Children today are highly stressed and aggressive. So, they need to learn and practice yoga to attain calmness of mind and spirit. Even when they are not stressed, yoga holds meaning for kids because of it helps them realise the power of physical suppleness and the value of self-realisation.
Yoga can be taught to kids from a very young age, since their bodies are pliable and their minds inquisitive and compliant. They are willing learners. If we honour their need to understand the reason for yoga, we can not only teach them postures [asanas], breathing techniques and meditation, but also make them aware of how yoga can help their mind and body.
More fun for pre-schoolers
For very young kids, or pre-schoolers, yoga has to be adapted to suit them by incorporating song and play into the movements
Yoga needs to be less structured and more fun; this will enable young kids to learn about correct breathing and develop their concentration power as they do the asanas. Through yoga, they will also learn to co-operate with each other. They learn about nature and animals. For example, when doing the bhujangasana, or cobra pose, they can learn how a snake lies on its stomach to move, and raises its hood to strike. Or, while doing the sinhasana, or lion pose, they can roar like the lion and feel powerful and brave. Children find the suppleness and movement non-restrictive and fun when they're guided in a patient and meaningful manner.
Yoga helps kids enjoy the concept of exercise and movement. It helps them realise the importance of breathing. It gets their imagination working as they learn new poses. It allows them to observe and learn about the environment. Yoga enables children to retain their flexibility of mind, body and spirit as they grow up.
For very young children, 15 minutes of yoga is enough. However, asanas should be simple and easy. This will help them become more capable of staying in a pose for a longer period of time. The emphasis, however, should be on development through enjoyment, not regimental training.
For pre-teens and teens
Pre-teens and teens of today are truly deprived of fresh air and plain physical exercise. Their evenings are spent not playing cricket, or hopscotch on the pavement, but in front of the computer, or TV.
Physical development surely takes the backseat here. Kids are often lethargic, blank-eyed and unresponsive. There is no form of informal physical exercise as an outlet for their energies. They are grappling with the growing pains of adolescence and feelings of inadequacy as they deal with negative body images and peer pressure issues.
Introduction of yoga helps kids give physical expression to their energies. They get to understand body language and the need for fluidity in movement. They can learn the meaning behind the asanas, and the way in which each asana helps them attain balance, control, and centredness.
Yoga also enables high-strung kids to relax, visualise, and increase awareness of their immediate surroundings. They stop walking around in a gizmo-gadget-induced-haze and relate more to their physical environment.
Lie on your stomach. Put your hands slightly in front of your shoulders, palms flat, and elbows close to the side. Stretch your legs straight back with toes facing backwards. Place your forehead on the ground. Inhale as you raise your head slowly. Raise your chest up and away from the floor, and lift your head to look up at the sky. Do not completely straighten your elbows as you raise your chest. Shoulders should be pushed back. You will feel the pressure on your arms. Exhale. Hold this position for a few seconds, breathing normally. Inhale. Exhale as you slowly lower yourself back into the lying down position, with your forehead, nose and chin touching the ground. Repeat three times.
This asana is simple and easy-to-do. Kids like the concept of lying on their stomachs and being "cobra-like." They can extend this experience to find out more about the cobra and also be told by the teacher about snakes and reptiles, after the asana is over. Kids can also tell their teacher how they felt when they became "snake-like." It is also required that at the end of a yoga session, children lie down in the shavasana, or "corpse or complete relaxation" pose, and allow the body to go fully limp. Through this posture, they experience the sensation of being at rest and at peace with themselves.
What children can learn through yoga
Through the incorporation of yoga, children of all ages begin to understand the need for:
- Self-awareness and self-esteem
- A supple, strong, and flexible body
- Correct diet
- Correct breathing
- Disciplined lifestyle
- Focused mind.
Yoga also helps them gain height, keep fit and active, and develop their creative and mental abilities in a holistic manner.
Do Yoga, Have Fun
By SHAKTA Kaur Khalsa
The power of yoga to improve the quality of life for our children is an untapped resource.
It is only recently that we have understood how helpful it can be for children in their formative years. Yoga increases their self-awareness, builds self-esteem, and strengthens their bodies - truly a welcome oasis in a culture that offers little in the way of mindful yet active play. The key word is play - children care mostly about having fun. Yoga enhances mental awareness. It helps both in school, and at play. Parents will appreciate how a regular yoga practice improves self-discipline in their children in much the same way that martial arts do. There's a good chance that adding yoga to your child's life will add relief to yours.
Create a special time and space
Doing yoga together with your kids creates a meaningful ritual. Some families like to do it first thing in the morning for the best possible start of their day. Instead of reaching for that cup of coffee to dispel the mental fog, sit down and reach for your ankles. Loosen your spine by stretching it forward. Do a few neck rolls, and breathe deeply. By focusing on your inhalation and exhalation in rhythm with the movement of each exercise, both adults and children can experience the refreshing awareness of just being plain alive.
Follow a 15-20 minute routine in the morning and you will be surprised at how efficiently yoga grants alertness, gives a sharp, decisive mental attitude, all without the harmful effects of caffeine! Most people who practice yoga daily feel calm, relaxed, and mentally alert.
Some families find that the evening is the best time for yoga together. Both parents and child drop the busy day in remembrance of what is really important in their lives. Good-night hugs and kisses become more special than ever. Many sleep issues such as insomnia and night-time fears can completely disappear after beginning a routine of evening yoga. Exercises such as flexing the spine will loosen the spine and relax it for restful sleep.
When to begin?
At what age can children begin yoga? I started yoga for my son as an infant! His tiny legs were gently bicycled, his arms moved up, down, and crossed over his chest. A cozy time was created each day for his yoga. As a chattering pre-schooler, he closed his mouth [occasionally!] and became aware of his breath coming in and out. With his eyes closed, he felt himself from the inside out. For my son, it's been a way of life, natural as breathing, with the feeling that, "I can handle anything today!" as he runs for his school bus. If you do yoga, begin to teach your child some simple exercises. Keep the duration of each exercise at 20 seconds for very young kids, and up to one minute for elementary age children.
Also, remember the number one requirement: yoga has got to be fun!
- Shakta Kaur Khalsa is a Kundalini yoga teacher, teacher trainer, and Montessori educator. She is the author of Fly Like A Butterfly: Yoga for Children, among other best-selling books.
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