How the power of Yoga and Mindfulness can cultivate kindness in the young

children yoga

“To the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world”   Dr Seuss

A child’s first teaching on empathy and kindness comes from their primary carers and how those around an infant interact and soothe their distress, helps define the child’s own self soothing mechanism and has a significant impact on how they learn to respond to the distress of others. It’s important for those raising and teaching children to model the behaviour they want to instil in them. Whilst immensely rewarding, looking after children is tough too. We are often triggered by unresolved issues from our own childhood so it’s important to look after ourselves with kindness as we do our best for our young. A good mantra to use in the thick of teaching or parenting is “every in breath a new beginning.”

As well as learning through imitation, infants and very young children also adapt to the nervous system of their carers so by working on your own stress levels and self-soothing strategies, you are ultimately supporting your families’ needs. By consistently showing care and love to yourself as well as those around you, the neural connections of love and connection will strengthen. This is particularly true in children under two who have a high level of neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to change and adapt according to environment, stimulus and care.

Throughout middle childhood and into adolescence, young people’s sense of self becomes more developed and they begin to understand more about ethics and behaviour. If you’re teaching yoga and mindfulness classes to this age group, you can gently introduce Patanjali’s first two practices of yoga, the Yamas and Niyamas, into your classes. In Desikachar’s book, The Heart of Yoga, he describes the first Yama, ahimsa as being more than the literal translation of non-violence and says it’s meaning includes to “always behave with consideration and attention to others” as well as “acting in kindness toward ourselves.”  Basing class themes around kindness and gratitude through teaching asanas and breath awareness that nurture and strengthen us, can help develop an understanding of these qualities and an awareness of their benefits.

There is a raft of books teaching the value of kindness to young people and there is much evidence-based research emerging in the area of mindful self-compassion, which is a secular version of Metta or loving kindness meditation. Kristen Neff, a leading researcher in the field of self-compassion, refers to it being made up of three components. First mindfulness so we can be aware of what is happening. Secondly common humanity that allows us perspective on suffering, recognising it as part of human life that we all share. Thirdly kindness, the desire to support ourselves in the face of challenge. Introducing these three components to our young can not only help them develop an attitude of kindness and care for themselves and others but also build resilience, giving them tools to navigate a world full of uncertainty with more confidence and ease.