Michael Phelps’ Olympic swimming success has made him the supernova of the swim world. Part of his winning came not just from his supremely fine-tuned physique, but also from a wise coach who taught Phelps as a child to fine-tune his mind through relaxation, meditation and visualization.
At age 12, Phelps’ coach introduced a “structured relaxation” program based on the recitation of certain cues. At night, his mother sat with him in a dimly lit room and systematically had him relax different parts of his body. The effect it had was tremendous, and eventually Phelps could self-induce this sense of deep relaxation at will and no longer needed his mother’s help. His next step was to then visualize himself swimming his races. The rest is history!
Yogis have been inducing tranquil states for millennia, and the meditation practice of Yoga Nidra sounds a lot like what Phelps practices. Yoga Nidra roughly translates as “yogic sleep.” Sleep scientist Roger Cole calls it “quiescence.” Yoga Nidra clears the mind, and can re-pattern thoughts, memories or the anticipation of future events.
Kids of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, athletes and the physically impaired alike can all benefit from the anxiety-reducing practice of yoga and especially Yoga Nidra. When kids are less stressed, they learn better. Kids seem to love Yoga Nidra because it is soothing, expands their imagination and places them in an inner space of calm. Many kids have difficulty “sitting still” as you might see in “classic” meditation. But Yoga Nidra is done while you are lying down … so it’s very comfortable.
Childhood is stressful even if you are not training for the Olympics, and while TV, web surfing and handheld electronic devices have become commonplace distractions for kids, it seems that these things only serve to perpetuate our “short attention span” culture. Yoga Nidra involves several stress-reducing elements that have been proven to eliminate loads of negative behavioral patterns in kids.
Yoga Nidra with your kids
The whole process should take 10-15 minutes. It’s appropriate for kids of all ages. Feel free to substitute your own words.
1. The Set Up: Have them lie down in a comfortable, quiet environment. Ask them to “keep your eyes closed and follow the sound of my voice.”
2. Breathing: Instruct them to “breathe in and out through your nose like you are blowing up a balloon in your belly.”
3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Ask them to “relax every muscle in your body by squeezing and releasing them.” Then lead them through the relaxation, focusing on each muscle in turn, like this: “Tighten your hands as much as you can, tighter, tighter … and now release. Now tighten your shoulders as much as you can, tighter, tighter … and now release.”
4. Counting Breaths 40-1: In a soothing voice, ask them to “breathe in while mentally saying the number ‘40’ in your head, then breathe out and mentally say the number ‘39’ in your head. The next inhale is ‘38,’ and the next exhale is ‘37.’ Keep counting backwards all the way down to ‘1.’ If you lose count, begin again at ‘40.’”
Say positive, encouraging things to them, such as, “There’s no need to rush. Don’t get frustrated if you miss a number. Be friendly to your mind if it wants to fall asleep or forgets to count. Take a break and begin counting again when you hear my voice.”
5. Revolving Awareness: In a soothing voice, guide them on a full body tour. Pause for 3–5 seconds between naming each part of their body. Here is a sample script:
“Now I will ask you to move your mind to different parts of your relaxed body. When your mind moves to each part, it’s as if it touches it with a golden light. There’s no need to move that part of your body; simply move your imagination and that golden light there. We will move from relaxed part to relaxed part. Begin with your left-hand thumb, index finger, third finger, ring finger, pinky, palm, wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder, all filled with golden light. Move to the right-hand thumb, index finger, third finger, ring finger, pinky, palm, wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder, all filled with golden light. Move down to the left big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, pinky toe, top of foot, ankle, knee, thigh, hip. Then over to the right big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, pinky toe, top of foot, ankle, knee, thigh, hip, all filled with golden light. Move the light to your lower back, your upper back, neck, head, top of head, right ear, left ear, right eyebrow, left eyebrow, right eye, left eye, nose tip, upper lip, lower lip, jaw, tongue, throat, all filled with golden light. Then down to your chest, belly, heart, all filled with golden light.”
6. Expanding the Light: Now instruct them to share the wonderful light in their hearts. “Think of all the people in the world that you love, and imagine sending them the golden light that you have pouring through your heart. Your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, your friends, your teachers, everyone you know. Now think of all the people in the world who could use some extra light in their lives, and send it to them. Now imagine all of the world sending light back to you while you send it to them.”
7. Closing with Breath: “Now breathe into your belly and feel that light moving out and coming in. Feel your belly ballooning out and in. You are a wonderful, loving child. I love you and the world loves you. Slowly roll to your side, respecting the warm, loving, relaxed feeling you’ve created, and open your eyes.”
Let me know how it goes! For more information on yoga practices for kids, please visit www.yogaed.com. And for another example of Yoga Nidra, check out my Yoga Nidra CD called Breathe In Bliss Out.
[reprinted with permission from Gaiam Life.]
Yoga helps kids headaches – Read the article.
Wow! I have a young cousin who suffers from anxiety everyday, this article made me shiver… Thank you so much. I am looking foward to trying this with him. Just reading the script made me feel relaxed, I love Yoga Nidra, keeping the mind awake in order to connect within the body.
6 years later and this blog is still so relevant and important. Now more than ever, children and adults need tools like this to help with emotional and intellectual stresses. Meditation is a proven and predicable way to help people deal and overcome these stresses. I love the script provided for Yoga Nidra. Many parents/teachers want to support their kids through mediation but don’t know where to start or feel intimidated. So, providing scripts or a “how to” really helps make a difference and allows people a safe place to start. Also, The website, Yogaed, you provided at the end of this blog is awesome and full of great research and ideas for parents/teachers. Thank you for all this information.
I am very much looking forward to using this with my own children! I feel that as a yogi mama I have so many ‘tools’ from my journey so far to bring to my children. Coming from an upbringing full of tension, anxiety and pressure there is nothing more important to me than ending that cycle. I often take my 4 year old on a journey into the clouds but I will give this a try once he has completely run out of steam for the day! How powerful to teach this meditation to the next generation!
I have often heard “what do kids have to stress about…wait until you have a job, a terrible boss and bills to pay” in response to the idea of kids being stressed. I don’t have children, but i am a prenatal massage therapist and an infant massage instructor. Although people seem to understand that babies need nurturing and that massage is hugely beneficial for them, the idea that anywhere between infancy and adulthood that a human not be in need of this therapy. This is obviously ludicrous, but i love this outline for yoga nidra for children and am going to share it with my clients who have children. This is a nice transition away from daily massage as children get older and may not want that rom their parents and to give them the indolence to achieve relation on their own as Michael Phelps learned. Thank you.
Looking forward to working with my kids with this. My daughter especially has a difficult time learning to down regulate after an overactive day. But why limit to kids? This is great for adults as well. Yoga Nidra and bliss for all!
Beautiful article! I love the tips, too, like wrapping the kids up or making them visualize a birds nest. In your response to Ellens question about anxious kids you said that for kids with relaxation induced anxiety “(…) other approaches to sedate the nervous system are required.” Could you specify this a little bit more? Thanks for sharing!
[…] Help your kids experience bliss! – Read the article. […]
I teach yoga nidra and everyone loves it. I do child version to my 5 and 7 years old and they wont sleep without it. For them is like a game.
I don’t expect school to start doing it, neither want to waste the precious time waiting until they will “get it,” so I do it myself. Sometimes I do it when they come from school if they are too excited and can’t calm down. I would clap and say – “Yoga time” and they are ready.
I might do regular yoga poses with them first to help release they energy and short Yoga nIdra. Works like a charm.;-)
I have used some of these techniques with my very sensitive 8 year old son over the last few years. I know it helps him to get to sleep easier at night. I have found that the greatest way to calm him down is to first calm myself down by practicing them myself, even when the storm is brewing. There is a wonderful book titled “Scream Free Parenting” by Hal Runkle, that encourages parents to take care of themselves first in order to model it to children.
Yoga nidra was introduced to me for the first time last week. It was an experience that i will never forget. I felt great after this practice.The relaxation aspect along with the verbal encouragement is great for adults and is a positive activity for children; the younger an individual is introduced to the meditative practices the better great article!
i just tried yoga nidra for the first time last week in yoga teacher training. we did it twice. the first time i was knocked out asleep within minutes, but the second time i was in a state just between awake and sleep. it was very cool. the most important thing to remember is if you fall asleep, it is ok. the mind will still be working even in sleep.
Could not agree with you more Todd. If Nidra can help adults I think that it is even better for children. This way they never get to a point where they need it because they become the embodiment of it. That do be has to be a good thing. Looking forward to learning more about it. Some great books on the way.
i can’t wait to get home and have each of my kids practice Nidra!
so silly that we haven’t started this already. Nidra is such an essential practice for all yogis, i try to do nidra twice a week.
why haven’t i thought of starting the kids!? finding all kinds of blind spots in my practice this week 😉
thanks so much Jill!!
I was first introduced to Yoga Nidra by Jill Miller at the Yoga Conference in Toronto 2011. I was intrigued by the title of the workshop – Breathe in – Bliss out. At the end of the workshop I was so mellow I was grateful I had gone to the conference with a friend and wasn’t responsible for driving home. I had totally “chilled”. I then understood the benefit of introducing this to the students I taught – elementary students. I would try to do this whenever they got a bit too rambunctious and out of control (especially days when routine was lost due to assemblies or holiday celebrations). We would first go outside to do some relay or obstacle course races and then when they had rid themselves of any excess energy we would then go back inside and relax with our guided meditation. A better afternoon for all of us.
Super valuable sharing, thank you Jill. I have a question though: from what i’ve read, I didn’t see anything suited specifically for children. Some adults are as anxious and have difficulties to sit still as children – can this method be applied to and by adults too?
How brilliant is this?! Many thanks Jill for another blog devoted to our children. I have a daughter with Crohn’s Disease and stress and anxiety can definitely bring up an unannounced flare. I introduced Yoga into her life as soon as possible, but have not really taken her through a guided meditation as you describe here. The Revolving Awareness language is so beautiful. In my personal Nidra classes, we also imagine many different simple shapes, colors and animals. I think all children can easily grasp onto these images as well and achieve all the benefits of meditation. I also think it can be done in a fun, social way whereby our kids can invite friends over for a pajama party theme or sleep over and they can all form a big circle for Nidra. Awesome blog Jill, thanks!
BTW ANOTHER GREAT TECHNIQUE IS TO TELL ANXIOUS CHILD TO IMAGINE A BABY BIRD NEST ON THE TIP OF THEIR NOSE. THE MOMMA BORD IS GOING TO GET FOOD TO FEED THE BABY. IF THEY MOVE AT ALL THE MOMMY WONT FLY TO THE NEST TO FEED THE BABY. LITTLE KIDS LOVE THIS.
ANOTHER GREAT THING IS TO GET LEMON OIL AND PUT IT IN A SPRITZ BOTTLE. SPRAY SOME IN THE ROOM AS YOU GIVE THEM A GUIDED VISUALIZATION ABOUT BEING ON A BEACH OR IN A PARK SIPPING LEMONADE, RELAXING UNDER THE SUN…ETC
Interesting to read about yoga nidra with kids especially the revolving awareness sequence. I might try that with my adult students. I usually am not that individually precise highlghting each digit of the hand and foot. When I talk about the golden light I would see toes, tops of the feet, soles of the feet, ankles, etc making a progression up the body. I look forward to trying out being mre specific.
I loved this blog. I found it so interesting to find out that Michael Phelps coach employed a structured relaxation program into his student’s daily workout routine and that his Mother was able to help Michael relax by following the coach’s program at night until he could do it himself. If my kids were younger I would definetly begin to do Yoga Nidra with them (Both my children are now adults and not living at home) Also if I was still teahing emotionally disturbed children, I would doi Yoga Nidra with them. I use to daily’ ,weather permitting, have my students jog around the school yard until they were exhausted to enable them to sit and focus better for the rest of the day.Canyou imagine if I did Yoga Nidra with them after we jogged? Ah what peaceful students I would have had. Also I plan to buy Jill’s Yoga Nidra CD and listen to it myself!
hey ellen… try having him lay down horizontal on a yoga mat…then roll him up (i like to say mummy roll)…then try the nidra work. Anxious children sometimes benefit when they are “wrapped up”…it calms down their nervous system (think of a newborn who is swaddled…to calm them down.)
Ellen, sometimes anxiousness needs to be expelled by massive amounts of physical activity…ie, letting the kid run out of steam by LITERALLY running. out. of. steam. There is also phenomenon called “relaxation induced anxiety.” For some folks, (and kids too) being still and silent provokes so much nervousness, that it ramps their sympathetic nervous system to a degree that is completely counterproductive….for them , other approaches to sedate the nervous system are required.
This is BRILLIANT! Kids are so susceptible to energy (good and bad) and to introduce, early on, a skill that will benefit them for the rest of their life is incredible. Yoga Nidra is one of the most invaluable tools I have acquired along the way (how did I live with out it?!)… using focus, concentration and awareness to promote relaxation and awareness is key to this day and age of over-stimulation, TV, violent video games and the sophisticated information available to kids through the internet. To regulate and downgrade the nervous system is truly a gift.
I used this practice with my son 8 yrs ago when he was 11. It was a CD by Rod Stryker called yoga nidra. My son was impatient in the beginning because it moves so slowly through the body, but it worked great for me. Its difficult for an anxious child to settle in and start this process. Any suggestions?
This makes so much sense. At what age can yoga nidra be introduced to children?
Not sure if it’s already a part of school schedules but it ought to be ! Imagine the benefits over time
Calm relaxed children ready to learn and so self assured….
It makes so much sense to teach children this practice! It would be so awesome if teachers could take some time out of the day to practice these techniques with their students. School can be so stressful especially with the ever increasing pressure kids face now. I think developing healthy coping methods early on is an essential skill.
I really enjoyed learning more about yoga nidra, I have heard a lot about it but hadn’t experienced it for myself. I will be teaching a yoga class to a group of high schoolers next week and I think I will incorporate yoga nidra in at the end of the practice and see how it goes. I really think that if this was done at the beginning of each day at the school that I work at the day would be a lot smoother.