate. As an OT, I know that emotional intelligence and self-awareness she used to express herself in that statement was taught and reinforced through yoga. As her mother, I know what joy and delight the games, music and movement of yoga brings her. I know the outlet it offers her for dealing with the stressors in the environment to which she is incredibly sensitive. I feel her yearning need for compassion and gratitude deep within the depths of my own heart. Without the wisdom, practical life tools and health benefits yoga offers, she might be a sad, sad puddle of a girl trying to find her way in this world. I wholeheartedly agree. Lucky for her, her mother is a yoga teacher. And lucky for me, I've got two daughters that really love yoga.
For anyone interested in seeing and feeling exactly what I mean about all this parent/child yoga stuff, I'll be offering a mother daughter yoga class on Saturday, May 4th from 10-11am. A mother/daughter yoga practice together is a creative way for a mama to nurture her own physical and emotional body while also modeling a healthy example and empowering her daughter with wisdom and life skills to meet the challenges of her journey with confidence, love and a really effective bag of tricks.
Join us for mother/daughter yoga! We will practice acro yoga, partner aerial yoga and floor poses side by side to further our positive communication and joyful shared experiences. No experience required. Register here under the workshops tab
Also, a summer program of mother & daughter yoga is coming! Stay tuned!
*From American Psychological Association, Stressed in America, January 2011, Vol
This week was a monumental one. Our doors opened up. My heart filled up to the tippy top with love and support from you. Yes, you! I felt as if I was teetering out on this limb of hope, blind faith and big, scary dreams. Still do.
Fortunately, I've got yoga. My old standby. My solid rock. Yoga is the one thing that relieved my pain from my neck and back injury all those years ago. It was also my saving grace from the heartache of infertility before I got lucky twice over. Maybe yoga wasn't the only end all be all salve for what ailed me, but it was my doorway to understanding myself and my body with a bit more insight and compassion. It was and is.
So now, on account of a very supportive husband, lots of elbow grease, and week nights and weekends full of effort, I've got an intimate little aerial yoga studio in my house. My house! If you hadn't been here previously, you might never know it used to be a dining room that housed my china and big family dinners until just recently.
These days, when the kids are driving me toward unyogi-like behavior, when I'm walking a fine line between confidence and fear, when I'm blank for direction, I just go in that room. I breathe and move. Breathe and stretch. Breathe and
unfurl. Breathe and flip. It's like magic for me, and I hope it will be for others, too.
This week I watched as friends and neighbors came to this post-dining room sanctuary and laughed, mustered courage, turned on their heads and surprised themselves with their own capabilities. They even smiled while they were there; suspended upside down in the yoga hammock, despite the fact they might be a little unsure.
They did that for themselves, and I was lucky enough to witness it. That's why I'm here, spending all my waking (and some sleeping) hours to make Yogapeutics happen. Because we all need to surprise ourselves sometimes, and it's so amazing to see it when we do.
For me, yoga has always been a metaphor for life. If we can take a breath, create a safe and supported space and dare ourselves to lean back into the wide arms of gravity to do an aerial yoga pose turned on our heads; then perhaps, when life requires the same of us, we will be that much more confident and graceful for the task. Furthermore, when the world is looking as if it's been turned upside down, maybe we can still smile and find the joy, despite the fact we might be a little unsure.
I hope you, too, might come and surprise yourself, try something new, take the accomplishment you feel with you on your journeys. First time around or again and again, I invite you. I'd be delighted to see it and support it. I'd be honored to celebrate it with you.
Come as you are or as you were. It doesn't matter how you come, just come! I promise you'll see the world differently, even if only because you are turned on your head.
Feel good & live well,
Lindsey Lieneck, MS, OTR, RYT, is owner of Yogapeutics in Austin, TX where she has developed the Yogapeutics Aerial Yoga & Mindfulness curriculum for kids. She teaches classes, consults with parents & schools and educates other professionals on the Yogapeutics curriculum. Read more about Lindsey HERE.
See the Yogapeutics class schedule and offerings: