Christiane Kerr● Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher for children and adults
Mindfulness for Children Through Movement
“Movement is the song of the body.” Vanda Scaravelli”
All movement can be done mindfully but there are certain types of movement that can enhance a mindfulness practice. Because many children access mindfulness through their body and moving, we will look at the different ways to introduce mindfulness for children through movement.
- Moving with Awareness of how we are moving.
- Combining movement and breath.
- Connecting the mind and the body.
- Noticing your mental responses to physical movement.
- Understanding our bodies limits and working within them.
- Using the breath to anchor us in the body.
- Working with gravity and yielding to the ground.
When we practice yoga in the context of mindfulness there is less focus on the posture achieved and more focus on the body/mind connection. Yoga is a Sanskrit word and it’s direct translation means yoke and it refers to the unifying of body and mind. Most yoga postures have animal names and this can help children relate to the poses.
When introducing the animal poses focus on both the physical and mental characteristics of the animal. The strength and grounded nature of an elephant and a bear. The fleet footedness of a cheetah or gazelle and the the flexibility and ease of a cat. Use the nature based postures to introduce affirmations to children when they are in poses such as “ I am strong and steady like a mountain.” Use the breath to keep the attention focused in the body.
In mindfulness and most contemplative practices there is a focus on grounding, being stable or firmly established in a pose, for instance through our feet. Our connection to the earth is via our feet and many of us walk several thousand steps a day.
For children who find it difficult to be still, mindful walking can help them access the benefits of mindfulness through movement and their bodies.
You can introduce mindful walking by simply taking three steps forward and then three steps back and paying attention to each step. On the third step you can lift the second foot off the ground and balance for a count of three. Bring attention to the feet and their contact to the ground as well as to the mechanics of walking.
For example, what happens in your leg when you lift one foot up, then place it back down? What does it feel like to walk three steps on your tiptoes or three steps on your heels? Does this feel grounded? Another way to introduce mindful walking is by changing the pace of your walking. After that take a pause between each speed and notice how each pace impacts on your body. When you are used to the principles of mindful walking, it is something that can easily be transferred into daily life. You can practice with your breath, with affirmations or with self compassion phrases.
The literal translation of Qi Gong is “energy work”. It is mainly performed standing but there are some seated postures too. There are many systems of Qi Gong that have come through various lineages. Some are focused on health and others as a basis for martial arts. As with many of the yoga postures, movements are called after animals or the natural world therefore helping to engage children. The movements are simple and flow with the breath and include an emphasis on grounding. They are a great way to teach mindfulness to children through movement.
There are many forms and styles of Tai Chi but the essential principles include mind/body integration, moving with control and awareness of the breath. The purpose is to generate inner energy, ease and calm. As with Qi Gong, there is great depth to this practice but it is easy to pick up some of the basic moves which can be adapted for children.
Teaching Mindful Movement to Kids
If you have no experience of teaching movement practices to children it can be daunting. Start by finding a movement practice that resonates with you and integrate this into your own practice. There are plenty of free resources online on all of the above but it is also good to include a more mindful approach to how you move as you travel through your day.
Pay a bit more attention when you transition from standing to sitting and sitting to standing. Paying attention to the movement involved in simple activities like eating, lifting the fork to your mouth and drinking a cup of tea.
Explore more deeply the small, and large, movements involved in everyday activities. Ask children to pick one activity each day and after that you can then discuss what they noticed. For many children who find it difficult to be still, simple walking meditation can be a good way to bring them into the present and something they can include in their everyday lives. You can give a particular focus to a walking meditation such as moving like a particular animal or a characteristic of nature. You can change the speed of your walking and notice how that affects your body.
If a child struggles with sitting still you can introduce hand movements (mudras) for them to focus on. So rather than being totally still they are focusing on very small and specific movements.
We explore many ways that you can introduce mindfulness for children through movement in our training courses. Our bodies are always in the present moment and focusing on them can make mindfulness accessible to many children who may struggle with other mindfulness practices.
Links to Resources and Information Below.
Yoga Animals in the Forest – Includes mindful Movement and Affirmations for ages 3 – 7.
Yoga Animals at the Seashore – More mindful movement for ages 3 -7
Free Mindful Movement Exercises on our Website.