Five-year-olds don’t know their Vedas from their Asanas, yet it is believed that if you put them in a room full of adults doing cobras and downward dogs in yoga class, you will be amazed at how quickly most fall in line… most. Practitioners tout the positive effects of teaching kids relaxation techniques, but many parents of sprightly students, battling with the problem of helping them find their own place of stillness, know that introducing busybody kids to the peaceful sanctity of a yoga studio can be like setting a bull loose in a china shop. So how can you help active kids slow down? Eventually we realized the parental touch of massage can do wonders.
My son is such a child. If Devon were given the freedom to plan his own activities, we would participate daily in the kid equivalent of a decathlon that might include, but is certainly not limited to dancing, skateboarding, basketball, bicycling, swimming, soccer, baseball, playground romps, kite flying and impromptu mat wrestling matches that usually begin with a surprise drop kick to dad’s midsection. But we’re not maniacs. Devon does not always have his way.
My wife Liza tried the aforementioned yoga routine with Devon at home. But it always devolved into the young cobra becoming entangled around the leg of the older downward facing dog, or the cow taking refuge under the wheel. She has since shelved the idea.
Taking a cue from my wife’s efforts, I decided to try massage. I remembered that when Devon was a newborn, Liza had come across the book Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, by Vimala McClure. In the book McClure informs readers that massaging children was a common practice in most cultures outside of the western world. Not only do caregivers use it as a means of bonding with their newborns, she proposes that infant massage, along with other nurturing basics such as breastfeeding and carrying, will lead to less instances of aggression and violent behavior later in life.
Seeking a bit more personal professional advice, I contacted Denise Bradbie, a licensed family acupuncturist and mom, who suggested that at Devon’s age, starting the massage at the feet might be best. “When a kid is being treated, the feet are great because the child can see everything that is going on. It’s good to bring attention to this area of the body in a Chinese medical sense because it is how we connect to the earth and feel more grounded.”
Because of her specialized training, Denise is also able to incorporate a bit of acupressure when massaging her son. “My favorite is to run my finger gently down the bridge of his nose, starting between the eyebrows. His favorite is to have me gently scratch his upper back; it almost always lulls him to sleep. Every time I soothe him this way I have a very direct connection to my childhood.”
At home I got to work on Devon. Lying in his bed atop a bath towel, I put Devon in the standard position for massage – palms facing down placed above the head with arms at right angles at the elbows. I applied massage oil and started our routine. A few seconds into it, Devon jerked, switching his head position. I expected him to ask me to quit kneading him and to instead deliver a karate chop or something more jock, but he remained still. Time passed and though Devon hadn’t moved a muscle for more than five minutes, his eyes were wide open and slow moving pupils told me he was alert.
Denise suggested that I was lucky, as not all kids appreciate massage. “It’s wonderful when children feel soothed by a parental touch. I think that it is important to note that not all kids will feel soothed by it though,” she says, recounting her unsuccessful attempts at using massage as a means of calming her son’s tantrums. “He was really only receptive to touch when he was in a good mood. When he was upset – an ideal time to try and soothe him – he was completely resistant to massage.”
At the end of the massage session Devon rose slowly, as if returning from a waking dream. He slurped drool from the corner of his mouth and then turned to face me smiling. “You know,” he said working over the words in his mind before they passed over his air-dried lips, “I really, really wanted to move, but I just couldn’t. That was so good.”
Massage has now been inked into our weekly schedule. And though from time to time he’ll break away from a game of bull riding (guess who plays the bull?) and request an unscheduled back rub, it’s yet to be seen how massage will help Devon be more receptive to times when being still is a necessity.
*For more information on pediatric acupuncture and other holistic therapies for kid, contact Denise Bradby at [email protected]