Yoga for Children

Written by Sarah English.

In the previous article, Back to School Yoga, we discussed diaphragmatic breathing for young children. We'll build upon this foundation by discussing ways to help children transition from one part of the day to another. Transition periods are those times that involve moving from one activity to another. This sounds simple enough, but consider that many activities are time-bound.

yoga for kids

For children, limits are set by an external authority; thus, movement requires the behavioural and cognitive abilities necessary to conform to outside demands. At five years of age, for example, when everything holds so much fascination and potential for enjoyment, limitations seem arbitrary at best. For related reasons, transitions are difficult for children, and yoga can help. Relinquishing one activity for another can be facilitated by outlining the steps involved. As adults, we often benefit from having memorized the first step or two of a process - so too can children.

One of the first transitions that we make during the day is from sleep to wakefulness. Many children have difficulty getting out of bed, and when we consider that, very often, rushed breakfasts, quick showers, parental exhortations, and shuffling into the car or bus are the alternatives to a peaceful rolling over back into sleep, it's little wonder at all that this period of change is potentially upsetting. The trick is to add a gentle intermediate process - a 'stepping stone' - that prevents an unconscious 'this or that' comparison.

Take, for example, a heavily modified Sun Salutation, including Mountain Pose (Tadasana), Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), and a gentle Back Bend. Given a very basic four-second count into each pose and the same count out, this vinyasa would take less than a minute to complete, yet the benefits have the potential to influence an entire day.

The immediate sense of urgency and bustle that the calmest of us feel when rushed from bed by an alarm can be stopped in its tracks by the very practical, very logical realization that there does, indeed, exist a sixty-second slot every morning that can be dedicated to nothing more than breathing! The skill involved in mindfulness, that necessary perspective, is an important aspect of healthy living, and should be taught directly to children.

So, how does all of this come together? Institute a balanced mini-vinyasa, such as the one mentioned above, as a 'just-out-of-bed' ritual. Have your child stand beside you to stretch. Try not to present this as another morning task, but as a fun activity. 'Let's stretch!' is an enthusiastic invitation, and one that most children will be willing to accept. Keeping the series very short and the breathing simple (see below) will ensure that children remain focused.

As an example, when your child wakes up, have him/her stand beside you. Instruct him/her in the following series, demonstrating and encouraging participation.

  1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana): Imagine that your feet are the roots of a tree; wiggle your toes into the earth and feel very firm. Now, imagine that you're growing taller and taller! Reach your hands up like branches. Breathe in all the way to the bottom of your tummy; breathe out slowly and lower your hands to your sides.
  2. Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana): bend your knees just a little and bend your torso forward toward the floor. Make sure that your lower back is straight (no curvature in the lumbar spine). Bend forward as far as you can, keeping your lower back straight. Breathe in slowly and then let it out slowly. Place your hands on your hips. Inhale, keeping your lower back straight, and gently raise your torso away from the floor until you are standing straight up again. Lower your hands to your sides.
  3. Gentle Back Bend: Raise your hands, palms facing up, toward the ceiling. Relax your shoulders. Clench your buttocks and imagine that you are arching back over a very large barrel. Do not worry about stretching far back - your focus should be on even rounding through the vertebrae. What this means is that there are no sharp bends - your spine should bend evenly and gently in an even curve. A good cue is that your eyes and face should be pointing in the same direction as your sternum. Take a good, deep breathe, and as you exhale, clench your buttocks and slowly roll back to a standing position. Lower your arms gently.

Try this yourself a couple of times, paying close attention to your breathing and your count. You will notice a definite difference in your mood shortly thereafter, an improvement in outlook that will increase in time as you continue. Introduce this routine slowly, asana-by-asana if necessary, to your children; it should be a gradual and enjoyable addition to their daily routine.

Best of luck in this and all transitions to healthy living!

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