“Look, mama! I’m doing yoga!” This is a phrase my 4-year-old regularly exclaims, and it encompasses any move that involves balance or contortion—even if the move only slightly resembles a yoga pose. My favorite is when my son sits cross-legged and rests his hands, palms up in a Gyan Mudra hand position, on his knees while closing his eyes, and then promptly bursts into a proud grin. Surprisingly, my son has never taken a kids yoga class; these are poses he learned from watching me practice yoga. I have been practicing yoga for nearly two decades and teaching, both children and adults, for the last 5 years. Young children, even the ones you least expect, seem to be inexplicably drawn to yoga. They watch and absorb even when you think they aren’t paying attention.
Benefits of Yoga for Development
The benefits of yoga for adults – lowered cholesterol, decreased blood pressure, reduced stress levels, and overall improved health – are also advantages for children. Many preschools incorporate breathing techniques into their daily routines as a healthy coping mechanism for young children. When kids are upset, they may lash out or withdraw because they don’t know how else to respond. Having children learn mindfulness and focus on breathing can provide them with a healthy defense mechanism for stressful situations.
Encouraging Mindfulness in Young Kids
Using mindfulness to control extreme emotions is important—especially for young children. The current practice in most schools is to send a troublesome student to the principal’s office, but recently some schools have transformed detention halls into meditation rooms where students can sit, breathe, and even practice yoga. This provides students with healthy coping mechanisms and a chance to repeatedly practice those wholesome choices.
How to Incorporate Yoga
Teaching yoga to a young child is easy—whether the child will listen is the question. If you want to tackle yoga at home, investing in kids yoga cards is essential. Kids yoga cards are flash cards with illustrations of yoga poses on one side and brief descriptions on how to enter the pose on the opposite side. Several good sets are available online.
For younger kids, try 1–2 cards/poses a day, incorporating correct breathing each time. Older kids may be able to pick 5–7 cards/poses a day and even make up their own yoga routines. Just before you finish a yoga session for the day, try ending with 1–5 minutes of guided relaxation.
Many yoga books are also available. While you may not want your child to practice yoga right before bed, it can be helpful for you to read a fun yoga book together merely for exposure and reiteration. The more your child knows about yoga poses, the more comfortable he will feel trying the moves.
If attempting yoga at home proves unsuccessful or just too stressful, then perhaps try a kids yoga class. Many studios offer weekly toddler or kids yoga classes—maybe even a kids yoga camp during the summer.
Whether trying to incorporate mindfulness, physical exercise, or just a few minutes of relaxation into the day, the experience of yoga could truly be an enlightening addition to your child’s daily routine.