Let’s be honest. Most boys don’t make it to the NFL. Most gymnasts don’t go to the Olympics. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t enjoy sports. We aren’t able to take everything with us as we grow older, but that doesn’t me mean we shouldn’t do them when we can and because we want to.
Parents accept the duty of taking care of themselves, so they can best take care of their children. And many of them will say that yoga is their ultimate source of self-care and wellness. The benefits of yoga practice add up… and keep counting for a lifetime.
The rest of life comes with its own long list. After-school activities, parent-teacher meetings, carpooling, report cards and the flu are inevitable. It is remarkable how many parents show up to evening vinyasa classes, despite their exhaustion. And they show up daily, tirelessly and unfailingly with a positive attitude. That is incontrovertible evidence of magic; proof of how special and important the practice is for its students.
Yoga for Adults vs. Yoga for Kids
Kids believe in magic. Adults seem to have to search for magic, sometimes unsure they believe in it in the first place. For most adults, the initial attraction to yoga is about healing pain, relieving stress, or building strength and flexibility. They’re attracted to tricks, cures, fixes. If they enjoy their first few classes or find a good teacher their attraction develops into a practice. And over time, the practice becomes a purpose. For children, purpose isn’t self-associative. They just want magic, for what it is, regardless of why.
I’ve taken more than few classes where students are asked to call upon their “beginner’s mind.” We’re encouraged to approach the asana practice with an open-mind, we can open ourselves to whatever we are doing as if for the first time. For me, this is among the most important of invitations I’ve ever received. I steer myself with this approach – on my mat and in my life. It’s interesting- the concept as basically summoning the attitude of a child. So in a way, kids already have some of the work done for them. Their innocence, and curiosity make them all the more receptive to the gifts of yoga.
It’s imperative to taken into consideration the physical differences between adults and children. We’re grown and they’re still growing. Their bones are softer and their ligaments are more elastic. An adult can stretch certain muscles and place stress on certain bones in healthy ways but a child’s developing body may be overstressed by the same actions. Movements that require maximum range of motion in an adult can be too taxing for a child’s biomechanical anatomy.
Throughout childhood, children face increasing pressures to perform academically. Educational accomplishment is more than test-taking; kids also deal with enormous expectations from organized sports and their peers. They’re susceptible to self-criticism and a lack of confidence in themselves as they grow and change. In yoga, there’s no benchmark for achievement. It doesn’t matter how perfectly a child does a pose. There’s no judgement; no right or wrong. Exploring movement and shapes of the body, or recognizing the feeling of sounds by chanting and singing offers kids’ freedom from the usual pressures of excellence.
Yoga helps calm and regulate the heart rate. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system, tempering the body’s “fight or flight” response. Other body systems- circulation, glandular balance, digestion, and immunity are also enhanced. With so many distractions, diversions and the sensory overload of the modern world, the heart benefits are undeniably important for the young ones.
A child’s motor skills stand to benefit enormously from yoga. Tapping into the subtle body by practicing quiet, stillness and meditation serves to enhance the integration of body and brain function.
Attention. If we could bottle and sell it– parents would stand in long lines to get some it. Medication and clinical diagnoses aside, some of the best byproducts of yoga are natural increases in focus, patience and attention. Kids have a lot going on. Yoga in no longer “alternative” therapy, it’s a widely accepted and highly regarded approach to treating illness, disease, injury and more.
Tips and Tools for Teaching
Once upon a time, I was faced with having to teach taught elementary school kids yoga. In a foreign language. I had little time to plan anything (probably for the better). Improvisation works! I learned some important lessons nonetheless.
Teach according to age.
Teaching a kids in groups can be like herding cattle. Obviously, toddlers and teenagers are going to have different interactions. Kids are more likely to more likely to participate among their peers. A good rule of thumb is the younger the age group the smaller the class size.
Play up the animal theme.
Children have an affinity with the natural world and yoga is an extension of learning about Earth’s creatures: humans and animals. Be silly. Teach lion’s breath and really allow them to roar like a lion. Downward dog makes sense to a kid… because it’s a dog! Incorporating charades is a fun, physical alternative to flashcards. (I ended up teaching the kids words for animals in Spanish by having them do the associatively named poses.)
Make it a little competitive.
For example, turning tree pose into a balancing contest is harmless and might be just the thing that inspires a reluctant or disinterested kid to participate.
Take yoga with you.
You don’t have to abandon your daily practice because you’re on vacation. Be the example that shows kids how accessible yoga is. Emily Dille, a parent and hotelier, advises checking age requirements for group classes ahead of time. There are plenty of alternatives. “Stand up paddle boarding yoga is huge right now. Our hotels have partnerships with local instructors so it’s an easy activity to plan and fit yoga into family vacation. My girls were able to jump on the back of the board and practice yoga with me and my husband.” There are so many unique ways to fit yoga into family fun. Both Laguna hotels have a partnership with a local company to arrange paddle board rentals.
Yoga isn’t just about asana.
Karma yoga is about giving back. Encouraging kids to be active in the community promotes positive socialization and meaningful contribution. Think outside the box. Recycling and eco-consciousness is within realm of yoga!
Most kids discover yoga by mimicking their parents.
Videos can be a wonderful tool, whether or not they’re specific to younger audiences. Observation is a form of learning. Keep in mind it’s not always necessary to teach children yoga. Books and yoga decks demonstrate poses, breathing and meditation techniques are fantastic compliments to reading and vocabulary development.
Above all, yoga classes offer something very different from a Gymboree or movement-based activities, games and sports. The central tenet of yoga practice is respect and honor- not only for ourselves but for each other, the community and the environment. It isn’t easy to teach respect and honor. It’s learned through practice.