We don’t generally consider children as having stressful lives, but when you think about how busy they are and we are as well, always rushing around to school, sports, lessons and so on, we can begin to appreciate that they are under significant pressure. This can definitely have a negative effect on their lives in many areas.
Yoga can help children deal with these pressures and learn techniques to help them to face life’s challenges more easily. Yoga is a noncompetitive activity that can foster self-esteem and awareness of one’s body for youngsters. Kids can learn methods for relaxation, inner peace and self-health. This can help them develop compassion and cooperation as opposed to opposition.
Physically, the benefits of practicing yoga for children range from improving flexibility to enhancing strength and coordination. Their sense of calmness, relaxation and concentration also improve.
Many yoga poses derive their inspiration from animals and plants. When children are given the opportunity to imitate the movements and sounds of nature, it is not only very enjoyable, but it also gives them the chance to experience, for example, the power of the lion, the grace of a swan, or the grounding of a tree. This introduces kids to the true essence of yoga: union, expression and honor for oneself and others.
In teaching yoga to children, instructors have found that an interactive, multi-disciplinary approach works very well. The yoga asanas can be expanded upon to playing and imitating various plants and animals. This can be further explored with storytelling, games, picture drawing and playing musical instruments. The children can appreciate the use of their bodies and minds and how they can interact in play. Their natural tendency towards creativity and curiosity makes these classes fun and effective.
Yoga classes for children that take this multi-disciplinary approach are indeed an excellent learning experience. Kids are provided with the opportunity to explore their innate abilities across many planes: linguistic, logical, visual, musical, kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal and intrapersonal.
The great challenge in teaching kids is to be able to hold their attention. Fortunately, kids love to be in motion and they love to talk. They can do both of these in a yoga class and they will love playing like various animals, trees, flowers, cobras and warriors. The instructor should allow them to let go and roar in the lion pose, bark in the dog pose, meow in a cat stretch and hiss in a cobra.
Standard lessons can be integrated into a kids’ yoga class as well. Reciting their ABC’s or practicing counting their 123’s can be a lot of fun while holding a pose. Children love the release of making sounds and their yoga classes will allow them to connect an auditory experience to a physical sensation. Providing a responsive, creative and loving environment in a yoga class will help children to discover the world on their own and is an optimal method for instruction. Their minds can be engaged as they perform animal and nature asanas to deepen their awareness. When they’re snakes (Bhujangasana), invite them to really imagine that they’re just a long spine with no arms and legs. Could you still run or climb a tree? In Tree Pose (Vrksasana), ask them to imagine being a giant oak, with roots growing out of the bottoms of their feet. Could you stay in the same position for 100 years?
The many benefits of yoga: stillness, balance, flexibility, focus, peace, grace, connection, health and well-being can be imparted to children in an interactive and pleasurable way that create the foundation for a life-long practice. Children will be given the opportunity to express themselves and learn important principles such as reverence for life and the interdependence of all beings.
Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Yoga