Yoga and mindfulness exercises for kids to do in the car

Toddler jingles on repeat, snacks spilled and lost to petrify in a hidden seat crack, frantic screams over a book dropped just out of reach, and the endless rhythmic thud of little feet kicking the seat, stamping dusty footprints on the upholstery… sound familiar? Sure, being in the car with a young child can be relaxing and even fun at times, but most parents agree that it is often hard, stressful and wearing. The dance of getting everyone in and out, strapping down squirmy limbs while standing in the rain, and getting everyone settled with books and snacks can feel exhausting on even a short trip. Tack on extended hours, a potty training preschooler or an unexpected traffic jam delaying a nap and tensions rise.

It’s not uncommon to hear parents, especially those with young kids, lamenting about the seemingly endless hours they spend in the car. Statistics support these feelings. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that Americans spend an astounding 84 billion hours driving each year and make an average of 2.24 trips a day.2 According to AAA, 25-49-year-olds, the demographic that includes parents of young children, drive even more. In fact, 51% of parents spend an upward of 5 hours a week driving their kids around. 1 This translates into American families spending up to 6% of their waking hours in the car. That’s a lot of time spent doing something that is often unenjoyable.

Of course, there are ways that car time can be reduced. This includes using public transportation, carpooling, or cutting back on activities. But the reality for most families is that they already drive as little as possible.  Further, car seat shuffling and conflicting kids schedules make carpooling incredibly challenging. Are there ways that families can make these endless hours slightly more useful and dare to be said, enjoyable? Perhaps.

Having a few fun and calming exercises for kids to try in their car seats have given many parents moments of reprieve, making car rides more enjoyable for everyone.

Having a few fun and calming exercises for kids to try in their car seats have given many parents moments of reprieve, making car rides more enjoyable for everyone.

Yoga and mindfulness can provide several of these options. It’s a common assumption that yoga and mindfulness are sacred activities reserved for quiet moments and peaceful studios. While in some instances this is true, it doesn’t always have to be, especially when kids are involved.

When yoga is adapted for kids, the only requirements is that it is safe, developmentally appropriate and fun. With this in mind, why couldn’t kids yoga and mindfulness be taken into the car? The answer is, it can be.

Many yoga poses and mindfulness exercises can be specially adapted for kids in their car seats.

Yoga for Kids in the Car   

Being constrained in a car seat for any amount of time can be tedious and uncomfortable. Offering kids a safe and unique way to move and stretch can significantly alleviate this irritation. Here are several yoga poses that can be done in the car:

1. Fluttering Butterfly

To do Fluttering Butterfly, kids bend both legs and bring the soles of their feet together. Holding both feet in their hands, they gently move their legs up and down, like the flapping wings of a butterfly. As they flap, kids can imagine a butterfly has flown into the car and describe, with as much detail as possible, what their butterfly looks like. Ask for their descriptions. What color is it? Is it big, small, sparkly?  

2. Car Moon

To do Car Moon pose, kids put both palms together and straighten their arms above their head, reaching and stretching as high as they can go. Keeping their palms pressed together, they lean slightly to one side, bending their body and arms into the shape of a crescent moon. Hold for a breath or two and then straighten and curl toward the opposite direction.

3. Sunset and Sunrise

To do Sunset and Sunrise Pose, kids put their arms straight out and touch just their fingertips together, making a round shape with their arms as if they were holding a giant ball. Taking a deep and slow breath in and keeping the circular shape, they raise their arms up over their head, like a sun rising in the sky. When they are ready for the sun to set, they take another slow breath in and as they blow out, and still holding the circular shape of the arms, lower their hands down and bend as far forward as possible, bending the head down and stretching the neck. This can be repeated several times

4.Ants Crawling on A Log

To do Ants on A Log, kids flex the feet and straighten the legs out in front of the body as much as space allows. They then pretend that the fingertips are ten little ants crawling down the legs toward the feet. Mixing up the speed that the ants crawl up and down the legs keeps this more engaging.

5. Sitting Tree

Sitting Tree Pose is adapted from the traditional Tree Pose in yoga. To do Sitting Tree, one leg is bent, bringing the foot as far up the leg as possible, or just crossing the ankles. The hands are then pressed together at the palms and arms straighten, bringing the hands above the head. Several slow breaths are taken, and then the legs are switched.

6. Painting a Rainbow

To do Painting a Rainbow, the palms are pressed together, and as the child takes a big slow breath in, the hands rise above the head, keeping the palms together. Pretending that the fingers are paintbrushes filled with different colors, they blow out and sweep the arms open to either side “painting a rainbow” over the head. Describing all the colors in the rainbow can be fun.

7. Blast off Rocket Ship

To do Blast off Rocket Ship, kids press palms together as hard as they can in front of their chest and take a deep, slow breath in. With a forceful exhale, the rocketship blasts off, and arms shoot above the head, stretching and reaching as high into space as possible. Describe what it looks like up in space. What do you see? What does it feel like?

8. Twisty Arms

Twisty Arms can be slightly tricker for younger kids. Kids hold both arms up, elbows bent and palms facing each other. Cross one arm over the other and then twist the top arm behind the bottom so the palms touch. With the palms pressed together and the arms wrapped, kids take several slow breaths, bringing the hands up toward the forehead. The top arm can be switched and the pose repeated.

9. Sitting Mountain

To do Sitting Mountain, kids open hands as wide as they can and straighten their arms up above their head, reaching as high and straight as possible. With arms stretched, they take several slow, deep breaths.

10. Telephone

To do Telephone Pose, kids bend one leg at the knee and hold the foot, pretending that it is a phone. When they “get a phone call,” they bring the foot up as close as possible to the ear. Kids can “talk on the phone” as long as is comfortable, bring the foot down and then get a call on the opposite foot.

Mindfulness Exercises Kids Can Do in the Car

What about mindfulness? Can mindfulness and breathing exercises also be adapted for car rides? Absolutely. Mindfulness is just the practice of paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. What better environment to practice singing something out then in a moving car where there are literally hundreds of colors, sounds, smells, and objects competing for attention. Here are a few ideas parents have found useful while seeking out mindful moments in the car:

1. Find One Sound

At a stop light, open the window and turn off the music. Ask the child to listen very carefully and find just one sound to focus on. Can they hear one bird chirp or one person taking? See how long they can listen to just that one sound.

2. Finger Roller Coaster

To practice Finger Roller Coaster, have the child hold one hand out, with fingers wide open. With the other hand, pick one finger to be the roller coaster. Pretending that the outline of the hand is the roller coaster track, the roller coaster finger is traced up and down the fingers, going back and forth.

3. Blowing Balloon Hands

Holding hands out in front of their body, kids touch the fingertips of the opposite hand together, making a sphere. As they breathe in,  all the fingertips come together in the middle, like an inflating balloon. Slowly blowing out, they open their hands up again and keep fingers pressed together like they are blowing up a balloon.

4. Listening to a Siren

If an emergency vehicle goes by, ask the child to listen to the sound of the siren. Ask them to listen as carefully as they can and say the moment that they can no longer hear the noise. This can become a game to see who can hear the sound the longest.

5. Find The Buzzing Bee

In practicing Buzzing Bee Breaths, the child places one hand on their chest and one hand on their belly. They take a deep breath in, close their mouth and slowly breathe out of the nose, making a humming sound, like the buzz of a bee. As they hum, they try to see if they can feel the vibration in the hand on the chest and/or the hand on the stomach. If they can’t feel both, encourage them to try again, taking a deeper breath and breathing out slower the next time.

6. Traffic Light Affirmations

Traffic Light Affirmations is a game that requires an ability to recognize and identify the three colors of a traffic light. To begin, the people in the car are each assigned one of the three colors of a traffic light.  If there are more than three people, two can share a color. The members of the car look carefully at each traffic light. When they spot a color, they state the color out loud and say something kind about the person to whom the color is assigned. This could be something they are thankful for or something they love about the person, etc. If the light changes color, the other person gets the affirmation. If more than one person is assigned a color, each person receives an affirmation when their color is spotted.

7. Breathing Out Smiles

This is a breathing exercise adapted from the work of Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, and peace activist. The child closes the eyes, and the adult recites “While I take a slow breath in, I relax my body, While I take a slow breath out, I smile.” If the child is able, ask them to repeat the saying or say it together as everyone takes slow, deep breaths in and slow breaths out pausing in between breaths to intentionally smile. Many parents have reported that this practice can be very calming to them as well!

8. Smells

To practice this simple activity, kids merely close their eyes and try to identify what they can smell in that current moment. If it’s a dry day, this is more fun with the windows open. If kids are having a hard time identifying a unique smell, an idea can be suggested, and the game can change to finding the scent that was proposed, like a smelling scavenger hunt.

9. Guided Meditations

The car can be an excellent time to listen to and practice doing guided meditations. There are a variety of excellent guided meditations that are specially adapted for young kids. Yogamentary offers several short meditations that could be listened to in the car. Here is a free download to get started.  

10. Tingly Hands

For this exercise, kids open their arms wide and clap their hands together as hard as they can. They clap three times in a row and then place their hands on their lap, palms up. Closing their eyes, they pay close attention to the sensation in their palms, seeing if they notice a tingling sensation. Feeling that sensation, they carefully pay attention to it and open their eyes only when the feeling is completely gone.

These 20 activities have provided many kids with a safe way to move and stretch in the car and given tools for a calmer, more purposeful car ride. Is this the magic ingredient for making your car rides smooth, quiet and peaceful? Probably not. No child is precisely the same, and there is no one secret formula to fix a challenging parenting moment. However, these are tools that many families have found useful and fun. They are absolutely worth trying, tweaking and retrying when the child is in a different mood or developmental phase. Most parents would agree that any tool that could potentially transform a car ride whine into a giggle or flip an angry scowl into a peaceful smile is well worth trying.  

To download a FREE printout of these activities to stash in the car, click HERE.

References

  1. Mcfarland, J. (2017). The hours of transportation logistics amount to a full-time job. Retrieved from https://www.hopskipdrive.com/blog/back-to-school
  2. United States Department of Transportation. (2017). How much time do americans spend behind the wheel? Retrieved from https://www.volpe.dot.gov/news/how-much-time-do-americans-spend-behind-wheel

Or go to yogamentary.com for our complete collection of yoga mindfulness activities adapted for young kids and busy families!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *