Yoga is more than just a fitness and exercise fad. It is a physical and mental experience that deepens your connection between body and mind. While this is an excellent strategy for adults to reduce both mental and physical stress, it is also an excellent medium to teach children these same skills! Yoga can teach coping strategies, stress reduction, and spatial/body awareness.
As a children’s therapist, teacher, and a graduate of The Kaivalya Yoga Method online teacher training, I love being able to bring yoga to the children I work with. I predominantly work with children on the autism spectrum, and my yoga community is often commenting on how unique my approach to teaching yoga is for children of all abilities. So how can you bring yoga to the children in your life?
First, a couple of rules to live by:
Keep it fun.
Find a theme, and make it engaging for the children in the room. For example, I have done Star Wars yoga and we take the concept of “using the force” and apply it to accessing calm and focus when deep breathing. There is always a creative way to take a popular, modern concept and bring out the yoga inside of it.
Keep it playful.
While structured flow and steady poses are great, it can be hard for children to sustain attention for a long time on one pose. Always incorporate some free, playful movement to your children’s yoga classes. I use movement props like the stretchy band, balloon ball, and the parachute, to engage in group, playful movement.
Keep it simple.
In the yoga classes I attend, we may complete 15-20 poses in the span of a one hour class. This is often too many poses for children. I like to pick 5 core poses we are going to target for a class and teach them in multiple ways to my students. I generally do the same stretch and warm-up sequence each class to keep it simple and structured for my young children and my children with autism.
Now you have these tips, but what does a children’s yoga class really look like? Lucky for you, I am going to give you a sample yoga class layout that you can use in home or in class for your children. This “Pirate Yoga” has been a hit in all of my groups and is a great theme for summer!
Introduction (10 minutes):
- Read Portside Pirates and sing-along with the included CD
I like to open with a story or book to ground our theme for the day
Warm-Up (5 minutes):
- Stretching – in butterfly, move your body like the sails left and right. Fold forward like the boat diving into the waves. Hug your knees into your body like a cannon shooting off of the deck. Stretch your legs straight and fold forward like the boat going deeper into the ocean. Use cues that relate to the theme.
Standing Series (10 Minutes):
- Sun Salutations – use similar cues as when seated to mimic the motion of the boat, sails, waves as you flow through the different sun salutation poses
- Chair pose – pretend like you are sitting in the captain’s chair. Practice moving your arms up and down in prayer pose, like you are putting a tall captain’s hat on your head
- Wide legged forward fold – pretend like you are searching for buried treasure on the ground. Ask each child what they found, then have them fold again and search for more
Tree Pose – like the sail blowing in the wind!
Playful Movement (10 minutes):
I cut the Standing Series short because this playful movement involves standing and seated poses
- The back page of Portside Pirates shows the full Pirate Ship with each part of the ship labeled by number
- I have each child choose a number (1-25) and we have to make our bodies look like that part of the ship.
- For the large sails, you could stretch side to side. For the wheel, you could try wheel pose. For the deck, you could do corpse pose. This is where you and the kids get to let your creativity fly!
Seated Series (10 minutes):
- Boat pose – because you can’t have a pirate theme without this classic pose!
- Wide-legged forward fold – digging for treasure again, but this time deep under the sea
- Seated forward-fold – diving in and out of the waves as we sail the sea
- Upward dog – the hull of the ship bursting through the water towards land
- Locust – a seagull flying through the air showing you the way to sail home
- Lying flat on our tummies – swimming our way towards the shore
Relaxation (10 minutes):
This can be the trickiest part of a kid’s yoga class because it is hard for young children to sit still and quiet their minds for 10 minutes. I like to use some kind of prop or tool to help teach them relaxation skills
- Blue scarf canopy (http://www.westmusic.com/p/aeideas-set-of-3-9x9ft-scarf-canopies-red-white-and-blue-540002) – put on some relaxing music filled with ocean wave sounds and move the scarf canopy up and down with the beat of the music
- Allow the children to reach up and feel the waves as the scarf moves up and down
- You can encourage children to close their eyes and feel the breeze of the waves as they move up and down
Hopefully this post will inspire you to do more yoga with your children or even teach a children’s yoga class! I can’t wait to see how you make these ideas your own. You can find more ideas for kid’s fun by visiting my blog. You can also check out my YouTube channel where I will be adding even more quick flows and mindful minutes for children of all ages and abilities!
Post written by: Alyssa Wilkins, founder of Dynamic Lynks, and graduate of The Kaivalya Yoga Method 500 hour online teacher certification program.