Restorative Yoga for Children with Heather Fontenot

January 17, 2011

Today, Rhythm of the Home co-editor Heather Fontenot shares a post from her blog, Shivaya Naturals, on working with children to find balance and a sense of peace through restorative yoga and mindful practice.

I did my very first yoga pose when I was 15 years old. I remember it so clearly, because I felt silly doing a pose called “Downward Facing Dog”. I had picked up a copy of Yoga Journal in the grocery store, and it looked pretty interesting. I had always thought that people who practiced yoga just stood on their heads for long periods of time, or sat in meditation for hours on end (for the record, I can stand on my head for a wicked amount of time, even in the Sand Dunes, after a good Margarita. Just saying).

I have been a yoga therapist for over ten years now, and I have spent most of that time working with chronic and terminally ill patients to try and improve their quality of life, and their experience of pain. I have also been lucky enough to work with young children through yoga and storytelling, and I am a very strong advocate of trying to incorporate yoga into the school system to try and help reduce the over stimulation that can occur in our ever growing classrooms.

Now as the mom of two young children, my yoga has returned to the beginning, to a place where my students are two cute little things who arrive on their mats with sleep in their eyes, and dreams on their minds.

Our yoga can look very different day to day, depending on moods and needs, but if there is one thing that remains a constant, it is that restorative yoga always has a calming effect on busy little minds, and hectic filled days.

I use restorative yoga with my kiddos mainly before bed. If I have not mentioned it in the past, my oldest struggles with sleeping problems, and we try all that we can to create a warm and calm atmosphere prior to sleep. Restorative yoga gives the children an opportunity to quiet their minds, and relax their bodies, and take a moment before sleep to simply be in the moment.

Here is a small snippet of three poses that are a part of our daily practice.

Child’s Pose. The most basic and powerful resting pose for adults and children alike. Using a cushion (a sofa cushion or hard pillow will work fine here), and a folded blanket, have your child begin with their knees up against the long edge of the cushion.

Have them sit back onto their heels, and then bend forward to rest their head on the blanket (younger children may only need the cushion).
They can place their hands on either side of the cushion, or they can rest them down near their legs.

While they are resting, place both hands on their back, as above, and ask them to take a deep breath in. On the exhale, slightly apply pressure, and begin to move your hands in opposite directions, allowing a nice stretch of their spine. If your child seems restless, place your hand firmly in the middle of their back and apply a slight pressure.

During my session with Jacob yesterday morning, Elwood crawled up into bed and put his cushions exactly as his big brothers. It was a good reminder to me that allowing children to practice in a space that feels comfortable is key. If that is a bed and their pillows, than that is where it should be on that day.

This next restorative pose allows your child to relax their back fully, while also experiencing a slight back bend, which opens the chest and allows for deeper breathing. With your cushion and blanket still in place, have your child turn over and place the small of his back against the cushion. Lay your child back, making sure that their head is on the blanket, and their shoulders on the cushion. Place an eye pillow over their eyes, and a rice pack, or heavy pillow on their feet (this is a really important step, because it helps to ground your child, and reduces the need for them to squirm around)

Elwood managed to create his own space pretty well here. It was good to see that he was comfotable enough in his practice to create it on his own.

Legs up the wall is a must for helping little ones transition towards sleep. Lay a mat or thick blanket up against your wall, and have your child sit sideways, flush up against the wall. Have them swing their legs up and over, and lay down. Place a pillow under their heads, and have them extend their arms out to the side. If you feel that your child becomes restless in this pose, place the same rice pack as above on their tummies, or pelvic bone, and have them breathe deeply.

This is a pose where many children will actually fall asleep. It promotes a deep sense of relaxation, and it is one of the better poses to get children to relax completely into themselves. During our yoga time, the only thing that I really focus on is getting the boys to relax, and to do a lot of deep breathing. I am a huge believer in the power of our breath, and learning to control it for relaxation has had a huge impact for my children.

Soaking children’s feet in warm water for about five minutes after your yoga (or anytime actually) is so powerful, that I have often found one of my children asleep sitting up, feet fully immersed. On nights that the boys do not get a bath, they always get a foot soak. There is nothing fancy here, just some warm water, a plastic tub, a little lavender oil if on hand, and a quiet space. After about 30 seconds or so, you will start to see your child visibly relax, and fall into a much calmer state.

This is just a small look at some of those poses that I have found have the best result for us. Each child is different, and it is fun to explore what works for them. I love yoga because it uses the body to heal the body. It just feels good to know that my kids have the ability to calm and relax themselves, I just have to show them how.

Some of my favorite yoga resources
Yoga Journal
Judith Lasater
Storytime Yoga


Heather Fontenot, co-editor and publisher of Rhythm of The Home, lives with her family on the Front Range of NorthernColorado. She has a passion for natural and creative living, and spends as much of her time outdoors as possible. She loves to knit, sew, garden, photograph, read and home school her two sweet little ones. She writes the blog, Shivaya Naturals, where she chronicles her life as a mother, artist, and gluten free baker.

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sherene cauley January 17, 2011 at 10:08 am

I love you touching on children in restorative ( and still) poses. Sometimes children’s yoga suggestions forget that children can be still. We love yoga nidra for bouncy minds. I wish I could post a picture from last week. Our little group of home-schoolers got together ( us mamas and the other children), were led through asana practice by my oldest daughter. The kids all set up mats and everything. It was wonderful. We keep a deck of yoga cards on hand and its fun to watch them work together on getting the poses to translate from paper to their own bodies.

Carla January 17, 2011 at 11:15 am

Thank you for sharing this! I took yoga with my oldest when she was an infant & it was amazing how she connected with it. I’m very big on creating a relaxing bedtime ritual & will definitely give these poses a try. I adore the foot soak. Right now we’ve just started lighting a candle at dinner which we carry with us through the night time routine (dinner, bath & bedtime book reading). The flame always keeps them captive.

Do you have any recommended books for yoga poses for toddlers & preschoolers?

Emily January 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Any suggestions for yoga with a toddler?

Rose January 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I LOVE this!! Thank you! I have been wanting to do yoga with my very active six year old son, but it’s in such bits and pieces, I have a hard time keeping him engaged. Some great tips here!

Meg January 17, 2011 at 7:18 pm

How lovely, must try these :o )

Tiffany @ No Ordinary Homestead January 18, 2011 at 1:45 am

I’d also love to hear suggestions for a toddler…my little girl is 2 years old and she’s totally wound up before bed since her dad is usually just coming home about 30 minutes earlier. She usually plays quietly in her bed until she falls asleep and it’s often not too long, but some nights it’s a few hours so it would be really nice to put her in a calm state before she lays down.


Micha January 18, 2011 at 6:13 am

Thank you, these ideas come just in the right time. It will inspire me for my Yoga-lessons in the Kindergarten.
Greetings from Germay, Micha

Mairin January 18, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Great article and photos, I feel more relaxed after just reading it!

. tiny twist creative . January 19, 2011 at 9:34 am

Thanks for these great ideas. I’d like to try some of this with helping calm my little guy.

Fiona Duthie January 19, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Such a beautiful process, and so well expressed, Heather. When my boys were younger we did yoga with them in the evenings, as a way of winding down before bed. We did animal poses, and told stories as we went along. It was a great family time, full of fun and laughter, but also calming and quietening…..warm memories!

Tammy Sanders January 20, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Just bookmarked your post. I will definitely being coming back to it and making a plan on incorporating something similar with my children. We do not ahve sleep issues at all, but would help trememndously with focus and calming of ones’ self.

Thanks again for sharing.

Regina @ Chalkinmypocket January 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm

I just bookmarked this to come back to later — this is exactly what my wired, tired toddler needs. For now we’ll run around outside but what a great transition into quiet time or sleep this is going to be at my house.

Danielle Perry January 22, 2011 at 4:30 pm

I’m going to use this as a replacement to weaning my son 3 1/2 year old (yep!) at night. :) He is very touch-oriented and will love the massage part. He is also very much a “doer” so I think he will enjoy setting up the pillows and such.
I shared this with a friend and she is excited to try the foot soak with her son when he doesn’t have a bath.
Thank you! I love yoga!

Laura January 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Thank you for this inspiring post.

Emme January 31, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Wow, this is awesome! I’ve never thought of teaching my children any yoga at all, and this is such a gentle, helpful guide to getting started. Thank you!

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