I started teaching yoga to children quite by accident.
My first year as a co-teacher for a primary Montessori classroom gave me the ability to “play around” with the kindergarten kids while the younger students napped. Anyone who has been around kids, especially a classroom of them, know how much energy they have – and how contagious the energy is. It’s as though they feed off of each other.
I like to compare it to someone having a seemingly uncontrollable laughing fit and how infectious it becomes to you or other people around. Even though you may have no idea what the person is laughing at, most often you can’t help but start laughing too.
Energy has the same effect whether it effects the other child negatively (eg. by getting annoyed) or by sucking the other child in and becoming just as physical, if not more so.
So, in the case of working with kids it’s best to work with the energy instead of against it.
I wanted to work with it in a way of it being a teachable moment – to help them learn how to control their energies so as not to let it control them. Yoga has always worked for me… so, I gave it a go.
And boy did it work.
In fact, we played around with so many poses, took big loooonnnnng breaths in between, and laid down on puffy clouds for Savasana. We practiced, we worked with the drishti**, we learned how to control our bodies in ways they never knew. Afterward, we held our invisible lotus flowers in the palms of our hands while sitting “criss-cross-applesauce” (some could do full Padmasana/lotus pose) and thought about the one person we wanted to give our lotus flowers to.
For them, it was a moment where their world’s opened up even more. And for me, it was an “ah ha” moment.
They asked for it everyday.
Every… single… day…
A couple of months later I flew to New York City and took a training in children’s yoga at Karma Kids Yoga. My training here was awesome, and I learned so many tools to use for all different ages, capabilities, and learning differences. I brought back my newfound learning’s and we continued to practice. After awhile I started to notice how the childrens’ attention spans, compassion for each other, and their ability to concentrate grew. Other things I noticed was that most children were able to sit in silence longer (eg. during peace circle, looking at books), most children had more patience and understanding for themselves and for others (eg. during work cycle, playing group games), and the children seemed to move with more of a purpose.
Parents started noticing changes as well.
One child’s father told me one day that the past weekend was pretty rough for him, but his five year old son took him by the shoulders, looked him in the eyes, and said gently, “take a big breath, daddy. Big breath in, long breath out.” He said at first he felt silly, but he took a few deep breaths with his son and was then reminded of what was most important. He said that it was a very humbling moment.
I wanted to cry – in a good way.
These instances have happened on numerous occasions over the years that I have taught children’s yoga. As recent as a few weeks ago, one mother told me that her daughter (seven years old) was explaining something to her.
The mother said, “I wasn’t listening.. I mean, I could hear her, but I was so caught up in my thoughts about work that I was passively saying ‘uh huh, yea.'” The mother said then that her daughter took her hand and pulled her around to face her. The child said, “Mommy, your drishti is here. Focus on me. I am your drishti.” The mother laughed about it, but said that her daughter never fails to amaze her in bringing her back to the present, and to what really matters.
Children are sponges, and many are learning – by watching adults – how to deal with intense situations in a way that is unhealthy for their psyches and their futures. Yoga is a fun, and engaging adventure that will teach them how to handle stressful situations before, during, and after it happens. Furthermore, children are born innocent and yoga helps to lighten the air and energies around us which will keep joyful innocence within the child as much as he or she will allow.
I’ve continued to have children’s yoga and meditation/mindfulness as a part of my own curriculum in every setting that I have ever taught in. I have witnessed the impact this ancient practice has on them when we use it as a playful, compassionate tool.
Here are some other major benefits of children’s yoga, besides “just” helping to build a calm and balanced mind:
– physical strength and flexibility
– confidence and self-esteem
– compassion and respect for others
– respect for the environment
– relaxation and self-control
– inner strength
– awareness of the body
– concentration and focus
– a sense of well-being
Yoga for children is a peaceful weapon.
**According to Drishti: Centre for Integral Action, a drishti is a gazing technique that is used in yoga as a way to develop and strengthen concentration and to see the world as it really is.