Thinking about introducing some yoga to your children, or children in your life? Try some of these simple strategies for a fun and empowering experience. Forget what you’re accustomed to from yoga classes geared for adults! If your kids love yoga, consider signing them up for our upcoming Kids Yoga class, starting Wednesday Oct 8.
Do you ever wish that you had started yoga sooner? Imagine if your practice began when you were a child. Consider how a yoga and meditation practice might have benefited your approach to homework, tests, competitions, parties, and knowing what you need.
Just like adults, children have tight spots too. They’re spending many hours in front of screens, sitting in class, and experiencing growth spurts. They will benefit from exercies that increase range of motion. Yoga can also help children feel more confident and to trust themselves. They may even learn when it feels good to transiton from hyperactivity into feeling calm, and how to enjoy relaxation and stillness.
That being said, put 30 kids in a field and ask them to assume Mountain Pose and quietly breathe laterally into their rib cage – it’s probably not going to happen. Unless you try some of these techniques!
Keep it short
Set an intention to make the experience feel good and be realistic about attention span. If it’s a fun memory, they’ll want to do it again another time. For toddlers, aim for no more than 5-15 minute sessions. Older children may enjoy half an hour or 45 minutes with games and a brief relaxation.
Don’t stick to a plan
Be flexible and open to tangents, distractions, and comments. In fact, encourage it! Be sensitive to what’s happening in the moment, and go with the flow, whether that means a restful, nap-like practice on the floor, or a high-energy practice full of challenging arm balances and lots of movement. It might seem disruptive, but asking questions and talking while in a pose is fine.
Rather than begin with a quiet and traditional centering, it might be necessary to start with something more familiar like Tag or another active warm-up to help get fidgets and wiggles out.
Include lots of sounds, groupwork, and games
Flow from a squat to a forward fold and ribbet like a frog. Let out a yell in Warrior 1. Blow off more energy with Lion’s breath from Sphinx pose.
Choose from many games and group poses that emphasize cooperation and awarenes rather than competition or performance. Here are a few:
- Sunwheel – Sit in a circle with legs spread wide and with your feet in contact with your neighbour’s feet. Take turns giving a direction like “Flop to the right”, “lay down” etc.
- Musical Mats – Like musical chairs, except instead of taking away a mat., the “out” person can control the music and then rejoin for the next round.
- Rainbow Dragon – One child gets into Down Dog pose. The next child crawls underneath and then lines up in Down Dog. Eventually a long tunnel will be created.
Be less fussy about alignment and form
The sequence and positions are not as essential has keeping an open and flexible attitude. Provide a framework and then allow for plenty of self-direction and play. You can trust in their natural self-correction. It’s not the time to be prescriptive or perfectionistic. Some children will think of new poses or new versions of a pose, and will learn better through their unique experience. Check for basic safety and provide tips if something looks uncomfortable, but don’t be picky about keeping the back foot turned to 45 degrees in trikoasana. Help preserve children’s ability to be in their bodies without thinking and analysis so they can follow internal cues and feel their way into a pose.
Use figurative language, story, and metaphors
Especially for younger children, imagery is a powerful tool. Little kids are still learning the names and parts of the body, and it could be difficult to follow cues like “lift your arms and engage your biceps”. Instead, you could say something like “pretend you’re holding a beach ball over your head”.
Some poses like Cat pose and Tree pose are already quite literal and are easier for kids to relate to. You can bring these imaginative elements to other poses with minor changes. For example, you can clap like a seal while lying on the floor in a backbend. Pretend you have a bow and shoot arrows from Warrior 2 pose. Radiate out beams of light from your fingertips while in Star Pose.
When presented thoughtfully and in a light-hearted manner, kids often respond really well to pranayama exercises. Even if not done precisely, there is value in simply bringing attention to the breath.
- Bunny Breath – Split the inhale into short, quick intakes of breath through the nose. Wiggle your nose and sniff. Exhale normally.
- Birthday Candles – Pretend a large birthday cake is in front of you and try to blow out all the candles. Depending on how many candles are on your birthday cake, this might take a few tries. (This is a great way to relax the facial muscles and expel pent-up energy).
- Flower Breath – Imagine you’ve got your favourite flower (or something that smells good), and take a big inhale as though you’re taking in its fragrance. Then sigh. This breath has a calming and grounding effect.
- Ocean Breath – Lying on the back, imagine the waves of the ocean coming in to shore while breathing in. Exhale and imagine the waves receding. Consider using an object, such as a ball, stuffed animal, or feather, that can be placed on the belly to observe this rise and fall. This can be a nice way to introduce savasana.
When it’s time to relax, a guided meditation or focus point is extremely helpful. It can be as simple as ringing a bell with the instruction to listen and raise a hand when the sound can’t be heard anymore. Or you can talk through an adventure or journey. Leave some things open-ended such as choosing a type of vehicle to ride or fly on, or imagine an important person with a message. Provide colourful, vivid, and tactile descriptions to engage all the senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.
Don’t shy away from yogic traditions and philosophy
There are lots of fun and accessible ways to weave in yogic themes and introduce Sanskrit terms. Pick one or two elements, such as the Sanskrit name for a pose, or the meaning of Namaste, or share a myth. This gives more depth to a yoga practice, and learning more about the background, meaning, and purpose of yoga can be empowering.
Introducing children to yoga can be the start of a lifelong experience for a healthy body and mind. Be sure to make your sequences suitable for the age group, and to make the practice flexible and spontaneous. Let kids be creative – they’ll learn better and you’ll have a lot of fun together!
Allie Scott is in our 2014 Yoga Teacher Training Program. She loves to learn about alignment, ayurveda, and adapting yoga for all ages. Her perfect Saturday starts with coffee by the lake, a run through the woods, and a sunny outdoor music festival. Follow her on twitter @AllieScottYoga