Children are said to be born yogis. Observing a 2 year old girl as she played in the sand, I watched as she moved effortlessly in and out of cat/cow pose, downward facing dog and dolphin pose. I work with a beautiful 21 month old girl with Down Syndrome who frequently sits in butterfly pose. Yesterday, she found downward facing dog and later, with her right leg stretched out in front of her, bent her left leg, grabbed her foot and extended it up towards the sky into a beautiful Heron Pose. I have to admit to being a little envious with that one! Many yoga poses are mirrored in the positions children naturally assume as they develop and learn how their bodies move. If you have any familiarity with yoga poses, just watch a young child play and notice how many “yoga poses” you see them do. So if children do yoga naturally, why introduce them to yoga as a specific practice? There is so much more to yoga than just assuming a pose although that is the place where most of us start. Then we notice that our balance is better; that we seem to be able to concentrate and focus for longer periods of time; that we are stronger in our legs, arms, back and core. We might notice that we are sleeping better; our awareness of our body has improved so our posture has improved and in general, we are calmer and better able to deal with the challenges and stumbling blocks that life throws our way. We might feel an overall sense of connection with others, fostering a sense of community and compassion. By introducing yoga to children early in life, you give them the gift of a practice that they can grow with, a practice that can help them blossom.
Yoga with children takes different forms according to the age of the child. Betsy Boyd-Strong teaches a Mommy and Me class with infants as young as 6 weeks. The class address the needs of the moms and the needs of the babies equally. The moms get strengthening, rediscovery of a body that has been shaped and changed by pregnancy, bonding with their baby and interaction with other moms. The babies receive loving and nurturing touch, eye contact, new ways of playing with mom, bonding, communication and sensory, visual and motor stimulation. Betsy creates a safe, nurturing space that welcomes pacifiers, rattles, baby bottles. A space where everyone understands that babies cry and may need to be nursed and that is okay. Once a child begins to crawl, they graduate and move up to the Mommy and Me Crawlers class. The babies become even more interactive and may start to imitate some of the poses they see their moms doing.
As babies grow into toddlers and preschoolers, they continue to benefit from watching an adult practice and being encouraged to participate as they are able. They may come and go from the yoga mat, but it is surprising how much they are really taking in they will spontaneously appear hours, days or weeks later! Toddlers and preschoolers learn best by imitation, repetition and clear, simple directions. As they grow into kindergarteners, they may enjoy a group class with other kids their age with or without a parent.
No matter the age, when teaching yoga to kids, it should be presented in a way that is fun and engaging. Most classes for kids include songs, games, rhymes and poses may be given kid-friendly names such as “waterfall” (forward fold), “rock” (child’s pose) or “river” (seated forward bend). Little “dogs” and “cats” may be encouraged to bark, meow or wag their tails. Yoga related activities can be used to learn about the body, sharing, community, emotions and more.
There are a vast array of resources for parents interested in doing yoga with their babies/young children. Locally, there are Mommy and Me classes and Kid’s Yoga classes on Hilton Head (Jiva Yoga Center: http://www.jivayogacenter.com), in Savannah (Betsy Boyd-Strong teaches at Savannah Yoga Center: http://www.savannahyoga.com) and in Beaufort (Dancing Dogs Yoga). A google search will turn up pages of books, DVD’s, and CD’s. One of my favorites is a small book of black and white photographs of babies and kids doing yoga called Born Yogis by Susie Arnett and Doug Kim. It is not a how-to book but will provide much inspiration. It is from this book that I leave you with the following words…
“The ancient scriptures say that babies perform the 108 postures of yoga while in the womb. One of our jobs as teachers and parents is to remind our young ones of what they already know and help them develop this inner wisdom.” Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa
“Yoga is an innate exercise on a child’s journey to becoming vertical, as it is our conscious practice along a journey to self-realization. Whether it’s flexibility we strive for or deep, deep focus (there’s no one more present than an infant gazing into her mother’s eyes), yoga helps us regain what we were born with and what we gradually lose as we age.” Susie Arnett and Doug Kim
In Love & Light