Believe it or not, it’s hard to be a kid these days. You may not understand this unless you have one.
And it’s not just my opinion. I chat to many parents, and have taught many kids from pre-school through to high school to know that it’s not all fun and games.
With increasing technology, the prevalence of smartphones and tablets – including easy exposure to social media – children face more distractions and overstimulation than ever before.
And then there are the usual peer and parental pressures that we all faced growing up.
This is where yoga for kids comes in.
Yoga can help to counter these pressures and stresses. I believe yoga can be just as beneficial for kids as it is for us stressed, distracted and overwrought adults.
There are differences though: unlike mainstream yoga, kids’ yoga incorporates yoga poses and breath work though games, music and dance, storytelling and guided visualisations.
It’s playful and fun, keeping the children engaged and attentive in a non-competitive, positive and supported space.
The benefits of yoga for kids:
- develops body awareness
- understanding how to use their bodies in a healthy way
- becoming aware of breathing its effects
- builds self-confidence, increases self-esteem
- improves focus and concentration
- increases balance and coordination
- cultivates creativity and imagination
- helps them relax and find calm
- introduces them to meditation through guided visualisations
- teaches them to respect and care for their bodies
What I teach to kids in yoga classes:
Yoga can be playful and fun:
I want kids to feel like I do about yoga – that it’s FUN!
Stereotypes of yoga abound and children pick up what they see and hear around them in daily life.
As such, many children associate yoga as something that is very slow and deliberate. Something that is done sitting down and cross-legged, humming in quiet contemplation. Something that is overly planned and structured and not impulsive and playful.
Slow, quiet and structured equals sooo boring to the average child.
I want the youngsters in my classes to experience that yoga is an awesome time to play, move, make sounds and explore things they’re naturally drawn to.
If I can do this, I may still sneakily slide in some of those yoga stereotypes and they will still love it all!
Develop awareness of the breath:
Breathing exercises can energise or encourage relaxation, depending on what I choose to teach.
Different games, animal sounds and mimicking nature are just a few techniques I use to help kids connect to how their bodies feel as a result of the various types of breath.
Balancing poses teach children that it is ok and beneficial to slow down and focus.
Balancing helps kids with improving their attention levels. This can be particularly beneficial for those many kids who may struggle to maintain focus and attention in class.
Poses and activities focused on balancing skills help quieten the mind. Our children live in a 21st century world where there is constant stimulation and digital bombardment.
Anything we can do to help them develop an inner harmony, meditative feelings and promote stillness and mindfulness should be encouraged.
Stretching and lengthening
This is a great opportunity for me to talk to the children about how yoga balances the whole body.
We discuss that strength is important, but we also need to stretch and open the body so we don’t get injured in other activities we like to do (eg, football, netball, chasing, running, tag, gymnastics).
Strong muscles that are not supported by a flexibility cannot move quickly and may pull unnaturally on bones and joints in certain movements.
Yoga helps stretch muscles and through integrating breathing, movements and focus we warm up our muscles so that they become more flexible and function. When required, they yield, become malleable, support our joints and provide the pliability that our bodies need to function correctly.
Kids often know that yoga is great for relaxing and stretching, but don’t often realise it builds strength too.
I explain to my kids classes how the different muscles used in poses work and I incorporate strength work in games and activities wherever possible. I aim to build strength as well as body awareness and coordination.
Young bodies that are strong digest food better, helping maintain a healthy weight and can support the stress of carrying heavy school backpacks. Breath awareness is increased and the body works more efficiently.
Focus and self-respect
When done well, yoga helps create awareness in the body and of the body through deep breathing and movement.
In my yoga classes, the children have a space for and are allowed to express themselves, to build a strong connection between what they hear, see and do.
Children with a healthy body awareness are, in my mind, stronger and more confident. They have better posture and display resilience.
Meditation and relaxation
Yoga should be meditative by its very practice. And so whether a child is holding a balancing posture, or sitting and breathing, or moving through a series of poses, there should be a calming, soothing quality.
I like to guide my charges through a visualisation during savasana, or play a singing bowl and tell them a story. Generally, this helps them stay at ease, comfortable and relaxed, as they use their imaginations to follow my words.
Children and Yoga – in conclusion
I love teaching kids – they are so present and so honest. I learn so much from them.
After working with a class of children for a few weeks, it is remarkable to see the difference in their bodies, thought processes and abilities to self-regulate.
Even during one class, from start to finish there are noticeable energy arcs that occur as I take them through different poses, games and exercises.
I’ve been very fortunate and experienced the bountiful benefits that yoga can provide. I’ve also been so lucky to see first hand the incredible effect that yoga has on youngsters.
It just makes so much sense to me. Can you imagine a world where all kids were taught yoga in schools?
I can, and I’m confident that it would bring on a bright and peaceful future.
Acknowledgements and thanks to Thy Nguyen, from Modo Yoga for this article