Yoga for children? That’s exactly what we are bringing to patients and their families at the UVM Children’s Hospital.
Our yoga program started in Fall 2015, with sponsorship through Lucy’s Love Bus, www.lucyslovebus.org, and a generous grant from the Ludcke Foundation.
How do you start a yoga program at a hospital? I started by assessing needs through conversations with staff, meeting with patients and families, and observing what happened at the Children’s Specialty Center.
Yoga practice is about using one’s mind and body to achieve a desired objective, whether that is a physical, emotional, mental, or energetic concern. It is personal to each and every one of us.
In my observations, I found that patients and families at UVM Children’s Hospital:
- Are dealing with a roller coaster of varying emotions;
- Feel bored; and
- Feel a loss of control, internally and externally.
These experiences can have an impact on their overall health, their stay in the hospital, and how they manage chronic health issues. My objective was to best help care and create balance.
What Our Yoga Program Looks Like
The UVM Children’s Hospital yoga program is open to all patients on the floor. We currently meet in the Teen Room at 1:00 p.m. on Thursdays and 2:30 p.m. on Fridays.
Infection control is in place. We use music, chairs, yoga mats, sometimes books and props, but mostly have lots of fun with our imaginations. For those who are unable to come to class, I visit them in their rooms individually as time allows.
I work with all ages, situations, and abilities. I pull from tools inside of ancient and modern yoga lineages. I am given different contraindications for each patient. After a class or brief room visit, I give notes to the Child Life Specialists team of what I have observed and what might be helpful to relay to other members of the patient’s team from my vantage point and possible follow through.
New to the floor will be a yogic-based relaxation tool kit. It will be accessed through Child Life and available in the Teen Room. It will include mats, CD player and music, games, sequence of movements, guided imagery, and more. The Child Life team and I are looking at how to best proceed in a manner that is helpful, safe, and stream lined.
What Happens at a Yoga Class
In a group class, I get to know the kids and family briefly. If it’s a restless group, we might start with a physical warm up, adding in pausing, breath, concentrating activities. I have found the group dynamic is exciting as the kids like to help each other. We might work on all creating a physically-involved story together, each adding in an element, and then going through it.
I’m mindful of adding in a balancing element where there might be deficiency: for a sadder patient, I will add in some humor; for a hyperactive patient, I might offer a larger motion followed by getting keen with senses. That seems to help level things out emotionally and mentally, help the patient gain some mastery of his or her space, and definitely breaks up the boredom. This will give me a feel of what more traditional poses and breathing techniques might feel good. We might move to holding some of these poses. I like to present a card deck of positive messages at the end of class. For example, if they’re up for it, they each pick one and I encourage them to find out how it relates to them. We then end with a relaxation or guided imagery rest time.
Yoga in the Patient Room
If a child can’t leave a patient room due to infection control, we consider a sequence of movement they can enjoy where they are. Even if a patient is confined to bed, we can come up with a number of ways to engage in beneficial exercises. It all depends on what their objective is – we talk to determine that.
I can also dovetail what their practitioners have identified as an area of need. I might help with alignment while in bed, or range of motion in the limbs. Other times, it’s about letting go of holdings in joints or tissue, finding the breath, visualizations, and other relaxation and rejuvenating tools that help them reach their objective. I often will educate on an idea or two that might be helpful to follow through with in talking with their health care team. I am conservative in my approach, though, and look for practicality.
The response has been positive. A few examples include:
- Me being dubbed the “sleep lady” by patients who are unable to rest or sleep due to pain or worrisome thoughts. If I’m working individually, I can often help patients drift into sleep.
- Cystic fibrosis patients gaining relief in tight tissues through guided visualizations. They also gain a greater understanding of what is happening when they are holding on to tension in their limbs;
- Repeat patients gaining self-care tools and reporting back how they are turning their bedrooms into mini-sanctuaries;
- Parents reporting that they are able to take breaks and de-stress and that they feel supported.
The yoga program has been a good way for parents and patients to pause and come out of the hard work that they are in or about to undertake. I think the program continuing has been helpful in demystifying what the actual core mechanics/science and care inside of yoga can bring to the table.
For those interested in research studies in the field of yoga and meditation for children and adolescents, please visit www.yoga4classrooms.com and press the research tab.
Bridget Kimsey E-RYT, LCMT, MMP, has been in the healing arts and sciences for about 20 years. She holds credentials in yoga, massage, medical massage, Reiki, and physics-based energy medicine work. She currently has her private practice at Timberlane Medical Center and works with different organizations including UVM and the Vermont Dept. of Health. For more information, please visit www.bridgetkimsey.vpweb.com