Adults, in general, are concerned about doing yoga “right”. We want to become not only proficient, but good at the skills that we invest time, energy and money into. This desire is fundamentally at odds with the true nature of yoga and meditation. It is a practice. You will never do it “right” as there is no “right” way to do it.
Children, on the other hand, have no concern at all about doing yoga or meditation correctly. I imagine this may be because they are so newly proficient at almost every skill that they have and they daily are faced with the realities of their limitations—-all the things that they WISH they could do independently, but can’t. Therefore, they can connect with the practice aspect of yoga and meditation on a much deeper and authentic level almost immediately.
I have found that between the ages of 5-8 that many children, including my own, start to have new anxieties and fears. Many of these surface at the end of the day and around bedtime and some are illuminated through nightmares and sleep disruptions. Without really understanding development, my best guess is that this is the time when most children start to feel more independent from their families of origin. They have friends and teachers and coaches and a personality including a new portfolio of identity markers that are all their own. In addition, the fact of mortality becomes more available. That the stability of their life is based on circumstances that could potentially shift and change without notice and at any time is a new possibility that they are aware of.
When this anxiety started to happen in my house at night, I turned to my own yoga practice and offered my son a modified ritual that I use myself. At night, right before bed, I would lead my son through this ritual:
1. Verbal instructions to relax body: from toes to head, relax body, let body be heavy, relax.
If you try this, be very patient! Relaxation for a child looks and feels different from an adult. They will squirm and fidget and toss and turn in bed as you verbally guide them in relaxation. Do not insist that they stay still. Allow your child to find their center in whatever way they need. They are actually listening to their body and it seems to me that some, not all, children require movement to calm the body rather than stillness (adults too!).
2. Ring the bell
I ring a bell three times over my son’s body. As I ring the bell, I say a prayer or intention that he be free of fear and invite a beautiful sleep.
3. Ask for protection and help from Ganesh
I invoke Ganesh and ask that Ganesh remove any obstacles to peaceful sleep.
4. Chant to Ganesh ten times
Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha
I have placed a small statue of Ganesh given to me as a special gift on my 30th birthday by my friend Tina on my son’s nightstand and some battery powered votive candles around it.
This ritual seemed to work wonders and not only relieved my son’s nighttime anxieties and fears, but also gave us something sweet to connect with at the end of the day.
Then, one day, I heard my son (who is 7) with his two year old sister ask her if she wanted a meditation. She agreed that it was a good time for meditation and he told her to lie down on the floor and I could hear him leading her through the relaxation. From the sound of it, my daughter must have been following his verbal instructions because he continued and I didn’t hear any other sounds. He lead her through a relaxation of the whole body and then I started to hear him chant. He was saying, “Who’s Got the Potato Now? Who’s Got the Potato Now?”. It seems that my chant of mantra to Ganesh sounds a lot like “Who’s Got the Potato Now” and this is how it was interpreted by my son.
Is he wrong? Actually, no, he is not wrong. While an adult would want to get the words right, my son found a deeper connection to the sound vibration and created a meaningful way to express that vibration through a mantra. I did tell my son that the words he had chosen were not the actual mantra to Ganesh, but now we have a special phrase that we use when anyone feels overwhelmed and needs to calm down that is unique to us and our family “Who’s got the potato now?”. And, really, I can almost feel Ganesha smiling on us as we invoke the spirit of liberation from fear and worry in our own special way.
Do you want to learn how to make yoga and mediation a part of your family’s culture and daily life? Do you or your children experience anxiety or worry at night that interrupts the quality of your sleep? Please sign up for a FREE 20-minute consultation and consider a Matrika Strategy coaching program that will give you the ritual and skills you need to improve the quality of your life and your entire family’s well being. While my personal ritual as described here does involve a chant to the Hindu deity Ganesh, I am happy to design a ritual for you that reflects your own spiritual and religious commitments and beliefs or a completely secular ritual.
Written by Sharon Fennimore Rudyk, MA, a Pittsburgh-based yoga and meditation instructor specializing in mindful meditation for women and families.