How does Yoga and Meditation help children who have suffered from trauma?
What is Trauma?
Jessica Mcilveen is the founder of Kids Yoga Therapy, an exceptional business that helps children who have suffered from trauma with yoga and meditation techniques. Jessica is a yoga and meditation teacher as well as a social worker.
I caught up with her to ask how yoga helps children who have suffered from trauma and what we can do as parents and carers to help.
Take a listen.
What is trauma?
There’s a really great definition that Jessica likes to refer to. “Trauma is when we have encountered an out of control, frightening experience that has disconnected us from all sense of resourcefulness or safety or coping or love.” This really does apply to a lot of the children Jessica works with.
How does yoga or meditation help children who have suffered from trauma?
It is a bottom up approach. We’ve often used talking therapies or medications to try and help heal the effects of trauma. This simply doesn’t work based on how the brain develops in children.
The bottom up approach works from the body, and from the most basic elements of our brain structure. In doing that we have access to a lot more within the child, the sensations in their bodies.
We’re strengthening the part of their nervous system that has never really been developed because of trauma, the parasympathetic nervous system, our relaxation response. Our rest and digest state of being.
When a child has experienced trauma, either one off or ongoing, they can be stuck in fight or flight, the fear response, that’s the sympathetic nervous system. When this is triggered consistently children can remain in this state and are triggered very easily. Their little smoke alarm response system in their brain is constantly on alert for threats in their environment.
So the relaxing response has no power. Yoga and meditation really does strengthen this. We do this with breathing exercises. The one and only aspect of our automatic nervous system that we have control over. That’s why its crucial.
We work to help children approach their bodies with curiosity, rather than fear. As a result of their environments they have completely disassociated with their bodies as they are terrified of the sensations they experience. They can explode quickly and leave a destructive trail, the sensations are scary for them and they want to avoid it. So, approaching the body with curiosity is a way to start healing.
At what age can we start using this therapy with our children?
There’s no wrong answer for this. I work with children aged 4-18. I like to be able to have verbal interaction with the child, however they can start younger and copy.
Some of the research does suggest that ages 7-8 is a great age to begin and that’s because around this age you are able to start considering different perspectives - the philosophy of yoga and meditation, the power of breathing and the impact it can create, your ability to bring in different strategies during those times when you are feeling anxious. Your ability to do this is greater at this age than when you are younger.
How can we bring yoga into the home on a daily basis?
I like to give 4 steps to creating a short yoga and meditation routine in the home.
Have your own mantra. Create a positive I AM statement with the child. So something that they can repeat in their mind throughout the session and throughout the day. Eg. I AM KIND TO MYSELF AND TO OTHERS.
Do a short 5-minute yoga routine. If you’re not familiar with yoga you can look it up on the internet, or try one of Little Rockers Radios fun-key yoga classes. If its a bedtime routine, try and have the poses on the ground.
At the end of the session I suggest doing a connected calming activity, something where there’s a physical connection between you and the child. For example, the child has their head on your belly and the child is asked to focus on your stomach rising and falling with your breathe. Getting the child to concentrate on something other than the external environment.
After this you could do a short relaxation or meditation. This could look like a tense and release exercise, so you could get your child to lay on their back, name each body part, tense them then relax. Its a great way to get tension out of the body. Or pop a teddy or stone on their belly button, ask them to breathe and focus on the teddy/stone rising and falling. You can also try one of our fabulous 5-minute Happy Smile Little Meditations.
This can be a 10-15 minute routine and it’s a well rounded sequence you can do with the kids on a daily basis.