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Yoga for children? Yes!

by Shakta Kaur Khalsa

Used with permission of the author.

Why yoga for children? Ten years ago, that question was most likely asked about martial arts. Now there are classes for children at martial arts studios around every corner. And, like martial arts, yoga develops many wonderful qualities in children. Beside the obvious benefits of exercising the physical body, both yoga and martial arts sharpen the child's ability to focus, give self-confidence, and develop self-discipline. And yoga, practiced regularly, helps children become aware of themselves from the inside out. From this awareness, changes and growth in new and positive directions can blossom.

In my eighteen years of teaching children's yoga, I never fail to delight anew in the self-discoveries that children make through yoga. Children are so fresh and unhampered by the dictates of society. Their approach to life is unique. And yoga encourages their creativity to flow; their fears, anger, and sadness to release; their trust in the inner self to shine; their minds and hearts to be in synch.

If there is one thing I learned in my years of experience as a Montessori teacher, it is this: Children are capable of much more than we think they are, and if given the right environment, they will excel beyond our belief. In l982 I started a small Montessori school in Baltimore. In my cozy little school I applied this same understanding to teaching children yoga. Their creative, innocent selves expressed such simple truth, that I realized I was learning as much from them as they were from me. The reality became this: I gave them the tools of awareness, and they expressed that awareness with such clarity and wisdom that within me was born a deep respect for them. Quite often they have shown themselves to be my teachers!

Recently I was teaching yoga to a group of children between the ages of four and seven. They flexed their spines in cat and cow, mooing and meowing enthusiastically; stretched into cobra, hissing all the while; balanced on their bottoms, holding their legs up in lotus flower pose; and focused as fierce warriors in archer pose. The active yoga exercises are always followed by a deep relaxation, on their backs, arms, and legs straight but relaxed. In this particular class, I guided the children into a visualization where they imagined they were lying on a warm, sandy beach. As they breathed in, they imagined the waves of the ocean coming up to the shore. On the out breath, the waves returned to the sea. As I looked around the room at the various children, I noticed that each of the children internalized these images in such a way that he or she relaxed more profoundly than in deep sleep. They were consciously relaxing, bringing their minds and bodies together to achieve a peaceful awareness of inner space. This is the basis of yoga and meditation. And it is the basis for a happy, peaceful life. The inner experience of yoga gave these children a gift they can never lose, because it is within them all the time.

After our relaxation, we sang a song together---me strumming my autoharp, and they singing with gusto. The song instructed "You can make the sun shine any old time, Even when the clouds are there." We sang for a while then I said, "Does anybody have an idea what this song means?" One five-year-old girl answered immediately, "It means that even when things are not so good, you still have the sunshine in your heart, and you can make things better!" Need I say more? Tools for life...

How can you create a place in your and your child's life for yoga? There are many resources for learning yoga, and a few for children's yoga. My book, Fly Like A Butterfly, is a complete resource for yoga, deep relaxation, and meditation for children and their parents. People who have never done yoga have successfully used it themselves and with children. It is simple enough for those who know next to nothing about yoga. Parents have expressed appreciation for its playful manner; presenting actively moving exercises balanced with those that require stillness and inner concentration, all in a child-friendly way.

TIPS FOR MAKING YOGA A PART OF YOUR FAMILY

  • Create a special time of the day for yoga. Take some time in the morning or evening, and follow it with a deep relaxation.
  • Make a "sacred space." Use a small table or cover a box with a cloth. Decorate it with pictures and objects that have special meaning for your child. Use a candle for focus during a meditative yoga time.
  • Begin by closing your eyes, and taking a few deep breaths. Mentally or out loud recognize the inner guidance, and connect it to the universal guidance, however you perceive it to be.
  • How long do you practice yoga? With preschoolers, ten to fifteen minutes is a good start. Each exercises lasts thirty seconds to one minute. You can add more time as they get used to it, and develop the ability to stay focused. Elementary-age children can easily keep up for twenty minutes, including a few minutes of deep relaxation, and perhaps a meditation of a few minutes. Of course, each individual child is different. You will know best what is the capacity of your child. Remember, it is better to start simply, and build gradually.
  • Keep it F-U-N, those three little letters that are so important! Entice your child with interesting, imaginative, engaging exercises. Challenge them using a timer ("Let's see how long you can stay up in that pose with deep breathing!"). Reach into their inner self using your intuition and light-hearted humor rather than your intellect.

You might feel that you would like to have a teacher for you and your child. Many yoga centers are beginning to offer classes for children. You will find the techniques and styles of yoga differ greatly from one center to the next, so explore and ask questions. Good luck and get ready for lots of pleasant surprises, fun, and great blessings from yoga!

About the author:

Fly Like A ButterflyShakta Kaur Khalsa has been teaching Kundalini yoga for twenty-five years, and has been a Montessori teacher for almost as long. She lives in Herndon, Virginia, with her husband and their son. She also is the author of Fly Like a Butterfly: Yoga for Children (Rudra Press), The Five Fingered Family (Brookfield Reader), and soon-to-be-published Kundalini Yoga (Dorling Kindersley Inc.). She is presently writing a guide to yoga for Dorling Kindersley. She teaches adults and children at the Kundalini Yoga Center in Sterling, Virginia, as well as teacher-trains for children's yoga. See her Web site at: http://www.childrensyoga.com/

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