During the summer months, I love to walk barefoot in the grass, smell wild flowers, and lie on the ground looking up at the fluffy clouds passing by. As a kid I would love to find animals, mythical creatures, and other fun shapes within those fluffy orbs.
I think clouds are supremely inspiring for creating many relaxation activities. When I gaze up at those fluffy balls of moisture, I imagine they symbolize just what it can feel like to relax: carefree, peaceful, floating, letting go, wispy, light, soft, etc… So, I used this cloud inspiration to create four relaxation tools. The first one, based on a movement from Tai Chi Chih, helps to relax the body. The second, inspired as I was recently flying through the clouds, can be fun to do while traveling or any time you can look up and see the clouds. The third helps to relax the mind and become aware of thoughts passing through. And the fourth is a relaxation game to play at bedtime
This activity was inspired by a recent Tai Chi Chih class I attended. There is a Tai Chi Chih movement called “Passing Clouds.” While I was doing the movement, I felt such a sense of peace and relaxation and also felt my mind get very calm and focused. I thought it would be fun to share with kids! The key is to move slowly and gently and to keep your attention focused on the body and how it is moving.
1. Explain to your child that you are going to relax your body and move your hands across the body like clouds floating in the sky.
2. Stand with your feet apart, the right foot slightly in front of the the left. As you move your hands gently transfer the weight from foot to foot in a rocking motion.
3. Begin with the left hand. Hold it up, bent at the elbow in front of you. Starting on the left, gently float the hand across the body, like a very slow windshield wiper. When you get to the right side float it down to be parallel with the waist, drawing it back at the belly button level to the starting position. Repeat this same movement using the right hand, starting on the right side and moving towards the left and back around to the starting point.
4. Once your child understands the movement, you can put the two hands together. As one hand is moving across the body at the level of the chest the other is pulling back to starting point at the level of the bellybutton. Move in a sweeping, floating soft way. Follow the movement with your eyes.
5. If you want you can do a rocking motion between the feet as you are moving the hands.
If it proves to be too complicated to get the hands in sync, then just make it fun and float your hands gently like clouds across the body.
Relaxation Tool Two: Cloud Animals
Finding fun and engaging ways to entertain your child and help him to relax on the airplane or while traveling can be a challenge. Here’s a relaxation tool that can be used anytime you can get a good view of the clouds, whether in the car, on the plane, or lying in the grass in the back yard.
Ask your child to look at the clouds and see if he can find an animal in the cloud. Maybe there is a fluffy bear or maybe a duck? Maybe a dragon or maybe a great big bunny? If the clouds are more uniform, then use your imagination to imagine that you see a cloud animal out there frolicking about in the clouds. When you find one, each of you take a deep breath in and give yourself a great big hug, imagine that you are hugging your cloud animal close. Good! (This also helps to ground and center your energy before taking a deep breath). Now release your cloud animal and imagine that you are going to breath in, filling up your lungs with air and feeling your stomach push out looking like a big fluffy cloud. Now breathing out as long as you can, letting your body go soft and floaty like a cloud. Repeat: breathing in, filling up your stomach to look like a big fluffy cloud. Breathing out, let your body go soft and floaty like a cloud. Next, find another cloud animal and repeat as many times as you like.
After you are finished you could draw a picture of the cloud animals that you found to practice with.
Mindfulness is known as the ability to pull your attention into the present moment, increasing your awareness of the thoughts that are happening as they happen. When you pause to let go and really just allow yourself to be in the present moment, relaxation, naturally, just happens!
As you think about trying to explain meditation or mindfulness practice to your child, you might wonder where to begin. It all starts with the ability to be still, to pay attention to the present moment, and to begin increasing awareness about the thoughts you are having. Try this Cloud Thoughts activity with your child as a perfect starting place.
(Materials: A fluffy cloud day, a spot of lush green grass, a blanket and some sunglasses) Invite your child to go with you outside, to lie down in the grass, and to watch the clouds in the sky. Tell her that you are going to take a cloud journey, simply paying attention to the clouds as they float across the sky. Share with her that you are going to do it in silence and that there will be time to share your experiences with each other later. Spend a few moments just relaxing on the blanket and watching the clouds as float past. Watch as they dance, float, morph and transform on their journey across the sky. See what kind of animals or shapes they make. You can share your experiences with each other later while you are doing step two.
(Materials: timer, crayons, pencils and paper) Go back inside and get some drawing materials. Draw a picture of clouds with your child. Place it in front of you and set a timer for 3 minutes. Tell your child that you are going to simply watch the picture, just like you did outside, and pay attention to the thoughts that drift into and out of your mind like clouds. No need to try to stop or change the thoughts, just watch them with interest. If you like, you can pretend you are a thought scientist and you have been given the task to simply notice and pay attention to the thoughts in your head to see what they have to say. You might be surprised at the thoughts, what they contain and what they want to do. You might notice having more or less thoughts. Just watch with interest for three minutes.
Step Three: When three minutes are up, tell your child that you are going to take the picture you have drawn and write in the clouds some of the thoughts you noticed.
Additional Idea for Use:
- Make this a daily practice. Practice for three minutes each day and notice how it gets easier to watch your thoughts drifting in and out and around in your head like clouds in the sky.
- Skip step one and complete steps two and three before bed each night.
- Start a Cloud Thoughts journal for paying attention to and collecting the thoughts in your head. Discuss any changes you notice as you experience the activity over time. Notice if the thoughts change, if the speed with which they float in and out changes, if the speed changes related to how you are feeling that day, if you feel more or less relaxed after the experience, etc. . .
Relaxation Tool Four: Cloud Garden Bedtime Game
This is a game that can be played by the family at bedtime in order to foster feelings of peace and relaxation. It is an excellent way to let go of anything during the day that is no longer supportive or needed.
Arrange pillows in a circle to form your “cloud garden”. Start with some gentle stretching to signal the body to begin to relax. Explain to children that this cloud garden is a place for all of us to relax at the end of the day. It is a place for peaceful voices and peaceful bodies. Sit on the pillow and give everyone a few cotton balls to hold. Each of your cotton balls represents something you would like to give to the cloud garden. This can be a special wish or affirmation related to bedtime such as “I am feeling light and soft like a fluffy cloud” or “I am ready for peaceful sleep.” Or, if you have had a particularly challenging day, this can be thoughts or feelings you would like to release into the cloud garden in order to feel more relaxed and ready to sleep. Take turns releasing your cotton balls into the circle.
This activity can be integrated into family relaxation time or can be part of an established bedtime ritual. If you are interested in creating a deeper, more relaxed experience, listen to a pre-recorded guided imagery track or read a guided relaxation script with peaceful music playing in the background.
Maintain the relaxed, peaceful energy as you wander off to bed.