A Child's Bliss: "The Sun Is Always In The Sky" Visualization For Children
This post and photos were originally published in November 2011 on my former yoga blog, unabashedlyblissful.com (now unplugged). I'm republishing bits of my earlier writing on this blog, when it makes sense. I find visualization tools to be a powerful tool to help us achieve our goals in wellness as well as other areas of our lives. This is written for children, but it really can appeal to the child in all of us! xx, Juli
As the lucky mother of two wonderful children, now ages 5 and 8, I’ve been given a firsthand opportunity to study how to integrate yoga’s exercises for mind and body into a child’s life. My amazingly adaptable (well, sometimes) children have offered themselves up as guinea pigs for my experiments and for that I will be forever grateful. Practicing yoga with my children is also sometimes a test of patience. At times they happily cooperate, but other times I have to resort to cajoling, bribery, or postponing. But, as a believer in yoga’s countless benefits, I try to fold it in where I can, hoping that a steady practice will help my little ones develop healthy bodies and calm minds, give them vibrant energy, and nourish their souls. At home, we engage in a full spectrum of yoga—from joyful sun salutes to funny make-up-your-own-poses to soothing restorative yoga. For now, I’ll introduce a simple visualization exercise for children (but, grown-ups should feel free to try this too!).
Vedanta, the philosophy on which yoga is based, believes that the physical body is the vehicle for the soul on its journey towards truth and enlightenment; and that the soul—our true nature—resides in the bliss sheath (anandamaya kosha) beneath our outer physical, energetic, mental, and wisdom layers (five sheaths according to this system, but more about the koshas another time). It is this jewel-like center, this 'seed of perfection' as my Tibetan Buddhist teachers describe it, that we touch when we are balanced, happy, and free of our mental chatter and emotional distress. Many of us tap into this center—if even ever so briefly—during final relaxation of a Hatha yoga class, meditation, or when experiencing pure love. This divine center and eternal light is always there, even during busy days and turbulent times, but we are just not always aware of it.
So, the yogi, when asked if he has a soul, would not only confirm its presence, but would add that he IS the soul—and has a body. One of my beloved master teachers, Swami Sivadasananda*, phrases it simply: “If I have peace, I could lose it. If I AM peace, I cannot lose it.” This is the single greatest lesson I try to pass onto my children (and remember for myself). All of the other exercises, dietary regimen (perhaps not so much a regimen, but lots of freshly cooked vegetarian food), and breathing and relaxation techniques are to support this one lesson.
One of the metaphors I borrow to help my children understand this is to tell them that the "sun is always in the sky”—even on cloudy days—it is just hidden by some clouds. I remind them that their inner suns are always shining, but emotions like anger, frustration, and fear are like the clouds that hide their sun’s light . . . brush them away and they will find the sun beaming as brightly as ever. I want them to always know that they are divine and perfect. If there is ONE quality that would make me a great mother, it would be the capacity to always SEE my children this way—even after they have brazenly disobeyed me. (Working on this!)
This poem by my 8-year old daughter (this one translated from German) tells me that maybe she has been absorbing this.
You can use any visualization script, but try to stay with calming themes around nature and keep the language sensorial and age appropriate; rich and engaging several senses, but not too lengthy. There are many visualization techniques. As your child matures, she can practice her visualization skills to help her with schoolwork, sport competitions, and even emotional situations. My wish is that even though my children may grow up to be cheeky teens one day, they will remember (at least secretly) that “the sun is always in the sky.”
And for young children, wouldn’t it be nice if these simple 5 – 15 minute “time-ins” could lessen the need, or entirely replace, the “time-outs” they are often given?
Some basics before you begin: find a quiet (preferably tidy) place where your child can relax for 5 – 15 minutes (depending on your child’s age and restlessness) or practice this just before bed or nap time. Ask your child to close his eyes softly. If you have a cuddle toy, place the toy on his abdomen and ask him to breath into his belly and feel the toy lifting up. If a plush toy is not on hand, just ask your child to breath in and out through his nose (if possible) and as slowly as possible. Let your child settle into a quiet state before continuing.
Example script (to be read softly and slowly, pausing between each visual to allow your child to create the mental picture):
"Close your eyes and imagine that you are lying down on soft green grass in the middle of an open meadow. You feel the grass under your body. The meadow is covered with many wildflowers in different colors: all shades of blue, pink, yellow, lavender, and you notice all of their wonderful different petal shapes. As you look around, you see many butterflies, also colored with beautiful patterns and different wing shapes. You watch them as they float from flower to flower. It’s a sunny day and you can feel the warmth of the sun on your face—on your cheeks, nose, and forehead—and the sun on your arms and legs. It’s very quiet and you can hear the birds chirping. As you breathe in the air, you smell the fresh scent of grass. Your eyes are closed, but you feel very soft and warm fur next to your neck and you know it’s a little bunny that has hopped over to cuddle with you. You stay very still so the bunny doesn’t hop away. You take your hand and gently pet the rabbit’s fur, careful not to disturb it. The bunny is calm and stays close to your neck. Still keeping your eyes closed, imagine that you open your eyes and look up at the sky. The sky is clear and blue and wide open without any clouds. It stretches as far as you can see and doesn’t end."
I introduce the bunny to help my children stay still. Sometimes we have to add more bunnies to sit on palms and feet to keep those from moving— this usually works. There is no age limit to visualization, but this script is most suitable for children under ten years old. Take the bunny out of the script, however, and it can be used for any age!
Just a note: I am offering an exercise distinctly different from deep relaxation (Savasana/Yoga Nidra), meditation (Dhyana), or even concentration (Dharana). I will post something about these practices another time, but practicing visualization is an excellent precursor for learning concentration and meditation. Many master teachers do not recommend teaching meditation to children under eight. Young children will, however, benefit wonderfully from absorbing the peaceful energy that meditating parents can bring to the home. Although my 8-year old daughter has been joining the meditation sessions at our ashram since she was six years old (and can now sit still and quietly for upwards of 20 minutes!), she joins (with special permission from the ashram ‘mother’) because she loves to sit with everyone and I suppose she must feel the serenity that happens when 100+ people sit together in meditation. I expect that at our next family visit to our ashram, my daughter will organically begin the practice of Dharana on her own, and move in and out of focusing on her breath and mantra just like the grown-up yogis in the room. But if she sits quietly looking around the room simply absorbing the good energy, that would be wonderful too. My son is a bit younger, so we're simply just observing him for signs of interest.
Blessings to you and your little ones . . . may they dream beautifully and peacefully.
Love and light, Juli
* Swami Sivadasananda (Yoga Acharya in the Sivananda tradition) is a great yoga master, one of Swami Vishnudevananda's key disciples, and author of many books and CDs, including Yoga: Your Home Practice Companion (DK Books, 2009).
[All Photos Juli Bailer}