The first (and only) time I took my son to a children’s yoga class, he was 4 years old. He happened to be the lone child in the class that day and the teacher said to him, “Let’s begin sitting down.” To which he looked at her incredulously and promptly said, “Nope,” and he started running around the beautiful, empty studio, which must have seemed just right for a very active 4-year-old boy.
Yoga with children may, at first, seem like a bit of an oxymoron. And yet, they are natural yogis with a lot to teach us about yoga, and, perhaps, a lot to teach us about life. After working with children for many years and incorporating yoga into the classroom, here is the biggest lesson I have learned:
Allow room for laughter and silliness. It may take a little while to achieve a quiet Savasana (Corpse Pose), and there may still be giggles. And wiggles. Or attempts at a joke. Maybe even some crude body noises. But eventually, (It may take nine months!) they settle in.
Children love to “imitate” animals and nature. They know how to BE a Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). They also make really good Cats and Cows (Marjaryasana Bitilasana), “meows” and “moos” included. They make beautiful Trees (Vrksasana) and growing flowers and bamboo blowing in the wind. Let your yoga space be a barnyard. Let it be a story. Let it be fun.
Honor the Doshas
When introducing yoga to children, it can be helpful to incorporate some Ayurvedic wisdom, especially taking into consideration a child’s dosha. If you are not sure what your child’s dosha is, our Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz is a wonderful resource. Not only will this help tailor a child’s yoga practice, this also helps us better understand our children’s personalities, what makes them tick, and what may help to bring them back into balance.
Yoga for Pitta Children
While my pitta-boy definitely could have used some cooling down, it absolutely was not going to happen without a little gentle coercion, like a soft wind. With our pitta children, a great place to start is Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar). My son happens to be named after the sun and certainly embodies all that fiery and passionate energy. While it may seem counterintuitive to create heat for our already hot little people, Sun Salutation is inherently about surrender and expressing gratitude. (Shhh, we do not have to tell them this.)
(This works for grown-ups, too!) For a more cooling option, you could incorporate Moon Salutation (Chandra Namaskar) instead. “Thank you, Moon, for shining on us in the dark!”
Yoga for Vata Children
Our vata children, like vata grown-ups, can benefit from calm, grounding poses, but also the freedom to express their creativity. Warrior (Virabhadrasana), both I and II, are wonderful postures for imposing strength, but also calm. We can teach them that a true warrior does not use his or her hands to harm, but rather to protect. We practice calling on our inner warriors, steadying our minds and our hearts. For the especially brave of heart, we can move into Warrior III and Half-Moon (Ardha Chandrasana). You will want to have enough space between bodies because it has been my experience that falling down is part of the fun.
Yoga for Kapha Children
And, for our kapha kiddos, this sense of playfulness is at the core. In my classroom, we would do a kind of “call and response,” where one child would choose his “movement” and the class would follow. For example, “I can move like the wind.” Or, “I can move like a snake.” And the rest of us would follow. There is great joy in watching them draw on their imaginations, going beyond Cat and Cow, and creating their own postures. And as a teacher or parent, this is an opportunity to get down to their level, which is also part of the fun.
Quality Time Together
Yoga with children ought not be reserved for the classroom or yoga studios alone. Yoga as a family, or one-on-one, is valuable quality time. In this age of very busy lives, taking time to practice yoga with our children not only shows them that taking care of ourselves can be fun, it also shows them that it is important—that they are important and that spending time together is a priority too.
When my daughter was young, we used to play a very simple game called “The Yoga Garden.” Some symbols on the board meant draw a yoga card, the other symbols meant add a piece of the starry night. You are trying to plant a garden before night falls. This game is perfect for younger children and it acted as an easy, genuine way to spend time with my then 5-year-old daughter doing something we both enjoyed. And now, at twenty-one, she still recalls spending that time together. Another quality-time suggestion is to make an evening massage part of this routine. Including our Brahmi Oil or Sleep Easy Oil would make an appealing and relaxing introduction to this self-care custom.
For those of you who may not have a regular yoga practice, the idea of incorporating yet another thing into your life may seem daunting, especially with children. It may seem way too esoteric or irrelevant, but trust me—as the children teach us, it really is meant to be fun. When being a human feels overwhelming, try being a Crow (Bakasana) or a Dolphin (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana). With your favorite little person or people, try digging your toes deep into the earth like roots, imagine that you are the growing, living, stretching being that you are. Then bow down to the sun.