Sharing the Gifts of Yoga with Children
Kids who share space in our modern world are exposed to an abundance of outside influences. There are overwhelming amounts of images, videos and marketing through technology slipping into school life, home life and the outside world. We certainly cannot shield them from the natural progression of society and the integration of tech into our lives; and why should we? Tech has greatly increased our access to knowledge and the ability to share our lives. It has enabled us to self-educate on subjects we have wanted to learn about (like yoga!), and subjects we never even knew existed (I’m looking at you, slime). Kids will continue to be mystified by the rapid cycling of imagery they see, but we must remind them of the infinite wonder that exists within their own bodies and minds. Getting them started on an early journey of yoga helps them explore and begin to connect with their physical capabilities and emotional spectrum.
The physical benefits of yoga for kids
Through yoga, kids can start understanding the basic functions of their physical body – the muscular and skeletal structures, the mechanics of breathing and the correlation between heart rate and emotions. Exploration of the physical body is a journey that all children (and adults) are already on. How many times have you seen a child climb onto something high (a couch, a rock, a tree) and jump off only to repeat it for the next hour? After they get the hang of jumping, they naturally start to explore modifications like jumping from one foot and closing their eyes. In my kids yoga classes, I aim to support this exploration through repetition of yoga poses but with variations that isolate one body part at a time.
I also take time to anatomically label parts of the body (quads, biceps, ribcage, pelvis, collar bones,etc.) with the intention of building associative vocabulary and body awareness. I don’t expect kids to memorize all these words and their functions, rather I want kids to begin to understand that every part in their incredible body has a name and a function. Anxiety is eased with knowledge, so addressing the body in this way can prevent or clear up uneasiness kids may feel towards their body. It can also give them the confidence to ask questions and cultivate wonder. Just recently, I spent a good 15 minutes with the children I babysit talking about the spine. This started a physical exploration of the body through rounding, arching, twisting, side bending and feeling the bumps of vertebrae under their skin. Then it started an intellectual exploration – they asked questions like “What if someone doesn’t have a spine?” “Is it okay if my spine hurts when I lie down on a hard floor?”, and made connections about the skeletal structure based on photos they’d seen of dinosaur fossils.
Building confidence and resilience through yoga
Along with gaining knowledge of the body, my kids yoga classes incorporate challenging or “trick” poses like headstands, shoulder stands, wheel, and crow. The goal is to provide a physical and emotional challenge. Hanging upside down elicits both fear of falling and fear of change. However, once the child attempts the pose, they have now eliminated that fear, even if for a moment, and strengthen their self-confidence and curiosity for exploring what they are truly capable of. Once a child has tried and fallen, they can reframe the fall from an indication of failure to an opportunity to try again and build their muscles of resilience and perseverance. I’ve found that once a timid child takes the chance and tries the inversion, they likely fall, but after that fall they eagerly try the pose over and over again, so much so that I often have to step in to get them to stop so we can move on to the next activity!
Teaching kids mindfulness
These challenging poses can sometimes bring on some frustration and anger, and I use that as an opportunity to discuss mindfulness and how to respond when the body feels these powerful and negative emotions. First, I always acknowledge that they are right to be mad and they will likely feel mad many times throughout their life. Although kids can get angry over situations that seem silly to adults, it’s so important to treat each episode with as much intensity as the child is demonstrating. Then I proceed with a technique to acknowledge how the anger is affecting the body and take back control of the body. This can range from breath-work, to saying out loud “I feel angry”, to curling into a ball and squeezing the muscles.
Most importantly, is teaching kids to reflect on their actions and thoughts and to connect with how they are feeling. From this point, they can choose to make decisions that feel right for their minds and bodies, whether that’s choosing which fun yoga pose to try out or how to respond when they have a moment of frustration. This time where they are disconnected from tech and engaged with themselves and the other budding yogis around them is so pivotal for strengthening the relationships they have with themselves and the world around them. I feel grateful to have the opportunity to share in this experience of helping to grow amazing little mindful, kind and confident humans through our kids yoga classes and kids yoga camps and I encourage all parents out there to get your kids started early on the yoga journey!
Colleen Creghan is a Columbus-based creator of all things mind, body and music. She has been movin’ and groovin’ in the Columbus area for nearly 10 years teaching dance, yoga and fitness, and editing performance-music for dancers, figure skaters, gymnasts and more. Colleen aims to blend the freeform and evolving nature of the arts with structure and clarity.