Giving Kids the Gift of Yoga
Yoga is such a great lifestyle – we get so many different benefits from our practice: deep and healthy breathing, flexibility, strengthening our muscles and tendons, toning our nervous system, regulating our digestive system, increasing our circulation, lubricating our joints, relieving stress and anxiety, learning patience with ourselves and the world, and even learning self acceptance. The benefits are seemingly endless. Now think about what your life would be like if we had learned or received all of this when we were younger? How might our lives be different if as a kid we learned how to deal with stress? Stress and anxiety are the cause of a number of health problems, and even soreness in our muscles. If we learn yoga, and what it teaches us about our lives and our bodies, we can live happier, healthier lives. Being a kid can be stressful, there are a lot of situations where we are scared, sad, nervous or stressed, times when we are embarrassed or scared to fail in front of our peers. Yoga can help with all of these times and emotions.
As children we learn many life lessons. These life lessons we carry with us, they effect of our behavior and our conditioned responses to different situations. If you learned the wonderful skills of pranayama, and how to use them during a stressful situation as a child – every boardroom meeting, every presentation, every test or trial would be a little bit less stressful. We push children into sports so that they can learn to try new things and risk failure in a safe environment where they are surrounded by peers who want them to succeed, and will help pick them up if they fail.
Our children live in a hurry-up world of busy parents, school pressures, incessant lessons, video games, malls, and competitive sports. We usually don’t think of these influences as stressful for our kids, but often they are. The bustling pace of our children’s lives can have a profound effect on their innate joy—and usually not for the better.
Yoga can help counter these pressures. When children learn techniques for self-health, relaxation, and inner fulfillment, they can navigate life’s challenges with a little more ease. Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem and body awareness with a physical activity that’s noncompetitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion—instead of opposition—is a great gift to give our children.
Children derive enormous benefits from yoga. Physically, it enhances their flexibility, strength, coordination, and body awareness. In addition, their concentration and sense of calmness and relaxation improves. Doing yoga, children exercise, play, connect more deeply with the inner self, and develop an intimate relationship with the natural world that surrounds them. Yoga brings that marvelous inner light that all children have to the surface.
When yogis developed the asanas many thousands of years ago, they still lived close to the natural world and used animals and plants for inspiration—the sting of a scorpion, the grace of a swan, the grounded stature of a tree. When children imitate the movements and sounds of nature, they have a chance to get inside another being and imagine taking on its qualities. When they assume the pose of the lion (Singhasana) for example, they experience not only the power and behavior of the lion, but also their own sense of power: when to be aggressive, when to retreat. The physical movements introduce kids to yoga’s true meaning: union, expression, and honor for oneself and one’s part in the delicate web of life.
A Child’s Way
Yoga with children offers many possibilities to exchange wisdom, share good times, and lay the foundation for a lifelong practice that will continue to deepen.
If you’re planning to teach yoga to kids, there are a few general things to know that will enhance your experience. The greatest challenge with children is to hold their attention long enough to teach them the benefits of yoga: stillness, balance, flexibility, focus, peace, grace, connection, health, and well-being. Luckily, most children love to talk, and they love to move—both of which can happen in yoga. Children will jump at the chance to assume the role of animals, trees, flowers, warriors. Your role is to step back and allow them to bark in the dog pose, hiss in the cobra, and meow in cat stretch. They can also recite the ABCs or 123s as they are holding poses. Sound is a great release for children and adds an auditory dimension to the physical experience of yoga.
Children need to discover the world on their own. Telling them to think harder, do it better, or be a certain way because it’s good for them is not the optimal way. Instead, provide a loving, responsive, creative environment for them to uncover their own truths. As they perform the various animal and nature asanas, engage their minds 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 (Vrikshasana), 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? If you were to be chopped down, would that be OK? Would it hurt?
When they stretch like a dog, balance like a flamingo, breathe like a bunny, or stand strong and tall like a tree, they are making a connection between the macrocosm of their environment and the microcosm of their bodies. The importance of reverence for all life and the principle of interdependence becomes apparent. Children begin to understand that we are all made of the same “stuff.” We’re just in different forms.
Think of yourself as a facilitator rather than a teacher. Guide your children while simultaneously opening your heart and letting them guide you. They’ll no doubt invite you into a boundless world of wonder and exploration. If you choose to join them, the teaching/learning process will be continually reciprocal and provide an opportunity for everyone to create, express themselves, and grow together.
Image Credit: Divine Yoga Bangkok