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Young Children and Yoga

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I came across an article recently by Dani Reidy about yoga for children. I have always been fascinated with the idea of bringing more spiritual awareness into our work with young children as they do not have the negative perceptions and self-consciousness of adults. They are open and keen to embrace all forms of learning through a variety of methods.

Yoga is an ancient scientific system of physical and mental practices that originated in India more than five thousand years ago. The word yoga means ’to yoke or unite’ in Sanskirt, that is the union of the mind, body and spirit. The purpose of yoga is to help us achieve our highest potential and to experience long-term good health and happiness all through life, even during the downs. Yoga can improve our health beyond the expected for our years and improve the quality of our lives.

Yoga is a direct experience of the vast inter-relatedness of all life and of all things. You will feel at peace at the end of a yoga class because there is a natural realignment of your body which leads to a natural realignment of your perception of life and of who you are.

Young children are natural yogis. They intuitively stretch their bodies in every direction, run and play for the joy of movement, and rest when their bodies are fatigued.

They normally live truly in the moment, neither with fears about the future  nor regrets about the past.

Children’s  yoga reintroduces youngsters to the fun of movement. It triggers their imaginations and fosters creativity by taking the forms of animals, unusual shapes, and making up their own poses. Through yoga postures, children build strength, gain flexibility, and improve balance. It offers effective tools for stilling the body and introduces them to the concept of self-calming through the breath. In all these ways, yoga helps children feel independent and accomplished. Unlike most activities children undertake these days, yoga is not competitive! Every child is different. Therefore yoga is for everybody!

The secret of a better world lives in the hearts of our children (Teressa Asencia)

Children love to move and find sitting still for long periods of time very challenging. Also their bodies become stiff and tense which makes it hard for them to learn…

A flexible body leads to an open, flexible and receptive mind. (Dani Reidy)

Yoga has been taught in schools around the world for 25 years in counties such as South America, India, France, Italy and several other European countries.

In some parts of America, and more recently Australia, yoga has been integrated into the school day as part of the classroom sport’s programmes and other non-competitive physical activities. Many teachers are trained to include yoga as a regular part of the classroom activity (or experience).

Integrating yoga breaks into the daily schedule of your classroom helps students release tension, stay focused, heighten innate wisdom, creativity and potential.

Taking a few minutes to breathe and stretch between activities will allow students to better assimilate knowledge learned, create a more harmonious classroom and inspire a more joyful, effective learning process.

Specific yoga postures can be used at various times of the day to restore energy levels, reduce stress levels, increase focus, create calmness, and improve balance and retention of information.

There are many ways to teach yoga to children that encourages enthusiasm, joy and love for yoga. It is important not to get too serious about yoga when teaching it to children. The teaching requires a balance of focus and playfulness. Yoga games are a creative and fun way to practice postures, learn simple yoga philosophies, improve listening, focus and encourage respect and acceptance.

Children are blessed with wonderful imaginations but are often held back by fears of criticism. One of the most important things you can instill in a child is a positive self-image. Another way to teach this through yoga is expression and goal setting through creative drawing and Mandala creations. Drawing and mandala making can be a very empowering experience for a child. Circular forms or ‘mandalas’ abound in the natural world. This is a great opportunity to talk to the children about respect for our planet.

Meditation for children can be the most rewarding aspect of teaching yoga to children. When their little bodies finally settle into a still state they quietly float off into calm and peace.

It will help give children focus, connection between their minds and bodies and tools to explore their inner world and will be carried into adulthood.

Breathing exercises in yoga are known as pranayama and are not recommended for early childhood years. However, creating awareness of the breath in young children can teach them to manage their emotions and anxiety levels from a young age. Simple breathing exercise, in through the nose and out through the mouth, are used in forms of acting out an animal posture or in a short guided relaxation.

Yoga stories are a great way to have fun, allowing the children to display their yoga knowledge and an opportunity to introduce simple yoga philosophies, morals and virtues. Children love to contribute to this part of the class and participate in creating stories.

Over many years yoga has been scientifically trialed to measure its benefits and now, more than ever, professionals working with children are endorsing yoga as an important part of a child’s education; it has been said over the next five years yoga will be taught in most schools and child care centres.

My ten years  experience of teaching yoga to children has given me some beautiful memories and restored my faith in our youth. I have been privileged to witness amazing progress, through yoga, for children (and adults) suffering illness, pain, disabilities, social disorders and body weakness. I look forward to passing my experience on to those committed to bringing yoga into children’s lives.

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