Children live in their bodies, and since yoga is a form of mindfulness practice that focuses on the body, it is a natural fit for parents and professionals who are teaching children to become more mindful. But contrary to common media portrayals, yoga is not about being able to achieve awe-inspiring, acrobatic pretzel poses. In fact, there is a saying that yoga is not about being able to touch your toes; it is about what you learn on the way down.
Yoga can help children learn an array of skills, all in the context of having fun and moving their bodies. We do not correct children’s poses, or pay much attention to left and right with young children, as long as they are moving safely. With the focus on fun, children need not know that they are learning to practice mindfulness and to recognize and allow different sensations in the body, as well as cultivating strength and resilience.
Yoga Poses for Children
Another expression in yoga is “one pose is a practice.” That is, you need not perform a carefully sequenced series over a long period of time. Yoga can be inserted into your child’s daily routine, as a pause between activities, or as a quick “reboot.”
What distinguishes yoga from other forms of physical exercise is that we aim to link breath and movement. Balloon breath is a wonderful example. It can be practiced seated, standing, or rising up. As most young children have observed how a balloon inflates with air, it is a perfect introduction to breathing.
Start with your child sitting in a comfortable position—either “cross-cross yoga sauce” or on the heels—and ask him to begin to take little sips of air through the nose, raising the arms up with each sip, until they are overhead. The balloon is full! Now have your child let the air out slowly through the mouth as he lowers the arms back down. You might even encourage your child to collapse on the ground like a deflated balloon.
Beginning on the heels enables your child to go one step further and become a hot air balloon—slowly rising up onto the knees, then standing up, and perhaps even flying around. Always end by slowly letting the air out and coming back down to the ground. For an added pause between hot air balloon rides, rest a moment in Child’s Pose,* which is usually experienced as calm and quieting.
Pose 1: Confidence of a Warrior
Warrior Pose can increase stamina and flexibility, as well as instill confidence. From standing, have your child step one foot forward and bend the front knee. She should feel her weight balanced between the straight back leg and the bent front leg. Next, ask your child to stretch one arm forward and one arm back, so both arms are parallel to the ground. Have her see what feels best—palms facing down (traditional) or up—and look past the front fingers. Together, play with proclaiming affirmations, such as “I am strong! I am brave! I feel good!”
Pose 2: Concentration in Tree
Tree Pose teaches that it is nearly impossible to balance without focusing. From standing, have your child lift one foot, bend that knee, and place the foot against the inside of his opposite leg, somewhere between the ankle and inner thigh. The youngest children who are developing balance can use their toes as a kickstand, playing with lifting the foot off the ground for increasing periods of time. Encourage your child to bring his hands to the chest, palms together in “catch a butterfly” or Namaste, then raise both arms to become branches. Ask questions such as: What kind of tree are you? What happens when the wind blows?
Pose 3: Connection in Back-to-Back Breath
Partner yoga poses are a wonderful way to connect. Sit back-to-back with your child, with as much of your backs touching as possible. Begin to breathe in and out, imagining a balloon, or perhaps ocean waves cresting and releasing. Very young children can practice visualizing a bowl of soup, inhaling deeply as if to smell the soup, then blowing out through the mouth as if to cool the soup.
See what your child notices. Can she feel her partner’s back? Do your backs create warmth? Can she feel her partner’s breath through her back? Are you both breathing in and out at the same time?
You might even add balloon arms here, extending both your arms out to the sides so the backs of your arms are touching, and slowly extending the arms up. Learning to move in sync with another person is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness and self-regulation.
Encourage Your Child to Play
While certain poses are thought to be calming, energizing, focusing, etc., one of the most valuable lessons of yoga is that we are all different. For example, an extrovert, or a child who is hypervigilant, might feel uncomfortable in Child’s Pose with gaze down, while an introvert often finds this pose deeply replenishing. Encourage your child to notice how he is feeling before as well as after a pose. What has changed? It can be fun to discover how family members experience yoga differently, with no “right” or “wrong.”
To continue developing a yoga practice with your child, try these partner yoga poses. You can also explore mindfulness books for children available from Magination Press.
*Begin sitting on the heels with big toes touching. Separate the knees slightly, bend at the hips, and fold forward until your belly relaxes over the thighs. The arms rest alongside the body, palms facing upward, or arms can stretch out in front, palms facing down. The forehead rests on the floor, or head can turn to one side and then the other.
Related Books from Magination Press
Breathe is a conversation between a boy and his mother at bedtime. But this conversation can happen at any time, in any place. This introduction to mindfulness presents a collection of illustrated exercises to help little ones become aware of their breath and their body. Includes a Note to Parents & Caregivers that describes the exercises and their effects in more detail.