Heavy Coats, Calm Minds
Dec 12, 2018
It’s wintertime here in the Midwest and kids are piling on heavy boots and coats. It keeps kids warm and it can also help them relax. The felt sense of heaviness, whether physically felt or imagined in the mind, calms the nervous system.
We have two sides to our autonomic nervous system (ANS). One side is like the gas pedal on a car. It has to do with action and energy. This is our “stress response” and its job is to keep us safe. If we have to quickly dart out of the street when a car comes racing by or push back an aggressive dog, we need strong muscles, sharp vision and lots of energy. This is our sympathetic nervous system.
The other half of our ANS is the “rest and digest” system. When this side is activated, we can repair and build, digest and relax. It’s the parasympathetic system. Think of it like a parachute that safely brings us down from an emergency response.
Our nervous system receives signals in the environment and from our body and then makes choices about what we need. We can, therefore, influence our nervous system by choosing what kind of input it gets.
You can help a child calm down by placing a heavy blanket over them, have them wear heavy shoes or pile heavy soft things like bean bags on them. You may know a child who wears a weighted vest or has a weight to rest on his lap while at school.
You can also suggest heaviness. This is what we do during final rest in our children’s Yoga classes. The children lie on the floor and are given the prompt, “feel your heels heavy on the floor, feel the back of your legs heavy on the floor, etc…feel your whole body heavy on the floor”. The mind feeds the nervous system the message of heaviness and the body relaxes.
We played with heaviness in a recent winter-themed class. The kids pretended to put on heavy coats, boots, mittens and hats before going out to play in the snow. They patted the parts of the body they were pretending to put their outdoor gear on. Then, because we had on heavy gear, we moved very slowly through Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar). It wasn’t really happening in the body, but it really was happening in the mind – the nervous system responds just the same.
Isn’t it nice to know that a deep hug or a heavy winter coat is signaling the relaxation response for your child? And that you can invite the feeling of heaviness into the body simply through suggestion for the same effect?
Yoga is the practice of directing the body, breath and mind to our chosen state. In this case, the mind and objects placed on the body direct a child to a state of calm.