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Family Fitness: Stretches Everyone Will Love

Last updated on March 16th, 2021 at 02:34 pm

Happy healthy family making gym exercisesDuring the winter, it can be difficult to get yourself, not to mention your family, to do any exercise. Now toss a PANDEMIC with social distancing and quarantines into the mix!!! My suggestion: Get everyone going with a gentle stretch session. Stretching will not only help relieve stress, but also energize your entire body. It’s also a great way to get kids moving in a focused manner.

Below are a few great stretches for you and your family to enjoy. All you need is comfortable clothing, a carpeted floor (or a yoga/exercise mat on hardwood), lighting that’s easy on the eyes and down- to mid-tempo music. On a last note, if you are going to help one another stretch, heed the advice of Dr. Timothy McCall in Yoga As Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing: Adjustments should be gentle, like the “laying on of hands” from biblical folklore. Never push too hard or tug too firmly. Remember: You are attempting to reduce, not aggravate, stress!

Cat/Cow Sequence: Moving Your Spine

Nothing feels as good as getting your spine moving, which is why many yoga classes begin with a simple cat/cow sequence. It loosens the muscles around your spine and gets blood flowing into your shoulders and intestines, which helps digestion.

  • Begin on your hands and knees with your hands placed directly underneath your shoulders, and your knees placed directly below your hips.
  • With your inhale, allow your midsection to relax while you draw your shoulders together on your back and gently gaze up. Try not to arch your neck too much; instead let your shoulder blades guide your gaze upward slightly. Let your tailbone lift and feel your sit bones widen.
  • Begin to draw your belly button in and up as you exhale, tucking your chin into your chest and rounding your upper back, like you are pushing the floor away. Try not to cramp up around your neck; there should be a stretch, but you don’t want your collarbones to feel as if they are being pinched together. As your navel pulls up and in, your tailbone will lengthen, giving you a nice release in your lower back. Repeat for 10-15 breaths.

Cobra: Energize While Calming

After you finish your cat/cow stretches, lie flat on your stomach for Bhujangasana, or Cobra. If you’ve ever read Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, you might recall that “the Swede’s” father had no affiliation with yoga but did Cobra every day to alleviate stress. It’s also a wonderful pose to do if you’re feeing sluggish and tired, as it offers you a burst of energy.

  • Place your hands next to your chest, with your thumbs just behind the level of your armpits. Allow your forehead or chin to rest on the ground.
  • Keeping your hands on the ground, begin to draw your shoulder blades onto your back, like you were trying to squeeze your elbows together. Press the top of your feet firmly into the ground; this is important, as you don’t want to clench your butt and tighten your lower back.
  • As you draw your elbows in, begin to gently straighten your arms. (They most likely won’t straighten fully; don’t force it.) Let the action of your shoulders begin to lift your chest and, lastly, your head. It’s important to keep your pelvis (around where you’d wear a belt) on the ground. Cobra pose is an energizing movement that really works your shoulders and upper back. When lifting your pelvis, you are relying on arm strength (and probably crunching your low back). After a few breaths, easily lower your head back to the ground. Repeat five to eight times.

Child’s Pose: Finding Strength in Relaxation

Perhaps the most relaxing pose is Child’s Pose. It stretches your lower back and hip flexors, as well as your ankles.

  • After your Cobra sequence, place your hands underneath your shoulders and gently press your seat to your heels, allowing your upper body to rest on your thighs. Don’t worry if it does not reach, especially if your hips are tight; again, don’t force any of these movements. If this position bothers your knees, roll a towel or blanket up and place it behind the backs of your knees, as this will take pressure off the joints.
  • Either rest your arms straight out in front of you or next to your hips, with your head on the ground (or a block or pillow, if this position bothers your upper back or neck).
  • Take 10 deep breaths into your lower back. With every exhale, see if you can allow your hips to rest downward a little more.

Twisting out the Rest

Twisting will not only calm your nervous system, but also stimulate digestion, which can also be very helpful around this time of year!

  • Slowly lift yourself out of Child’s Pose to sit on your heels. If this bothers your knees, you can sit cross-legged. If sitting on the ground doesn’t feel good, you can sit in a chair.
  • Place your left hand outside of your right thigh and easily twist your upper body to the right. Try not to twist your hips; allow the twist to begin in your abdominal region, using your shoulders drawing together once again to accentuate the movement.
  • Feel like you’re growing taller with each inhale, and as you exhale, draw your navel into your lower back and shoulders together a little more to enhance the twist. You can rest your right hand on the ground behind you, though you don’t want to feel like you’re leaning back at all.
  • Take 8-10 long breaths here. Slowly return to center, take a breath and try the other side.

How Yoga Can Improve Your Child’s Life

Last updated on April 26th, 2018 at 03:24 pm

I began practicing yoga two years ago and immediately knew I had found something amazing. As I have developed my personal flow I have come to cherish the space it gives to express myself. It has aided me in dealing with anxiety and depression and has taught me how to channel my energy in a very positive way. These benefits don’t just apply to adults. Children can also benefit greatly from learning the mindfulness practice.

Yoga is a way of connecting your mind, body, and spirit through movement. During a flow the practitioner moves their conscious attention away from the exterior world and into their own body. This makes it an especially good practice for children who are developing the internal mental framework they will use to understand the world around them. It also is a practice in grace and strength and will aid a child whose body is changing rapidly.

Here are some reasons why you should develop your child’s yoga practice.

Yoga is an excellent coping mechanism. It can help children process new information and experiences by giving them an avenue to channel excess energy and emotion. When they feel overwhelmed, yoga can bring them back into their body and place their awareness on the one thing they can control, themselves.

Yoga teaches emotional and physical boundaries. For adults who practice yoga, our mat is our sacred space. It is where we come to move and feel without judgement. Teaching children how to create this safe space for themself introduces them to boundary setting. Allowing them to express themselves fully on the mat shows them there is a time and a place for everything and it’s okay to take space when they need it.

Yoga is physically difficult. It takes strength, balance, and coordination. It is a tiring activity that doesn’t take much space and can be done anywhere without any extra tools. Even the mat is a matter of preference. Children are still developing their muscles and coordination. Yoga challenges both without placing too much stress on their bodies.

Yoga will increase your child’s ability to focus. The postures require complete attention and an awareness of every part of their body from their fingertips to their bellies. When a child practices focusing on a certain point on their body (like their core when they’re practicing downward dog) they increase their ability to focus on other things like words and numbers when they’re reading or in math class.

A consistent yoga practice will help children grow more confident and help prepare them mentally and emotionally for the ups

and downs of life.

Here are a few basic poses you can try with your child.

Downward Dog: From a standing position, lean down until you can put your hands on the floor and step your feet back until you create a V shape. Let your head hang loosely. Try to distribute your weight evenly between your hands and feet and draw your belly in. This posture is great for your back and neck and helps strengthen the wrists as well.

Tree Pose: Stand on one foot and draw the other foot into the inner thigh of the standing leg. Bring palms together into a praying position at your chest and breathe deeply. Switch feet. This posture helps with balance and coordination and is very calming because it requires a lot of focus.

Child’s Pose: Sit on your knees and bend forward until your chest touches your thighs. Rest your arms by your side. This is a very comforting posture and is great for taking some time and space to just breathe.

For more great children’s poses check out Kid’s Stories.

Don’t forget Savasana. Savasana is the meditative practice at the end of every session. Here encourage them to breathe deeply from their belly and pay attention to how their body feels now that they are finished stretching. It is a time of peace and calm.

That centered feeling is why we practice. It is the ability to consistently find that calm place no matter what is going on around us that makes yoga such a beautiful experience. It is the practice of being at peace when everything else is chaos.

For more information on the health benefits of yoga check out:

Namaste.

Editor’s note: Always consult your child’s pediatrician before beginning any new exercise routine.

Fun Outdoor Activities That Strengthen Kids’ Motor Skills

Last updated on November 21st, 2019 at 11:34 am

Almost all kids love to play outdoors. And the fun sports, play equipment and activities that may be explored outdoors also provide wonderful opportunities for children to strengthen motor skills. As the temperatures rise to more comfortable levels, encourage kids to head outdoors for playtime instead of staring at the screens and playing with tech devices indoors.

According to the American Heart Association, all children need at least 60 minutes of “moderate to vigorous intensity aerobic activity every day.” Many activities on local playgrounds help kids reach this vital heart-healthy goal, and these activities also do double-duty by improving gross or fine motor skills. So what’s the difference between fine and gross motor skills? The Babycenter.com editorial team offers this easy primer to take the mystique out of motor skills:fine motor skills are small movements — such as picking up small objects and holding a spoon — that use the small muscles of the fingers, toes, wrists, lips, and tongue. Gross motor skills are the bigger movements — such as rolling over and sitting — that use the large muscles in the arms, legs, torso, and feet.”

According to Parents.com, most kids master many fine motor skills by age five. Gross motor skills often are fairly developed by age six, but every child is different. Some kids naturally need more help in fine and/or gross motor skills. To help your little one master their muscles, engage them in these fun activities:

Sports

Parents don’t need a big field to get kids to play sports. Yes, the extra space helps. However, kids also can play a few games in their own backyard. Soccer is probably the easiest to play in the backyard. Just set up a few goals and have kids play mini games. Playing soccer helps kids learn to dribble the ball with their feet and improves gross motor skills. Running also gets the heart pumping! Families that have a basketball hoop in the driveway (or back patio) should encourage kids to practice dribbling and shooting baskets. Join in the fun and challenge kids one-on-one…or kids versus parent(s).

Playground Play

Your local park offers some of the best activities to strengthen motor skills. Local playgrounds are home to the equipment kids love, but those swings, slides and monkey bars also hide benefits within their fun! When kids crawl through tunnels connecting areas of the playground, the movement helps strengthen core muscles.

A simple swing is incredibly beneficial for babies and toddlers. Jill Mays, with The Motor Story, writes about the many benefits of swinging; hand muscles are strengthened by holding the ropes, and swings teach babies and toddlers how to focus during motion.

Even climbing the stairs to get to the slide helps kids improve gross motor, although most kids won’t master climbing until around two years of age.

Jumping Rope or Hula Hooping

Credit: omgimages

Teach kids how to jump rope and help them practice balance and coordination; this is a skill that also helps the heart…jumping rope is great cardio! Kids also can improve muscle coordination and balance by hula hooping. Keeping the hoop in motion takes practice and skill!

Fine Motor Skills and Fun for Rainy Days

Even if you can’t make it outside, kids can work on fine motor skills indoors. Need a few fun suggestions? Try cotton ball hockey. Set up goals on either end of a long table or on hard floors. Have kids use straws to try to blow cotton balls into the goals. Whoever gets all their cotton balls into the goal first wins! Holding the straws helps fingers practice the pincher grasp, and blowing helps strengthen “oral motor” abilities.

For kids who need a little sweet reward, Tools to Grow OT recommends having kids practice tiny motor movements by picking up small candies or pieces of trail mix with tweezers and placing them in a cup or jar. You can also use chocolate chips! This is a great game to use if kids receive candy for a holiday or special occasion and parents are left with open bags of candy that need to be contained…enlist kids to help cleanup and work fine motor skills at the same time!

Kids of all ages can boost fine and gross motor skills through everyday fun activities. Gross motor skills help kids run, jump and play at recess and physical education classes, and those tiny hands must master fine motor skills to cut, trace and grasp a pencil. Work with little ones to practice the skills they need to flourish in the classroom, on the playground…and in life!

A New Perspective on Our Kids’ Attention & Movement Crisis

Last updated on July 20th, 2017 at 03:40 am

Our kids' movement crisisIf you have a youngster at home, you probably notice they like to move…A LOT! I have two young boys and in recent months I have especially begun to notice how much they like to fidget and move. My older son is seven years old and I was beginning to worry about his ability to focus in class. Then I came across this great article that has been floating all over the internet entitled, Why Children Fidget: And What We Can Do About It. Given that it was written by a pediatric occupational therapist, I felt pretty good about the validity of its content.

The author makes the point that many children today have a very difficult time sitting still in classrooms. They are constantly fidgeting. Some teachers or parents start to think many of these children may have ADHD due to their inability to sit still. According to this article, there may be something much more basic and simple going on in these situations—the children need to move much more in order to adequately develop balance and strength. This movement, as the author describes, helps “turn on their brains” so they can focus on academic topics.

Here’s how the author describes it:

“Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”

Wow, what an eye-opener. I had a sense of this issue before but I never thought of it in these terms before. Have you ever noticed how much better your child sits still or focuses on school work (or similar task) after they have played really hard? I certainly have noticed this with my son and this makes think this issue is really at work for many children.

We have known for years that there is a “movement crisis” in the United States. Rising child obesity rates is some evidence of this (although multiple factors may be at work), but now it seems that rising rates of ADHD diagnosis may be related to a lack of movement and open-ended play time. Of course, there are children who have clearly-defined and diagnosed ADHD, but this article makes me wonder if some kids may just need much more exercise and movement in their lives to help them focus better.

This recognized need for more movement for our children is not new. At least one recent pediatric study showed the benefit of recess time (even 20 minutes) for improved classroom behavior.

Recently a study from Finland showed similar results, particularly for boys. This research showed that, among boys, lower levels of activity and greater time in a sedentary situation was related to poorer reading skills in first grade. Interestingly, this relationship between movement and academic skills was not as strong for girls.

Hopefully, as more research of this type comes to the forefront, more schools will maintain or perhaps expand recess or break times to allow children more time to move.

 

Couch Kid: 6 Easy Ways to Motivate an Inactive Child

Last updated on June 11th, 2017 at 04:08 pm

Has your child, who is sitting on the couch in the next room, ever used his cell phone to text you to bring him a snack?

Hopefully, you can answer this with a laugh and a simple no. Unfortunately, for our family, this is a reality we stared in the face a few weeks ago. It was a normal day, we had just returned home from school and our boys immediately found their designated spots on the couch and resumed their gaming. Within minutes, I received the infamous text asking for their snack. Unfortunately, the issue of couch potato children isn’t an isolated problem we are noticing in only our household.

In fact, as a nation we are noticing a rise in child obesity and inactivity. To put this into perspective, it is believed that only one out of three children are engaging in some form of physical activity on a daily basis. If this path should continue, experts warn that by 2030 half of all American adults will be obese. While these are hard numbers to digest, we need to look at the fact that today’s average kid spends over seven hours everyday parked in front of a screen of some kind.

6 Surefire Tips For Getting Children Off The Couch

Whether it is a computer, Smartphone, or television, our sons and daughters are spending more and more time seated on the couch looking at their devices. This can present many problems for parents, but a major one is our children’s health and well-being. We obviously know that exercise or active play is good for a developing body’s muscles, bones, and coordination. However, getting our children pried away from their favorite technology can be difficult.

Undoubtedly, we probably will hear whining, pouting, crying, and an occasional slamming door when we bring up the subject of powering down to get up and moving.

Listed below are 6 ways to motivate our most obstinate inactive children:

1. Bridge technology with physical activity. Appeal to a child’s love of gaming by trying to hunt for Pokemon in your neighborhood or tapping into their inner adventurist by giving geocaching a try. If a child is competitive, try using a fitness tracker to count steps and make it a competition.

2. Let children “earn” their couch time. If a child completes certain chores, walks the dog, or shoots hoops for an allotted amount of time, allow them to be paid in screen time. For example, if a child walks the dog for one hour, he can earn 15 minutes of television or gaming. Adjust the reward to fit your schedule and family values.

3. Get hooping. If a kid balks at the idea of traditional exercises like running, little leagues, or push-ups, seek out activities that are exciting and engaging. Embrace fun and introduce the entire family to hula hooping. Hula hooping is different and will offer countless opportunities for children to develop new skills without knowing that they are actually exercising. Teach them the traditional hip movements, but expand to use their necks, arms, and legs. For added fun, encourage children to roll the hoops across the floor and put their arm inside or their foot in while the hoops are rolling. The possibilities are endless and will help restless children burn off a little “cabin fever”.

4. Look for community programs to try. Sign up children or the family for a sports league, buy a season pass to the local swimming pool, or register for an activity program (hiking, bird watching, kayaking, sledding, snowshoeing, etc.) at the nearest nature recreational park. Many cities and towns are now offering a variety free or low cost opportunities for children and their families to promote physical activity. Plus, these opportunities offer a social aspect for children and might peak their interest in a future hobby or career.

5. Get crafty. Arts and crafts offer our kids the perfect opportunities to get off the couch. Tap into the frozen winter wonderland for inspiration and the kids won’t even miss sitting on the couch. Try adding food coloring or Koolaid packets to water in spray bottles and let kids graffiti the snow for a fun winter afternoon activity. You can also fill balloons with colored water and freeze them outside. When the orbs are frozen, remove the outer shell to expose colorful balls or frozen marbles to decorate the yard.

6. Play. It sounds simple, but encourage children to play. Think back to your favorite youthful pastimes and introduce them to your sons or daughters. Teach them how to fly a kite, construct the perfect snow fort, go ice fishing, try ice skating, build the perfect snowman, or assemble an amazing fort inside. Channel your inner child and join in on the fun to seek precious opportunities for bonding with your kids.

Looking Forward

Motivating inactive children can be daunting, but with a little effort and enthusiasm we can get our children up and moving. After all, we want the best for our kids and know in the long run that increasing physical activity can drastically cut their odds of developing a variety of health conditions. If we make one or two adjustments to our child’s habits today, we can improve their outlook for tomorrow.

What techniques do you have for motivating children?

10 Ways To Get Active With Your Kids…And Make It Fun!

Last updated on November 28th, 2016 at 08:13 pm

Family take walk in autumn forest flying kitePhysical activity helps children grow strong bones, maintain a healthy weight and discover the world around them. Best of all, it’s great fun.

All children should be physically active for at least one hour a day. You can help by encouraging your child to find activities they enjoy, and by building physical activity into family life. Most children love running around a park or playing in a playground.

One reason why physical activity in childhood is so important is because it helps your child to maintain a healthy weight.

But that’s not the only reason. Physical activity is a part of the way children discover the world and themselves. It helps to build strong muscles and healthy bones, as well as to improve self-confidence.

You can find advice on eating well and getting active as a family at the Change4Life website.

Bristol University’s professor of exercise and health sciences, Ken Fox, has 10 suggestions that can make exercise fun for all the family.

Ten activity tips for children

1. Walk or cycle to and from school with the kids as often as possible. Read about the health benefits of cycling.

2. Build a den or treehouse with them in the school holidays. Or, under supervision, encourage them to climb a tree or two.

3. Go roller skating, roller blading or skateboarding, indoor or out. In winter, go ice skating. Kids also love scooters.

4. Do an activity challenge together, such as working towards a fun run or a walk for charity.

5. Take the dog for a walk. If you don’t have one of your own, ask to borrow a neighbour’s or friend’s dog and take it for a walk.

6. Support your kids in sports, clubs or any other activities that may interest them. Joining a weekend club sport ensures commitment to a team and regular exercise. Find all kinds of sporting facilities in your area (*in the UK).

7. Find time every weekend to do something active with your children. Play frisbee or football in the park, go trampolining or try indoor rock climbing.

8. Fly a kite. The Kite Society of Great Britain’s website (*in the UK – American Kitefliers Association in the US) lists a number of groups that regularly meet for special flying days with experienced members who offer advice and assistance. Some also run kite-making workshops.

9. Try a beach holiday. When they hit the sand, children find a multitude of ways to exercise, including games, swimming and plenty of running around. Or try an activity-based holiday. Read more about healthy holidays with children and activity holidays.

10. The National Parks website (*in the UK – National Park Service in the US) has lists of events such as guided walks and children’s fun days, for fresh ideas for active days out.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.





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