Yoga for Everyone: Never too young
What allows kids to use a lot of energy, make funny noises, relax and learn all at the same time? Yoga. Kids derive the same benefits from yoga as adults do—yoga heals and strengthens in many ways. But yoga offers more than just physical exercise. Yoga also fosters creativity and self-expression as children explore and develop their own variations on poses.
by Yael Calhoun
What allows kids to use a lot of energy, make funny noises, relax and learn all at the same time? Yoga. Kids derive the same benefits from yoga as adults do—yoga heals and strengthens in many ways. Yoga helps build muscles, coordination, flexibility and stamina. Like other exercise, yoga provides a physical release for stress. But yoga offers more than just physical exercise. As young people practice yoga, they can increase their self-confidence and their ability to concentrate and to focus. Yoga also fosters creativity and self-expression as children explore and develop their own variations on poses.
My yoga with kids began when my three sons were young. They would tumble around me as I practiced. I am continually amazed at how intuitive yoga is. My guys would create their own wonderful poses or move into actual yoga poses they had never seen, just because it felt good or was fun. Three years ago, we started teaching yoga at my kids’ elementary school and then during the summers at various kids’ camps and at the YWCA shelter. It is from these wonderful experiences that our book— “Create a Yoga Practice for Kids” (Sunstone Press, 2006) was born.
Before a yoga class, my kids and I would think of fun themes to keep the class interactive and flowing. Poses that Kick, Geometric Yoga, Poses that Melt, Poses You Can Do in Line and Those You Cannot were among the themes we developed.
Responses from kids continue to show me that they love many aspects of yoga—not just the poses. I’ve heard comments like these:
“I really needed this.”
“Oh, I love this part.”
“Promise you won’t start until I get back from the bathroom.”
“I feel so relaxed now.”
They have reinforced my feeling that kids appreciate an integrated sequencing of poses that celebrates yoga’s benefits and beauty. They love the visualization, the relaxation, the fun and the permission to just “be.”
One little boy from the Sudan was looking up as I explained a cloud visualization. “But there are no clouds,” he said. I said I knew that, but we would just pretend. So I watched as he closed his eyes, stretched toward the sky and a huge grin formed on his face. He saw the clouds, apparently. A little girl did not smile for weeks. Finally, when she felt trusting enough to do “waterfall pose” with a partner, a huge smile covered her face (and I even was able to give her a photo of it!).
I hope you find some children to enjoy yoga with—it’s a great way to find your way into yoga or to deepen your already existing practice. Yoga is a gift to give someone you care about —both yourself and others.
Yael Calhoun is the executive director of the nonprofit GreenTREE Yoga of Utah (www.greentreeyoga.org). She is also the co-author of “Create a Yoga Practice for Kids” (Sunstone Press, 2006),“Yoga for Kids to Teens” (Sunstone Press, 2008) and the CD “Yoga for Kids and Classroom” (2008). firstname.lastname@example.org
Chair Pose to Hanging Bridge
a. Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
“We may not have a chair, but let’s take a seat anyway.”
“Let’s stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) with our feet about a foot apart. Roll your shoulders back and take a deep breath in through your nose. Stretch your arms out in front of you and pretend you are holding on to a bar. Now as you breathe out, begin to sit down. Do you feel how your weight shifts to your heels? See if you can sit a little bit more. Stay here for two breaths and then breathe yourself back up to Mountain Pose. Let’s do that again. If you would like the challenge of a balance, try to lift your heels off the floor as you sit in your chair.”
Benefits: Chair Pose builds strength in the legs, arms, and the abdominal area (core).
b. Hanging Bridge
“Picture in your mind how it would look if we doubled that pose.”
“Let’s practice all breathing in and out together. Find someone who is about your height. Reach toward each other and wrap your hands around the other person’s wrists. At the same time, both take a deep breath in and then let the breath out. Let’s do this again.”
“Now, slowly bend toward each other as you each lean back, keeping your legs straight. Remember to breathe as you stretch your shoulders. After two breaths here, bend your knees at the same time and sit back. After two more breaths, each come down to a squat. Now slowly rise back up to the starting position. Let’s try this again, remembering to breathe in and out together.”
Benefits: In addition to the benefits of Chair Pose, Hanging Bridge teaches awareness of breathing and cooperation.
Boat Pose to Double Boat Pose
a. Boat Pose (Navasana)
“We are going to be a boat with a deep “V” shaped bottom. Imagine you are on a calm, peaceful lake. What do you see around you?”
“Sit with your legs out in front of you. Slowly bend your knees and lift your feet off the mat. You can wrap your arms around the backs of your legs so you can balance on your seat! When you extend your arms out does the boat start to rock? If it feels good, you can straighten your legs so your body is in a “V” shape, like the hull of a boat. How can you make your body calm and peaceful, just like the lake you imagine you are in? Maybe you want to bend your knees and hold your legs to calm the boat. You practice yoga by listening to your body.”
Benefits: Boat Pose builds strength in the abdominal muscles. It is also a great pose for practicing balance, which means it also builds concentration!
Double Boat Pose
“Picture in your mind how this pose would look if you doubled it. Let’s see if we can do it.”
“Find someone who has legs about the same length as yours. Sit facing each other, with your knees bent and feet flat on the mat. With your arms on the outside of your legs, grab hands so that your fingers are wrapped around each other’s wrists. Now slowly raise one leg so that the soles of your feet touch. Straighten the legs up, just like in boat pose. Now do the same thing with the other legs, so that both of your legs are raised. Breathe together for three breaths. Come down, shake out your legs, and double your boat again.”
Benefits: Adding to the benefits of Boat Pose, Double Boat Pose builds confidence in others, while it provides a superb shoulder stretch. It also shows kids how fun yoga can be.
Butterfly Pose to Kaleidoscope of Butterflies
a. Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana)
“Picture a special place you would like to be a butterfly. Imagine how it smells and sounds.”
“Let’s be butterflies by sitting with straight spines and pulling our legs in so that the soles of our own feet touch. Our legs become flapping butterfly wings as we gently raise and lower our knees. I am flying to a rainforest—where would you like to fly?”
b. Kaleidoscope of Butterflies Pose
“Have you ever seen a group of butterflies on some flowers or resting in a tree? Let’s see if our group can make a group of colorful butterflies. Do you know what a group of butterflies is called? A kaleidoscope.”
“Let’s sit in a big circle with our knees almost touching. As we gently flap our butterfly wings, let’s go around the circle and tell where we would like to fly. Now close your eyes and visualize a new place to fly!”
Note: You can reach your arms under your “folded wings” to grasp the hands of the person on either side. Then all together, have everyone try to balance on their seats! This quickly becomes a group favorite.
Benefits: This pose adds the benefits of working as a group and developing the ability to visualize desirable destinations.
Some of this material comes from Yael Calhoun’s book,
“Create A Yoga Practice for Kids” (Sunstone Press, 2006).”