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Beneath the Iceberg – A Yoga Sequence to Support Children and Youth with Grounding, Self-Regulation, and Focus

Beneath the Iceberg – A Yoga Sequence to Support Children and Youth with Grounding, Self-Regulation, and Focus

Let’s face it. Our kids are stressed out and overwhelmed. In our modern times, children are over-stimulated and are struggling more and more with self-regulation, attention, and learning.

Educators are feeling the impact of these increased behaviors, thus the reason for increased frustration in the classroom and teacher burn out. In fact, according to a recent poll reported by Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession; 68 percent of elementary teachers, 64 percent of middle school teachers, and 53 percent of high school teachers say that there’s been a significant rise in behavior issues in recent years. Many teachers feel there is a lack of education and support in managing challenging behaviors in schools.

The rise in test taking, reduced recess time, larger classroom sizes and increased distraction as a result of technology has led to stress and frustration for both the students and teachers.

There can be many factors that contribute to a child’s disruptive behaviors but underlying a child’s “acting out” behavior is often a dysregulated nervous system. More often than not we tend to focus on the direct or observable behavior without looking beyond the behavior at the child’s “internal state” of being. It’s like looking at the tip of an iceberg and focusing solely on that rather than looking at what lies beneath. Only a small part of an iceberg actually rises above the water, the rest is an unseen mountain below. Are we just focusing on the tip of the iceberg – on our kids negative behaviors, labeling them as “bad or disruptive kids” or can we pause and take a closer look at the mountain below?

Ultimately what each child needs in order to be able to learn and thrive is the feeling of BEING SAFE – knowing that there is a “boat ” they can go to for safety.

Our role is to be the boat or ideally, teach them how to get to the boat or be the boat themselves, so they are able to feel calm, supported, grounded and safe, which will in turn support with self-regulation, behavior, and learning.

When a child is in a state of stress and their nervous system is dysregulated, they can be in a constant state of fight/flight or freeze. This means their nervous system does not feel safe. When a child’s nervous system is in a state of fight/flight or freeze, the cognitive part of their brain is inaccessible. Too often we take the “top-down” approach in expecting children to be self-regulated, make positive choices and be able to effectively communicate their emotions when internally they are out of balance and their nervous systems are solely focused on survival. With the increase in behavior problems in school-age children and a rise of mental health issues, it’s imperative that we have a paradigm shift to taking a more “bottom-up” approach with kids who are acting out or struggling with attention and learning.

What is happening below the tip of the iceberg?

Current research is beginning to show that yoga and mindfulness is having a positive impact in schools, in particular, supporting children with self-regulation and improved behaviors. Two studies in particular, showed evidence that yoga and meditation may help youth manage their stress and mood (Kaley-Isley, Peterson, Fischer, & Peterson, 2010; Miller et al., 2014) and behave more positively (Butzer et al., 2015; Schonert-Reichl & Lawlor, 2010).

The reason yoga and mindfulness is proving to have a positive effect is because it’s addressing the mountain below. Yoga and mindfulness go straight to addressing the “underlying” causes of behavior and focuses on helping the nervous system to feel more safe and grounded.

A Yoga Sequence to Support Children and Youth with Grounding, Self-Regulation, and Focus

Talk to children about how their behaviors can be like an iceberg and how important it is to connect to the mountain below (emotions and sensations in the body)

Talk about sensations in their body that they may experience when they feel angry, frustrated, sad, worried or fearful such as tight muscles, heart beating faster, clenched jaw, etc. and how important it is to notice when their body is feeling this way so they can calm their nervous system before the iceberg peaks.

All poses can be done with the back against the wall for more support and grounding as well as modified in a chair.

Mountain Pose

Focus on the feet and how it feels to have the bottoms of the feet on the ground

Stand up tall and strong like a mountain

Look straight ahead

Breathe in

Reach arms up and make a mountain peak

Breathe out bring palms to heart center

Notice how the body feels

Open Book/Close Book

Stand with feet together or a little bit apart

Feel the feet on the ground

Palms and elbows together

Stand up tall

Breathe in

Open arms wide (open book)

Breathe out

Bring palms and elbows back together (close book)

Notice how the body feels

Tree Pose

Stand up tall

Feet hip width apart

Bring the right heel inside the left ankle

Press the left foot down like roots are growing down from your foot

Breathe in

Reach arms up and grow your branches

Breathe out

Palms together at heart center

Do other side

Notice how the body feels

Star Pose

Stand with feet wide apart

Press feet down

Reach arms out

Stand up tall

Breathe in

Breathe out

Notice how the body feels

Warrior 2

Stand with feet wide apart

Toes pointing forward

Point the right toes out to the side and bend the knee (front knee behind ankle and heel in line with the inner arch of the foot)

Reach the arms out wide with the palms facing down

Breath in

Look towards the right hand

Stand strong like a warrior

Breathe out

Do on the opposite side

Notice how the body feels

Grounded and Focus Pose

Focus on the feet and how it feels to have the bottoms of the feet on the ground

Bring palms together at the heart center

Feel the palms press together

Stand up tall and strong

Look straight ahead

Breathe in

Breathe out

Repeat this mantra

I AM CALM, GROUNDED, AND SUPPORTED

For breakfast, I ate cashew yogurt with sliced banana and unsweetened coconut chips.

All images and content copyright ©Asanas for Autism and Special Needs

Author: @yogabyshawnee

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