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.

Teacher Feature – Sarah Salmon

sarah salmon yoga, mindfulness & wellbeing teacher teacher

Q. What’s your favourite quote?

‘We’re on the brink of adventure children. Don’t spoil it with questions.’ – Mary Poppins 😊

Q. Why did you want to teach yoga to children?

With many years of personal experience of the grounding, centring, calming and healing benefits of yoga, it was natural for me to want to share these practices with my own children and answer the call of their school teachers and friend’s parents seeking gentle and holistic methods of helping their children cope with life.

Q; How did your Calm For Kids Training prepare you to teach yoga to children?

The training gave me an easily accessible and comprehensive foundation for getting my children’s sessions off the ground. The amount of practical information gave me confidence and clarity around starting up with plenty of class material to start off with. I also found a lovely sense of community with other trainees some of whom I’m still in touch with and share ideas and experiences with which I find very supportive.

Q. How are you using your training now?

I am now offering yoga and mindfulness in all sorts of settings including with charities, schools and pre-schools, in private one-to-one sessions and running workshops and clubs. As I’ve become more confident and familiar with the material over the years and expanded and developed my own personal practice I am enjoying using the Calm for Kids material in a less structured, unplanned way which allows me to respond to what the children have going on for them in the moment which I really enjoy. I also integrate the material with other wellbeing tools and practices that I’ve learnt along the way.

Q. Do you have any tips for keeping your practice going in uncertain times?

Practice outside of uncertain times helps us build our reserves for uncertain times and practice during uncertain times helps us keep afloat! What our practice looks like might need to change depending on what is going on and that is ok and absolutely possible; there is always a way if we can remain positive and open hearted and practice helps us keep that door open 😊

Q. What’s one piece of advice you would give to kids yoga teachers starting out?

I vividly remember the perfect words of advice offered to me by a wise, old friend on the morning of my first session with a group of primary school children shortly after my training; I had made a very detailed class plan to allay my nerves and in an attempt to feel prepared and her words ‘Keep it simple’ shortly before I left home were just what I needed because it became evident to me as I started the session that my plan was not what the children needed! I was able to strip it back to basics with those words prominent in my mind and the session was beautiful, I will never forget it! So, keep it simple… and have fun!

Teacher Feature – Sarah Mills

Q. What’s your favourite quote?

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”- Dr Seuss

Q. Why did you want to teach yoga to children?

I wanted to teach yoga to kids because I enjoyed yoga so much myself. As a primary school teacher, I was curious to know how I could pass on the benefits I’d felt to children. I had become more aware of issues around children’s mental health and wanted to see first hand if yoga would give kids tools to help. I was also keen to introduce an activity that didn’t involve screens and which fostered connection and interaction on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level.

Q; How did your training prepare you to teach yoga to children?

I found teaching yoga to children requires a more creative approach than teaching to adults. To make it accessible, it is important to engage children’s imagination by using stories game, play and music. On the Calm For Kids course, there were many opportunities to develop this creative approach whilst still retaining the integrity and power of yoga. I was also able to link what I learned to topics on the school curriculum and create lessons around those themes.

Q. How are you using your training now?

I’ve run yoga classes and after-school clubs and I’ve just returned from 3 months in Peru where I taught yoga classes in Spanish to children aged from 4 – 12. They responded well and engaged with the classes and I had great feedback from the other teachers and volunteers in the school. They found my approach to teaching yoga really useful and have since integrated it into their classrooms. I’m also loving being on the training team of Calm For Kids and sharing my experience as a school teacher and children’s yoga teacher with others.

Q. Do you have any class management tips for gathering attention?

● Clapping a rhythm and kids have to copy

● Raise your hand and let children copy

● Have a call and response rhyme ie – “When I say Hocus Pocus, you say Let’s Focus.”

Q. What’s one piece of advice you would give to kids yoga teachers starting out?

From the beginning make your expectations of how you expect children and young people to behave in your class. Draw up a yoga class agreement together and then you can refer back to it when needed.