By Denise Sheridan
We live in a very fast paced world today and the working environment has a lot of pressure on adults, which also spills down on to our kids. We are also faced with the highest levels of obesity in our school age children.
Kids are scheduled into Schools; day care; preschools, as well as extra curricular classes. In fact when we look at the life of a child today sometimes their schedule is more hectic then our own. My focus on Yoga for children is the age group of 3-6 yr olds.
It is my firm belief that the techniques of yoga are easily learnt in early age and will remain with children as they grow, just as with learning languages. Learning yoga techniques early prepare the child to lead a more balanced existence and a more gentle presence. I started teaching my daughter yoga from the age of 3 , she can now complete many asanas and currently now at 3 3/4 her favourites are little Buddha; Butterfly; Tree; Warrior, Cat and Dog.
Having opened a preschool in September of this year I wanted to focus on how to expand the experience of yoga which I shared with my daughter and bring this experience to other children. I have children now in my preschool whose parents remark on how much they love yoga; how they will now sit down and read a book ; how they can focus longer on activities.
For me not only from my own experience, but from learning from Yogis such as Wai Lana, Marsha Wenig and others the benefits to children’s health are many fold and here is my summary of these.
Through children learn techniques for self-health, relaxation, and inner fulfillment, they can navigate life’s challenges with a little more ease.
•Yoga Encourages self-esteem and body awareness at an early age;
• Kids take part in a physical activity without feeling competition from the other children.
• Children‘s yoga is linked to music; every day animals and fun – all very relevant to the 3-6 yr old group.
• Children are encouraged to move from a Tree individual position to creating a forest amongst their friends in the group.
• Flexibility is enhanced
• Co-ordination is improved
• They become more aware of their bodies through practicing the asanas.
• They learn how to relax and gain an understanding of meditation.
• They learn techniques which they can take and develop through their continued practice.
• Early practice begins a lifelong journey for children.
• Yoga for children is very different from yoga for adults in many ways you become a mix of teacher, facilitator and fellow child. Animal characters become the traditional asanas. For example when teaching a dog or cat position you find it very hard not to go around barking and wagging your tail with the children!
• For many children yoga is a fun way to move on into music and playing instruments which also develops a coordination and concentration in children allowing them to live less stressful and hyper lives
• Dr. Howard Gardner’s an author and professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in his theory of multiple intelligences describes eight intelligences innate in all of us—linguistic, logical, visual, musical, kinesthetic, naturalistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal—and emphasizes that children should be given the opportunity to develop and embody as many of these as possible. Yoga for kids is the perfect medium to allow children develop all of these intelligences through the creativity of imagination; role play; music; story telling visual and inter and intra personal intelligences. I find Wai Lana‘s Yoga for fun book and Song books very good for this as you flow from yoga asanas manifested for the children in the form of animals, then flowing into music and song and games.
• Early Education talks constantly about the importance and role of the preschool teacher in ensuring that the curriculum engages the whole child and for me as a preschool teacher Yoga is a great medium to do this, engaging all senses, physical activity and imagination.
• Yoga is a great springboard for allowing the child to become independent and confident in their ability and lives.
• As Yoga practice is something children learn they can take it home with them, so they can practice at home as well as in
• Sound – sound is a great release for us all and especially for children. Through meditation children can release their voices while sitting in the Lotus/ Baby Buddha pose. It adds an auditory element to the asanas and I was surprised the first time that I introduced the Lotus and Ohm meditation to the children how firstly interested they were, secondly how they concentrated and thirdly how good they were at Ohming!
• A lot of writings on Yoga talk about the importance of air and breathing as babies and young children breathing still comes from their belly and they can really fill their lungs. Learning the importance of belly breathing for kids is one of the greatest gifts yoga can bring. Learning about this at an early age allows the child‘s understanding to develop and grow as their practice intensifies along the way.
• Think of yourself as a facilitator—the term we use in the YogaKids program—rather than a teacher. Guide your children while simultaneously opening your heart and letting them guide you. They’ll no doubt invite you into a boundless world of wonder and exploration. If you choose to join them, the teaching/learning process will be continually reciprocal and provide an opportunity for everyone to create, express themselves, and grow together.
• The practice can be game like for younger children and more challenging for older children,
• Relaxation can be as simple as watching a clock; looking at a candle in the middle of the room, chanting Ohm in a baby Buddha position. Making noise is very good for young children and they get real enjoyment from hearing their own voice amongst the other kids voices – and the control they have over it by getting louder or softer.
• I have also found with younger kids it helps their concentration if they teach their baby dolls, how to do the yoga positions. It allows them to really concentrate on getting the position correct and then improves their own understanding of the position/ asana and how to move into it.
There are many, many benefits as I have outlined in yoga for children. In summary the reason I feel it has huge significance for a child is that it is an exercise / practice which can transition with the child by developing more challenging asana practices as the child moves through their own developmental stages. Each practice can be made more challenging or adapted to be less challenging for other students. It is a life long gift for the child which allows them to develop abilities of control; relaxation; meditation; concentration; agility and flexibility while having fun.
As a teacher it is wonderful to hear the children‘s parents telling me how much they love yoga in the preschool or the children asking me when will we be doing yoga next.