These days, our families are still living with endless uncertainty. What is school going to look like? Playdates? Sports? As the pandemic drags on, we are all eager to be able to get back to what we love to do. Our kids are no different! As we continue to miss out on our favorite activities, we constantly look for ways to create joy for our children. The good news is these moments do not need to be elaborate craft activities that you saw on social media. They also don’t need to be carefully constructed obstacle courses (that the kids destroy in less than 2 minutes…) Research shows simply moving our bodies in specific ways can contribute our sense of happiness. Keep reading for some simple tips from a physical therapist on how you can find family happiness through movement.
1. Moving our Bodies can Affect our Emotions
Have you ever experienced the smile on your child’s face as they bounced on your lap or rolled down a hill? As an adult, have you ever experienced a feeling of relaxation or well -being after a brisk walk or work out?
Increased research of the body and mind are showing that movement can directly affect our emotion. A release of endorphins (the feel- good chemicals of the brain) is just one positive effect of exercise. Additionally, it appears that certain movements can specifically impact happiness.
2. Certain postures may elicit happiness
Your posture may directly affect your sense of happiness. Sit with rounded shoulders, arms crossed, in a crouched or closed posture. According to research, stress hormones are released in the body when participants sit in this position for 2 minutes. People in this position also reported a sense of powerlessness. On the opposite end, when a person reaches their arms high and wide to the sky, their breathing slows, their muscles relax and they report a sense of happiness.
This is because the brain associates certain movement and joint configurations with specific emotions. In this case, an upright, open posture is associated with a sense of safety, well-being, and joy. Think of the posture an athlete often takes after winning a game or a race. Or, think of the posture you see in your child when they are overcome with joy or excitement. We tend to naturally assume certain postures while experiencing specific emotions. The opposite also holds true: we may influence our emotions by the postures we assume.
3. We can influence our children's happiness through movement
Combine the principles above to use movement to contribute to your child’s happiness. Moderate exercise releases endorphins, and upright, open postures may facilitate a feeling of joy and well-being. How can we incorporate these ideas into real life? Use some of the examples below:
- Encourage activities that cause your child to move with lightness in open postures: swinging their arms, spinning like a ballerina, throwing and catching a balloon
- “Fly like a plane” or “Superhero” postures during play help facilitate open, tall posture. Incorporate these into pretend play themes or games to help get your children engaged. For older kids, basic yoga poses (Sun Salutation, for example) offer a similar effect.
- Jumping, skipping, or dancing: all of these encourage a moderate activity level while also facilitating a naturally upright and open posture.
For the maximum benefit, incorporate your child’s interests, and participate in these activities with them! Not only will you also receive some of the physical benefits of the exercises, but shared fun activities will also help strengthen your relationship with your children.
If your child isn’t able to physically perform these movements, help them by holding them while you move in a way that is safe for them. Support them as best as you can (with guidance from your physician and/or physical therapist) in achieving upright posture and movement activities.
Unfortunately, it does not seem that we will be out of these challenging times for some time still. While we continue to endure the stress of 2020, please take advantage of the little moments that you find to help your family find joy. These moments build resilience, happy memories, and relationship. And, if using those moments to apply the principles discussed here, they may actually help increase your family’s happiness.