Why Children’s Yoga
By Christiane Kerr
Last week I was asked whether I would take a children’s yoga party. This presented me with a dilemma. Yoga and party – the words do not sit together comfortably. Do you lessen the integrity of yoga by “performing” it at a party or can you give children a really positive experience of yoga and turn them towards a regular class?
I have worked with children for over five years. I started by running relaxation and meditation classes for children from the ages of 3 to 11. Over the past couple of years I have been concentrating more on the physical aspects of children’s yoga. At times I feel that I am little more than a children’ entertainer as I have had to rely on a reserve of yoga games when the mere possibility of getting the children to be still for even five seconds has seemed impossible. It has been a marvellous way of reducing my ego as sometimes I feel very puffed up after a class where eight 4 year old have been effortlessly still for several breaths in a perfect tree pose. However the next week the same class will be about crowd control rather than teaching yoga. There is a different sort of commitment required for teaching children’s yoga. It can be exhausting as you have to rely much more on demonstrating rather than instructing. Also I often find myself lugging mats in to schools and have a Mary Poppins bag of props which would contribute to any teenager’s scoliosis if slung over their shoulder.
The benefits for children can be profound and it is extremely rewarding when you see a child increase their flexibility or support hyper-mobility by developing strength. As with adults the physical benefits are manifold. I remember a school nurse telling me that she could recognise children who had been taught ballet from a young age because they had such good posture. Learning how to practice yoga from a young age can help children avoid developing bad habits.
By increasing their physical awareness and helping them to be more grounded and stable you can counteract the shortening or one-sidedness that can occur from football, athletics and tennis. You can maintain and improve children’s flexibility and suppleness and work on the areas that need strengthening. Too much sitting in front of TVs or games consuls or being ferried everywhere by cars can have a disastrous effect on children’s physical health.
Dr Stephen Hughes of the Octagon chiropractic clinic in West London believes that yoga and other exercise programmes which help to improve spinal mobility and promote postural awareness should be included as part of every schools curriculum. He says “As a practitioner dealing with various aspect of children’s health I have noticed an alarming increase in the incidence of muscular-skeletal problems in school-age children over the past few years. Physical symptoms of this include such things as back and neck pain and tension headaches, buy may also manifest as poor concentration or generally irritability.
Recent studies into this phenomenon have speculated that the “rise in the number of hours that children spend sitting in front of televisions and computers and crouched over mobiles phones and portable electronic games together with a general reduction in physical exercise are probably major contributory factors.”
By learning from an early age the importance of proper breathing children can help themselves in many ways. They are natural belly breathers but seem to unlearn this as they get older. Coupled with the increasing amount of external pressure they have to deal with, their breathing can become unconsciously faster and shallower. By increasing their breath awareness and showing them the benefits of proper breathing we can teach them how to help themselves be calm and still.
There is more emphasis on academic achievement than in previous generations and children have to undergo tests from as young as four. Their home situation is much more varied and with many cases there is little or no support from extended families. Also parental expectation and soaring divorce rate can be difficult issues for kids to deal with. By giving them ways in which they can rely on their own resources and look inward for solutions we make dealing with these pressure a little bit easier for them.
I set up Calm for Kids in 199 and worked in schools and heath centres giving children ways in which to be calm, still and focused.
At the beginning of this year Calm for Kids started running teacher training course for adult s to teach children’s yoga with Rachel Pineles. Rachel trained and interned in children’s yoga at Next Generation studio in New York. We are both qualified yoga teachers and have been teaching yoga to children for several years . We are very committed to broadening its appeal and are currently trying to get more schools to use yoga as part of the school curriculum and to incorporate it in their daily lives.
The Calm For Kids training course is aimed at yoga teachers, school teachers and health professionals working with children as well as parents who would like to share their yoga practice with their own family.
The emphasis of Calm For Kids training is to provide the tools to make classes fun and playful by teaching you how to present classic yoga poses. We want o help you tap into your creative resources as well as teaching the fundamentals of yoga. The course covers class planning, age grouping and development and incorporates a session from a children’s health care professional We have experts in the field of music therapy for children and children’s chiropract.ic.
For younger children we often use a themed class. This can help keep their attention focused at the same time as stimulating their imaginations. If you are working in a school you can expand on whatever topics are being taught in the classroom that term. Amongst the destinations I have travelled to this term have been Africa, India, the Rainforest, the jungle and outer space.
Putting the postures you want to introduce into context and learning how to adapt them safely for children is also covered by the course. We show you ways to plan a well balanced class using music, storytelling, and props and drawing to help you get the yoga message across. We always try to emphasize the base of the position “being heavy” and remind children to breathe in the postures.
For older children you can introduce the idea of “getting long” in various part of the body. It is important that the children don’t hold the posture for too long and that there is no strain on the body. Safety is very important and children are not always as flexible as you might imagine. It is worth remembering that our skeletal system is still hardening until we are 25, so great care needs to be taken not to cause injury.
On the positive side, any skeletal problems can be worked on with very good results for the same reason. The body proportions are also different to adults and this need to be taken into consideration when asking children to work in certain poses. The neck and upper back are particularly vulnerable, so we wouldn’t recommend positions such as headstands and shoulder stand for young children.
Breathing techniques and simple pranayama are also covered on the course. Below the age of eight the lungs and immune system are not fully developed so it is important to take care when teaching children to breathe. We recommend very simple breath awareness exercises and games for the under 8s. For older children we show you ways to introduce breathing techniques that Can be used to great effect for overcoming exam stress and helping the children become calm and focused.
We place a lot of emphasis on relaxation and it is important to end the class with a period of relaxation where the children can just lie down, let go and be quiet within themselves.
A very successful way to get children to relax is to take them on a guided visualisation. If your class is themed then you can continue with this theme in the relaxation session and let the children’s imagination help them to be calm. It is important that children’s self esteem should be given every opportunity to flourish and that yoga can be useful to help them feel good about themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. We hope that by setting up Calm For Kids Yoga courses we can share our skills with people who feel the same way and pass on our love of yoga to children everywhere.