When you hear the phrase “kids’ yoga,” you probably picture children joyfully creating animal yoga poses with their bodies, singing songs, building partner postures, playing games and easily socializing with classmates.

These are all typical aspects of yoga and mindfulness classes for children. But of course the intention of sharing yoga with children extends far beyond that. In addition to the poses, breathing, songs and games, yoga for children is also about the relationship we form with our students and the space we hold for them to grow, develop and learn. With some children and teens this come easily, but others may struggle with some or all of these components. For children who have unresolved trauma, the very activities that might bring joy and laughter to some children can instead bring fear and pain if not offered through a trauma-informed lens.

Here are 5 reasons to be trauma-informed when teaching yoga to children:

Reason #1: We know from surveys and studies, that at least 2/3 of children in the U.S. experience some form of trauma before the age of 18. In areas where violence and poverty are prevalent, or in cases of natural or man-made disasters, that statistic is even higher. We often do not know the history of the children we teach in our yoga classes. With the prevalence of trauma being that high, it is likely you will be teaching children who will have experienced some form of trauma, whether you are aware of it or not.

Reason #2: Numerous studies show that psychological trauma can have a lasting effect on the body and the brain. These effects can be invisible and can manifest in any number of ways throughout a child’s lifetime, potentially continuing well into adulthood if not addressed. By recognizing how trauma can occur and how it might manifest in the body and brain, we can bring more understanding, compassion and mindful awareness to our yoga classes for children.

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Reason #3: Researchers, including Sat Bir Khalsa at Harvard Medical School, and Dave Emerson at the Trauma Center in Boston, MA, have discovered that yoga, mindfulness and particular types of breathing exercises, can be healing when presented in a trauma-informed way.

Reason #4: Unanticipated touch, particular scents, sounds or postures that are often well-tolerated by children who have not experienced trauma, can be very uncomfortable for some children (and adults) who have a trauma history. This discomfort can lead to withdrawal, fear, pain, or what may look like behavior issues. When we understand this, we are better able to recognize and address children’s individual needs.

Reason #5: Building supportive relationships is one of the key ways that children who have experienced trauma can start to develop resilience. This can take place in the yoga studio, school, therapy office or at home. Understanding how to build resilience and relationships with children is a crucial part of teaching with a trauma-informed lens. It is also one way we can make a positive and potentially healing impact on the lives of our students.

In my work as an Occupational Therapist in a specialized school, 100% of my students have experienced some form of trauma in their young lives. I see students with multiple (often changing) diagnoses, behavior challenges, physical and mental health issues, difficulty forming healthy attachments and learning challenges. Yet, I am in awe of their resilience in the face of incredible odds.

Neck rolls2In addition to my OT duties, I helped develop and run our yoga & mindfulness program. Each week, all students in grades K-8 participate in one 30-60 minute mat-based yoga class. We also integrate yoga & mindfulness into the classroom. While we may include music, breathing, postures, games and relaxation, our focus is on building a sense of safety, community, self-regulation, empathy and respect. All of our work, both in my yoga classes and in our school in general, is done through a trauma-informed lens. We get to know our students and what helps or hinders them. We build trust and a relationship that allows for growth, taking into account each students’ individual challenges and needs.

I partnered with Rochelle Jewell, E-RYT 200, C-IAYT, to create a one-day workshop titled, Trauma-Informed Yoga & Mindfulness for Children, focused on sharing with others how to bring a trauma-informed lens to their kids’ yoga classes and other work with children and youth. In this training, we share about how trauma happens, how the body and brain react, some signs and symptoms of trauma, and how to make your classes and interactions with children trauma-informed.

What participants are saying about this workshop:

“I have experience working with lots of at risk youth. This was a great way to confirm that yoga is a great resource for children who have experienced
trauma.”
~ Melissa Nutting

“(This workshop) increased my awareness and understanding of the effects of trauma…and some tools to provide a safe place for children to be and experience healthy connections.” ~ Deb Ambrose

We hope you can join us in an upcoming workshop soon!

Join Gloria and Rochelle on November 17th, 2017 for their Trauma-Informed Yoga & Mindfulness for Children workshop in Dover, NH.

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Gloria Breton, OTR/L, TYR 200, RCYT, has been blessed to work in the service of children and adults for over 30 years. In addition to the Trauma-Informed Yoga & Mindfulness for Children workshop, she is the co-creator/author of the Childlight Yoga & Mindfulness for Children and Teens with Special Needs Training and manual. Currently, she works as an occupational therapist in a therapeutic school, serving students who live with trauma, mental health & developmental challenges. She specializes in the areas of sensory processing disorder/sensory integration, pediatric mental health, trauma-informed care, self-regulation skills & making education accessible to all children…read more here.