The best relaxation techniques I've ever learned were taught to me by my fourth grade teacher. She would turn off the lights, instruct us to sit with both feet planted to the floor, with our arms to our sides. Then, she would turn on a CD (yes, I'm aging myself) that would play soft music and a gentle voice would ask us to concentrate on relaxing our feet, and to imagine them melting into the floor. Next, it would instruct us to relax our ankles, then our legs. This would continue on until our entire bodies were rid of any tension.
At first, it seemed a little strange. My classmates would giggle, as it felt awkward to be doing something so out of the ordinary at school. It didn't take long, however, for this simple exercise to become something I looked forward to. It felt like a little treat in the middle of a busy day, a way to stop, slow down for a minute, and just breathe. I didn't know it then, but this was my first experience with meditation.
As an adult, I have found this exercise helpful when I am trying to quiet my mind enough to meditate. The key is to remove outside stimuli, and concentrate on relaxing individual body parts one at a time. When my mind begins to wander, I circle back to this exercise and imagine my body is melting into the floor.
This same teacher also taught us breathing techniques that I still use to this day. Anytime that I need to do a job interview, speak in front of a crowd, or do anything else that causes my heart to race — I remember to breath in slowly and deeply for five counts, hold the breath for five more, and slowly release the breath for five more counts. I do this until my heart rate slows, and the anxiety drifts away from my body. This is a technique that I have taught to my three sons to help calm them when they receive immunizations or need to do something that causes them to feel anxious. It's simple, but effective for adults and children.
Sometimes, I think we forget that kids can get stressed too; especially during turbulent times like we are experiencing right now. Teaching kids to practice self-care when they are young helps them to develop healthy habits to manage stress in the future. Stress is something that we all have to deal with, and chronic stress can lead to health issues — so relaxation and meditation techniques have real benefits for our physical and mental health.
I don't remember much of what I learned in fourth grade, but I do remember that this teacher would take the last five or so minutes of class to help us relax — and it is one of the greatest gifts a teacher has ever given me.