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.”