I have been practicing yoga for nearly 30 years and currently teach adults. Most recently however, I participated in a kid’s yoga camp as a teacher for ages 6-8. What the heck, I thought. Yoga has proven useful in many aspects of my life, a valuable tool, let’s see what it does for children. First of all, it was a joyful, playful experience, creatively energizing and exhausting as well. Children tend to move quicker than adults; most children will move into a yoga posture faster than you can say the name, especially if they have practiced yoga before. Getting them to slow down and methodically move into a posture requires a little finesse. One tool I found useful is Tara Guber’s and Leah Kalish’s “Yoga Pretzels,” a deck of cards that includes 50 activities for kids and grownups. The cards are laminated examples of many of the basic yoga postures; anything from Vrikasana, The Tree Pose, to Savasana, The Corpse Pose. Yoga with the children was challenging and required concentration. Each posture was an accomplishment, accompanied by a great sense of satisfaction and the competition for the children was only with themselves for their own self development. They took to it much more than I ever would have thought. To my surprise, yoga proved to be a great way of focusing the random energy that they possess.
Many of the poses from the deck have animal identifications like dolphin, snake, and elephant. Some of the cards even use examples of animal sounds that we incorporated into our routine. For instance, to begin our yoga routine I had them think of something that made them happy and then shower themselves with joy, as an elephant showers himself with water. I even had them shower the child next to them, and make the sound that an elephant makes. With cobra pose, we added the hissing sound of a snake that required a lengthy slow exhale, causing the children to have breath awareness, helping to calm and focus the mind. It was great fun. The adults in the room enjoyed it as well. It’s easy and fun to incorporate your own creativity with the card suggestions.
Included in the cards are challenging and fun partner games and poses. It’s always wise to try them out beforehand. However, I made the mistake of trying something during the class which absolutely did not work. I actually have no idea how it could, it seemed like your arms had to be 6’ long. Obviously I was doing something wrong, and as one child so sensitively commented, “Well that was an experiment that failed.” In any case, I survived and should have tested the posture before hand. I’m throwing that one out of my repertoire, even after trying it at home it was pretty difficult.
When I had finished demonstrating and practicing with the students what I had prepared for the different poses, we wound down with a game of Yogi Says (also from the cards and an obvious take off on Simon Says) where a child demonstrates a posture and when “Yogi says,” the others can imitate it; I’m sure you get the gist. This gives the children an opportunity to lead and show what they know. Always a favorite!
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of children developing these skills at such an early age. Body awareness, mental focus and concentration are life skills that most adults are struggling to grasp much later in life. Can you imagine getting a jump start at the age of 6 that enables you to walk with grace into maturity, focused and centered? This is what the great yogis from the east have come to show us. Through concentration, focus and will aside from the physical benefits yoga can connect you with spirit, your higher self, the superconscious or whatever your preferred term for God might be. No matter the term, practiced at any age, yoga can and should bring you closer to who you are in truth. A one with its origins. Peace, calmness, joy, love these are only a few qualities of spirit brought out through the practice of yoga.
How heartwarming it was to watch this very tangible and quick development with each child and to feel a deep vibration of peace from many of them. It was extraordinary and encouraging to listen to them as they lay quietly at the end of practice repeating to themselves, “I am safe, I am sound, all good things come to me, they bring me peace”.
Namaste (I bow to the spirit within you),
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