Imagine you are up to bat, with two outs; it is the bottom of the ninth inning. Everyone you know is in the stands watching you. The pressure is unbearable. Will you hit the ball or strike out? This can be an overwhelming feeling for anyone, especially a child.
Yoga, on the other hand, is a totally non-competitive, healthy sport. I have been teaching kids yoga for almost five years. There are no mirrors, no one is watching to see how well you perform, and best of all there is no judgment. Ever watch a child act out his imagination? This is all too rare of an occurrence, as children today seem to be overwhelmed, overscheduled, and overstressed—shuttled from one activity to the next, endlessly trying to catch up with life itself. Gone are the days of random play and being in the moment.
Yoga for kids helps them to improve strength, flexibility, balance, and concentration. Imagination is an important aspect in kids’ yoga. Imagine you are a fish swimming through a trout stream…imagine you are a tree growing in a forest from the seed up…imagine you are any animal in the zoo…all of these are represented through yoga poses. We start off in car pose, pretending to be driving in a car to get to the zoo. We take a train ride, act out an elephant, giraffe, seal, etc. all using our bodies. I ask the kids to do some breathing poses, such as bunny breath, lion’s breath, and balloon breath. The breathing encourages relaxation and teaches the kids that breath is extremely important. These are all ways to help the children to use their bodies while having fun.
One of the kids’ favorite poses is yoga sleep (also known as shavasana). They love to lie on their mats, listening to the soft sounds of the waves crashing in from the shore and be still. I walk them through a guided visualization, and upon completion ask them to describe what they felt, whether floating on a raft on the ocean, flying through a soft fluffy cloud, or simply feeling a particular color wash over them. What I find most amazing, is the children who have the most trouble sitting still during yoga, have the least trouble lying still in shavasana. Dimming the lights (using only a soft lamp), playing soft music, and massaging their temples help them to relax; this really gets them to slow down.
I start each class with a gratitude circle. Going around the circle, the children say one thing they are grateful for that day. It is very interesting to see the broad spectrum of answers. They range from “being alive” to being thankful for their parents, a favorite toy, their pet, etc. The point is that every child is thankful for something aside from hitting that home run.
Yoga for kids has a wide variety of benefits. While we are actively doing yoga poses, we talk about self esteem: feeling good about ourselves. What is the one thing we like best about ourselves? This is sometimes difficult for the children to express; however, it always has a positive outcome. At other times we discuss how we should try to say nice things to those close to us, and how good that makes us feel.
All these different ways that I use to encourage the kids— practicing breathing exercises, doing different poses, talking about our feelings, and lying still in shavasana to rejuvenate our bodies—is the gift of yoga. Yoga is all about feeling good, having fun, and being positive—not about who’s watching you from the sidelines.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #18.
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