Yoga For Youngsters
www.anahatahealingcenter.com – Children are experiencing a lot of stress these days. Their daily routine can be very long with after-school activities, hours of homework and pressure to compete with other children. I believe that if children knew how to tap into their bodies and minds through yoga, there would be less violent crimes and hatred in our society.
Yoga teaches youngsters many skills such as body awareness, concentration, coordination, and upper body/lower body strengthening. Many yoga poses particularly animal poses come naturally to children as they are so playful and imaginative and already in tune with their bodies. The most important concept to instill in children about yoga for youngsters is that it is about having fun and learning to be in your own body. Unfortunately, as children get older, they often become less in touch with their precious bodies.
Yoga has also been proven effective in helping children with attention-deficit disorders and hyperactivity. These children crave movement and sensory/motor stimulus. Yoga helps channel these impulses in a positive way such as warrior pose, which instills strength and confidence.
A yoga class for children needs to be innovative and playful, with very little emphasis or corrections in alignment for the poses. A typical class can be from 45 minutes to 1 hour long, and can include many different activities such as storytelling partner poses, drawing tasks, yoga games or musical instruments. It is important to mention that teaching yoga to children can be challenging and one needs to be very flexible with the structure of the class and move on to a different task as needed at any time.
I prefer to begin my “Yoga for Youngsters” classes with quiet centering activity such as the flower circle. We are seated in a circle and clapping hands. We reach our arms up overhead to open our petals and we pretend we are beautiful flowers. I ask each child to be any kind of flower they wish to be, and the children will then tell w they are.
We then become bees buzzing around the room in search of the nectar from the flowers. We stand up and clasp our hands behind our start buzzing. The room is buzzing alive like bees.
Asking for the children’s input during class sparks learning. “Does anyone know what a warrior is?” I ask. We discuss what a and how to feel empowered in one’s body. We then come into warrior pose with our legs hip distance apart and the front knee bent. I ask the children to come up with affirmations to say aloud. For young children, I will have them repeat after me: “I am powerful,” ” I am brave,” “I am strong,” “I am courageous.” This pose builds stamina and confidence in the body and mind.
Next, we move or to “walking the dog” pose. This partner pose of one child placing their hands and feet on the floor is an inversion pose (modified downward dog) and very strengthening of the upper/lower body. The other child takes hold of the first child’s pants and “walks the dog” around the room. The children then switch roles.
The volcano pose, similar to a jumping jack, is a great upper/lower body stretching pose and also coordinates breathing. The focus is on inhaling as the arms reach up overhead and we erupt into a “volcano,” and exhaling as the arms come down again.
The breathing train is another way to teach children to be in touch with their breathing. The conductor of the train decides where we will go and the train leaves the station. We are holding our hands over each others’ ribs and then we begin to have the train move slowly at first and then faster and faster. The children experience movement and notice how their breathing becomes more rapid.
The conclusion of the class is relaxation. The children lay on their backs and become very still. I encourage them to close their eyes and imagine that they are going on a magic carpet journey. The visualization and story help the children become calm and relaxed. They envision that the roof of the yoga class has just opened and they are riding a magic carpet. This carpet will take them wherever they wish to go. Some children are so relaxed after this that they fall asleep. Jonathan, a nine-year-old with attention deficit disorder, would become so calm and centered after this relaxation exercise, he would usually fall asleep.
It is our dharma to teach children the concepts of yoga union of mind, body, and spirit. There is a wealth of knowledge awaiting these youngsters. The simple chanting of “om” makes their faces light up. What a joy it is to be the facilitator of that smile!”
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Lisa Orkin is a certified Kripalu yoga instructor, yoga therapist and occupational therapist who has studied yoga therapy at the Vivekananda Kendra Research Foundation in Bangalore, India. She has been teaching yoga to children for over two years.