Here are some of my favorite ways to introduce and practice savasana, final resting pose, with preschoolers. Of course, preceding these relaxations, I have already begun to bring the energy down by softening the volume of my voice, dimming overhead lights when possible, and sometimes turning on some soft, relaxing music to set the tone. I always give the children the option to say "no thank you" to being touched. If you work in classrooms, check in with the classroom teacher to find out if any students have sensory processing disorders, and allow those students to observe and develop trust over time. In some cases, they will never participate in certain parts of the yoga class or be comfortable with touch, but I have had students with sensory processing disorders go from screaming during yoga to being the ones who look the most peaceful and happy during savasana, asking me for extra "bunny kisses." Still, I always quietly ask students or wait for a verbal request or nod and smile, as no one feels the same every day.
Friendly Frogs (see image above)
Imagine you are a round, smooth stone in a cool pond. Curl into your rock shape (child's pose), resting your forehead on the ground or make a pillow with your hands. There are some happy, friendly frogs hopping around the pond. If you hold very still, they will know it's safe to hop across the stones. You will feel them land on your back and say hello! Walk around the room and gently give a quick shoulder/upper back massage to each student. When all students have been visited by the frogs, invite them to turn into children again and sit up from their rock shape. To bring movement back into the body, ask, Can you wiggle the part of your body where you felt the frogs hop?
Let's pretend we have been walking through a lovely garden. Now we are tired and want to rest for a while. Find a cozy spot under your favorite tree and lie down in the soft, cool grass. Your tree could be tall or short, have lots of colorful leaves, or just strong branches. You might smell sweet flowers on the breeze. Perhaps you can hear a bird singing to you. A gentle, shy bunny is hopping around the garden. Wait for the bunny to hop over your face and give you a soft kiss on your forehead. Walk around the room and brush a cotton ball across each child's forehead and nose in a "T" shape. After each child has been visited, quietly invite everyone to open their eyes and sit up and stretch. Ask students to take turns sharing about their unique experiences--what their tree was like, sounds they heard, scents they smelled, and anything else they felt.
Peaceful Paintbrush (my favorite! I usually play "Underneath the Rainbow" and "Colors" by Kira Willey during this relaxation)
Take out a paintbrush and introduce it as The Peaceful Paintbrush. I like to use a fan brush as they are very soft, but any shape and size will do as long as the bristles are soft! This relaxation can be done as a seated meditation, sitting criss-cross with hands upturned on knees, or laying down in savasana, with your back on the floor and arms along sides, palms upturned. Imagine you are holding a paint pot in each hand. Make a little cup with your hand and set the paint pots gently on your knees/next to your resting body. The paint is your favorite color--a color that makes you feel peaceful and happy when you think of it. You might have the same color in both hands, or maybe you have two favorites. Hold your paint pots very still and I will come get a little paint from your hands and brush some of the beautiful color across your forehead. After you get painted, make sure to hold still so the paint can dry! ... Now everyone has been painted. Let's sit up and open our eyes and look around at our colorful friends! Now rub your hands together to mix the leftover paint. You can rub a little more paint anywhere else on your body where you want to feel more peaceful. Let's dry the paint now. Hold your hands in front of your face and take a deep breath in through your nose. Breathe out and dry off your hands (model an inhale through the nose and a cooling exhale through rounded lips) and fan off your face with your hands. Share with the class what colors made you feel peaceful and happy today.
Buddy Breathing/Pom Pom Belly Breath
Let each student choose a "buddy"--a small stuffed animal, soft toy or beanbag. This is easy to do in a family or playgroup class, or at a birthday party where you can instruct each student to bring their favorite lovey. If you don't have enough animals to go around, you can easily do belly breath with fuzzy pom poms (available at dollar or hobby stores for a few dollars per bag--I like the larger size for this purpose). Lie down with your buddy (or pom pom) balanced on your belly. Breathe in and out. Do you see your buddy moving up and down? Watch for a little while. Notice how slowly you have to breathe so your buddy doesn't fall down. Can you close your eyes and keep breathing your buddy up and down? If it falls, don't worry, pick it up and put it back on your belly and breathe again. Relaxing can take just as much practice as doing difficult yoga poses. Now roll to the side and curl into a little ball around your buddy, and snuggle for a moment. When you're ready to sit up, sit criss cross with your buddy in your lap (or holding your fuzzy pom pom in one hand.
This can be tricky in schoolrooms where there are lots of rules regarding scents and allergies, but if you get the green light, the kids love it. It is always a hit in studios or family classes. Bring some lotion (paraben-free, organic, as clean as possible). While adults like experimenting with various essential oil scents, kids like fruity or sweet smells like coconut, vanilla, berry, cocoa butter, etc. Have students relax, lying down, with their socks off. Warm lotion between hands before massaging each child's feet and ankles.
If you're lucky enough to teach somewhere with a yoga mat for each student, this can be a great way to finish a class where you've done some camping or hiking poses. It can also be called an enchilada, fruit roll-up, bug-in-a-rug, cocoon, etc! Have each child lay at the top of their mat, perpendicular to the mat (so their head and feet are off the mat). Let them choose if they want their arms in or out--but usually I only give this choice to older kids who I have been working with for a while. In general you may want to start with everyone's arms out, so start them with their arms up over their head. Roll them up inside their yoga mat, leaving them face up and checking in with their comfort before moving to the next student. When everyone is cozy in their "sleeping bag," you can guide them through a relaxation about looking at the stars and moon in the clear night sky. Make sure they know they are free to unroll any time they want, but encourage them to enjoy the feeling of being secure in their snug wraps.
Other Sensory Props for Similar Relaxations
Feathers: for brushing across children's foreheads or watching effects of breath.
Fringed or silky scarf: for draping across child from head to toe while lying down.
Smooth Stones: (bags of decorative river rocks available at dollar/hobby shops) for balancing on the third eye area (between eyebrows) or holding one in each palm.
Paper Fan: for fanning children from head to toe as they rest. Perfect for over-warm classrooms, after an especially active class, or in summertime.
Are you a kids' movement or yoga teacher? How do you bring down the energy in your class? What are your tips and tricks for helping children enjoy stillness and reflection after movement? Parents and schoolteachers--when do your kids need relaxation the most? Have you found ways to integrate stillness and rest throughout the day? Share your ideas here or on Facebook by liking Little Friends Yoga and Creative Movement!