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Beneath the Iceberg - A Yoga Sequence to Support Children & Youth with Grounding & Self-Regulation.

Updated: Mar 4

By Shawnee Thornton Hardy

"Let’s face it. Our kids are stressed out and overwhelmed."

In our modern times, children are over-stimulated and are struggling more and more with self-regulation, attention and learning.

Educators are feeling the impact of these increased behaviors, thus the reason for increased frustration in the classroom and teacher burn out. In fact, according to a recent poll reported by Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession; 68 percent of elementary teachers, 64 percent of middle school teachers, and 53 percent of high school teachers say that there’s been a significant rise in behavior issues in recent years.

Many teachers feel there is a lack of education and support in managing challenging behaviors in schools.

The rise in test taking, reduced recess time, larger classroom sizes and increased distraction as a result of technology has led to stress and frustration for both the students and teachers.

"There can be many factors that contribute to a child’s disruptive behaviors but underlying a child’s “acting out” behavior is often a dysregulated nervous system".

More often than not, we tend to focus on the direct or observable behavior without looking beyond the behavior at the child’s “internal state” of being. It’s like looking at the tip of an iceberg and focusing solely on that rather than looking at what lies beneath.

Only a small part of an iceberg actually rises above the water, the rest is an unseen mountain below. Are we just focusing on the tip of the iceberg – on our kids negative behaviors, labeling them as “bad or disruptive kids” or can we pause and take a closer look at the mountain below?

"Ultimately what each child needs in order to be able to learn and thrive is the feeling of BEING SAFE – knowing that there is a “boat ” they can go to for safety."

Our role is to be the boat or ideally, teach them how to get to the boat or be the boat themselves, so they are able to feel calm, supported, grounded and safe, which will in turn support with self-regulation, behavior and learning.

When a child is in a state of stress and their nervous system is dysregulated, they can be in a constant state of fight/flight or freeze. This means their survival brain is in high alert and their brain and body does not feel safe. When a child’s nervous system is in a state of fight/flight or freeze, the cognitive part of their brain is inaccessible.

"Too often we take the “top down” approach in expecting children to be self-regulated, make positive choices and be able to effectively communicate their emotions, when internally they are out of balance and their nervous systems are solely focused on survival. With the increase in behavior problems in school age children and a rise of mental health issues, it’s imperative that we have a paradigm shift to taking a more “bottom up” approach with kids who are acting out or struggling with attention and learning."

What is happening below the tip of the iceberg?

Current research is beginning to show that yoga and mindfulness is having a positive impact in schools, in particular, supporting children with self-regulation and improved behaviors. Two studies in particular, showed evidence that yoga and meditation may help youth manage their stress and mood and behave more positively.

The reason yoga and mindfulness is proving to have a positive effect is because it’s addressing the mountain below. Yoga and mindfulness goes straight to addressing the “underlying” causes of behavior and focuses on helping the nervous system to feel more safe and grounded.

A Yoga Sequence to Support Children and Youth with Grounding, Self-Regulation and Focus

Talk to children about how their behaviors can be like an iceberg and how important it is to connect to the mountain below (emotions and sensations in the body)

Talk about sensations in their body that they may experience when they feel angry, frustrated, sad, worried or fearful such as tight muscles, heart beating faster, clenched jaw, etc. and how important it is to notice when their body is feeling this way so they can calm their nervous system before the iceberg peaks.

When I feel anxious

my muscles feel tense

All poses can be done with the back against the wall for more support and grounding as well as modified in a chair.

Mountain Pose

  1. Focus on the feet and how it feels to have the bottoms of the feet on the ground

  2. Stand up tall and strong like a mountain

  3. Feel your muscles in your legs

  4. Look straight ahead or at something in front of you

  5. Breathe in

  6. Reach arms up and make a mountain peak

  7. Breathe out bring palms to heart center

  8. Strong and stable like a mountain!

  9. Repeat 2 more times

  10. Notice how your body feels

Open Book/Close Book

  1. Stand with feet together or a little bit apart

  2. Feel the feet on the ground

  3. Palms and elbows together

  4. Stand up tall

  5. Feel your strength from your feet, up your legs, in your belly and up your spine

  6. Breathe in

  7. Open arms wide (open book)

  8. Breathe out

  9. Bring palms and elbows back together (close book)

  10. Repeat 2 more times

  11. Notice how your body feels

Tree Pose

  1. Stand up tall

  2. Feet hip width apart

  3. Bring the right heel inside the left ankle

  4. Press the left foot down like roots are growing down from your foot

  5. Look straight ahead

  6. Breathe in

  7. Reach arms up and grow your branches

  8. Breathe out

  9. Palms together at heart center

  10. Grounded and rooted like a tree!

  11. Do other side

  12. Notice how your body feels

Star Pose

  1. Stand with feet wide apart

  2. Press feet down

  3. Reach arms out

  4. Stand up tall

  5. Breathe in

  6. Breathe out

  7. Let your star shine bright!

  8. Notice how your body feels

Warrior 2

  1. Stand with feet wide apart

  2. Toes pointing forward

  3. Point the right toes out to side and bend the knee (front knee behind ankle and heel in line with inner arch of foot)

  4. Reach the arms out wide with the palms facing down

  5. Breath in

  6. Look towards right hand

  7. Stand strong like a warrior

  8. Breathe out

  9. Do on opposite side

  10. Notice how your body feels

Grounded and Focus Pose

  1. Focus on the feet and how it feels to have the bottoms of the feet on the ground

  2. Bring palms together at the heart center

  3. Feel the palms press together

  4. Stand up tall and strong

  5. Breathe in

  6. Breathe out

Repeat this mantra


All images and content copyright ©Asanas for Autism and Special Needs.


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Shawnee Thornton Hardy is a C-IAYT, Certified Yoga Therapist, M.Ed. Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, the founder of Asanas for Autism and Special Needs and the Founder/Director of Yoga Therapy for Youth. She is the Author of Asanas for Autism and Special Needs - Yoga to Help children with Their Emotions, Self-Regulation and Body Awareness and the creator of the C.A.L.M.M Yoga Toolkit. She leads trainings Online and throughout the US and internationally in Yoga for The Diverse Child, C.A.L.M.M Classroom (Yoga in Schools), Trauma-Informed Yoga and Somatic Movement for Children and Teens and a 100-hour Yoga Therapy for Youth with Complex Needs training.

Shawnee's new published book Yoga Therapy for Children and Teens with Complex Needs - A Somatosensory Approach to Mental, Physical and Emotional Wellbeing is now available for pre-sale. PURCHASE HERE.

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