The holidays are fast approaching and plans to vacation with the kids abound. Although the intention is to gather with friends and family and celebrate, sometimes the travel itself can be a less than joyous event. There is packing and leaving home, long lines, big crowds and the well-meaning relatives who want to smother the children with love. The more we can tune into our kids and help make these trips less stressful, the more time we can spend enjoying being together. Try these yoga and mindfulness activities with your kids along the journey to help ease their travel anxiety and yours.
1) First and foremost BREATHE… (cover or relax pose)
Having the “essentials” with you when you travel is important for your comfort and maintaining a sense of normalcy in situations that can be different and challenging. Think of the breath as one of those essentials kids can always have with them to help feel at home wherever they are. Take some time to practice deep, diaphragmatic breathing with your children before your trip, so kids know what to do sitting in a car or on a plane or even upon arriving at a new location. Let them know that whenever they feel upset or anxious they can always have access to calming breath. Even the littlest ones can practice putting their hands on their bellies and closing their eyes noticing the breath fill their bodies with air and feeling their tummies expand and contract with each breath. Doing this together will help all of you. You can practice sitting up or lying down all the while focusing the attention on the breath as you inhale and exhale through the nose. Older children can try counting their breaths. If your child has a favorite stuffed animal, he can put it in his lap or on belly and breathe, “together.” Remember to notice how good you all feel after you’ve done your breathing.
2) Find Balance (airplane)
The rushing around that occurs pre-travel can throw everyone off balance. Practicing some balance poses can actually help to create stability both physically and mentally. Airplane pose helps kids not only find their literal balance but also their emotional pause and creates a sense of fun and playfulness. If you happen to be flying somewhere it can be a fun game to emulate an airplane. Challenge your kids to find stillness in this pose, taking a few breaths and then let them fly around to different destinations imagining what they see and hear. It is a pose you can call up while in line at an airport or at a rest stop to occupy little minds and strengthen and stretch their bodies, and to give them a chance to be in the moment.
3) Turn anxiety on its head (Down Dog)
Any pose that brings one’s head below the knees can change the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain and calm, refresh and energize the body and mind. Downward facing dog is one of those poses. It’s a wonderful stretch for the hamstrings, calves, lower back and shoulders after sitting or while waiting on long lines for any length of time. A little down dog can be refreshing and playful bringing some fun to the moment and a new perspective. While in this pose, have your kids wag their tails, lift a leg and open up their hips, bark and giggle. If you feel tension or anxiety building in your child, help them turn things upside down with this easy, but effective inversion.
4) Allow for boundaries and self-care (child’s pose)
Often the stress of travel involves being in a new situation or among crowds of people. Even if you are traveling to see family whose intentions are only to give love to your kids, it can be overwhelming to be hugged and fawned over. Children need to know that they have the right to set boundaries and create a “safe space” for themselves. Child’s pose is a lovely way to help children feel protected and in control. Have them sit back on their heels with toes touching and knees apart resting the forehead on the floor with arms by the sides. This pose can feel like a lovely self-hug and a place to shut out any chaos going on around. While there, have your child notice the breath filling her back body and practice taking slow deep inhales and exhales. This mindful attention will help bring a sense of softening and calm to body and mind. Giving a child the option to find this pose when there is a lot going on and she needs a moment to regroup is an empowering and comforting gift. Before traveling, practice this pose and talk about the times it might come in handy and when your child might choose to access it. This will also give you some insight into what she could be worried about and a chance to help calm fears preemptively.
5) Pause, connect, be grateful (tree)
Once you have arrived at your destination take a moment to pause before entering the hotel, relative’s home or wherever you might be staying. Stop, look around and notice, activate your child’s senses. Ask your child what he sees. Are there buildings? Is there a beach? Are there trees? Become a tree even if there aren’t any. Have your child balance on one foot while raising the other to the ankle or upper thigh placing hands together by the heart. Getting into tree pose can help your child find physical and emotional balance in a new context. Take some deep breaths in and out through the nose perhaps reaching the hands to the sky. Ask your children what they hear and smell and what they feel on their skin. This pause and quick check-in provides a context and a way to get one’s bearings in a new situation. Once your kids have tuned into the environment around them take one last moment to think of something you are grateful for on this adventure. Close your eyes and notice how that gratitude feels in your body. Practicing this pose and mindful activity will not only help your child feel as though you are honoring where they are emotionally but also set the tone for a positive travel experience for which you will all be thankful.