Teach your children about movement and mindfulness by practicing yoga with them
Yoga has a positive impact on people of all ages, but it’s particularly valuable to children. In a world that’s both sedentary and in a hurry — all at the same time — a physical activity that encourages flexibility, resilience, patience, movement, and mindfulness is an ideal pursuit.
Encouraging a mode of exercise that’s healthy and yet non-competitive from an early age fosters body awareness and positive self-esteem. From a physical perspective, yoga helps improve physical strength, balance, coordination, motor skills, and flexibility. However, from an emotional standpoint, yoga teaches children persistence, concentration, personal achievement, awareness, and a deeper connection between their inner selves and the world around them.
Yoga has the additional benefit of serving as an introduction to the concept of meditation, which can have lifelong benefits, including stress-relief and improved focus.
Consider the following suggestions to introduce children to the practice of yoga.
Even from a very early age, children can learn to bring awareness to their breathing and imitate sounds using their breath. This is actually a great beginning step to meditation and can help kids reduce stress and control their emotions throughout life as they develop the skill.
Encourage children to inhale as you count to a pre-determined number, and exhale to the same count. This is a calming and quiet game you can play together in waiting rooms or on public transportation. Add imagery by asking them to pretend they are blowing a bubble or spinning a pinwheel using their exhalation.
Incorporate a physical component to guide their focus. For example, have them lay on the floor and place one hand on their belly and the other on their chest so they can feel the rise and fall with every inhale and exhale.
The asanas, or poses, of yoga, were often inspired by nature. Engage imagination through movement by teaching children the poses named for something they are familiar with.
For example, start with the following:
· Tree pose: Have your child begin by standing with both feet firmly planted on the floor, shoulders back, hands in a prayer-like posture in front of their torso. Have the child raise one foot and place the sole against the calf or inner thigh of their standing leg. Maintaining balance can be challenging in this position — teach them to fix their gaze on an immobile object straight ahead to help. Repeat on the other side, and raise your hands and gaze to the ceiling as an advanced challenge.
· Cat/Cow pose: Start on all fours alongside your child with hands and knees on the ground shoulder-width apart. As you inhale, arch your back upward like a Halloween cat, slowly rounding your spine and tucking your chin to your chest. As you exhale, drop your spine and belly while raising your chin, hips, and shoulders so your back is a concave shape for cow pose — go ahead and add some meowing and mooing if you want to build some excitement.
· Downward-facing dog pose: Ask your child to bend from a standing position to place palms flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Step both feet back to create an upside-down V-shape with a flat back, bottom in the air, and straight legs. Relax the head and neck and use the weight in the hands to push the thigh muscles towards the back of the room, pressing heels to the ground if possible.
· Cobra pose: Have your child lay belly-down on a yoga mat with hands flat on the ground under their shoulders. Instruct them to breathe in and press their palms into the floor as they lift their head and shoulders. Keep the belly button, hips, and tops of thighs and feet firmly grounded on the mat as they open their shoulders and push their chest out. Encourage them to hiss like a snake, expelling all air from the lungs, as they gently lower themselves back to the ground.
Yoga is fun, imaginative, affordable, and accessible to people of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Introduce your child to an exercise that builds physical strength while encouraging mental endurance. It’ll improve their bodies and their confidence while having fun with an activity that allows for a series of small successes yet always leaves room for additional improvement.
Lumiere Children's Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.