Yoga...that’s all about wearing lululemon, eating kale and drinking green juice, or bending into a pretzel whilst staying at a silent ashram in India, right? What does this have to do with children? How can yoga be accessible for minds and bodies as young as 3 months?
As an avid yogi, those were questions I had. Last year, I continued my yogic adventures by enrolling on a 95-hour Children’s Yoga Teacher Training course. I wanted to learn how yoga can be introduced to children and how it might compliment my teaching.
Why should we explore yoga for children? What are the benefits? As with adult yoga, children’s yoga extends far beyond the stereotypes and serves as a strong base for exploring bodies, attitudes and general well being. Yoga encourages physical, emotional and mental development in children from infancy through to the teenage years. Not only is it a wonderful form of exercise, it equips children with a positive range of strategies for coping with stress, anxiety or frustration and fosters a value of trust and acceptance in oneself. What more important values could we hope to instill in young minds in this ever-changing, increasingly competitive world?
In his Theory of Multiple Intelligences, educational psychologist Howard Gardner described eight criteria for a behaviour to be considered an intelligence. These criteria are evident in the practice of yoga, particularly being “Body Smart” (Kinaesthetic Intelligence) and “Self-Smart” (Intrapersonal Intelligence). Furthermore, every time we move and cross our body’s midline, the right and left hemispheres of our brain communicate; this simple movement builds pathways in the brain, setting the foundations for motor and cognitive skills. Research on the positive impact of mindfulness in schools is impressive, too. Learning mindful and meditative practices allows children to understand their brains and bodies from the inside out and channel their energies to a state of mind better able to absorb information and cope with stress and anxiety. To me, it seems evident that yoga has a clear, positive role to play in the lives of developing minds and bodies.
A children’s yoga class will look very different to an adult yoga class. Children’s yoga incorporates the traditional elements of asanas (poses), meditation, chanting and pranayama (breathing) married alongside games, storytelling, crafts and songs. For younger children, classes will have a theme or a story. For older children and teens, classes may focus on partner poses, or deep relaxation in the run-up to exam season.
At Christmas, I took our Grade 2 students on a journey to India in a yoga class as part of Social Studies course. We travelled, became animals, danced, moved and relaxed. In shorter sessions, we began our Friday mornings with a sequence of sun salutations to set the tone for the rest of our day. We take mini yoga breaks during transitional times or mid-way through a writing task to move and stretch, even in our seats.
Children’s yoga may be relatively unknown and just gaining popularity and recognition in the value it has to offer, but it’s benefits are clear. Above all, children’s yoga is engaging, educational and fun. As the ever wise Dr. Seuss told us, “If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good!” So, why not encourage your child and students to explore this whole new world today?