As an early childhood professional, I am an advocate for yoga for all children. In every program I run or work in I strive to bring yogic principles into the curriculum. A question I often get from parents is how does kids yoga work? They picture an adult class with children. That is not what a yoga class for children ages birth-5 looks like at all! This is the age group I primarily work with through preschools and child care centers. America has high expectations for children and yoga allows children to come as they are, have fun, and learn lifelong techniques that help them cope with those stresses and expectations. We play, laugh, work, sing, dance and rest all in one class.
The most common benefit I see from children’s yoga in small children is emotional intelligence. When children are about to have large large feelings, i.e. a temper tantrum, I see a certain look come over them. I usually say something like, “It looks like you are feeling like you need to breathe, would you like to do that alone or would you like to do it together?” 9 out of 10 children will choose breathing together because connection is something humans crave. I then take their hands, we look into each other’s eyes, and see if we can match our breaths. For the child, they typically start with a shallow breath while I do a 3 count in and 3 count out breath. Usually, after about 3 breaths they have regulated their emotions back to calm and we can talk about the situation; finding ways to make it better. If a child chooses no eye contact (this works particularly well with my own youngest child), we do heart breathing. The child can rest their ear on my heart to see if they can hear my breath and then make theirs match. Sometimes there are no words, just a long heart hug. After becoming familiar with this, children will advocate for themselves and ask for a heart hug or holding hands breath.
Yoga postures can also help children with the skills they will need for classroom school. Sitting in a chair or on the floor requires quite a bit of abdominal strength. Playing yoga games such as pass the ball with your feet, surfing and swimming, or climbing the wall with your feet all contribute to core strength. In this time of virtual school, with so much time in front of a screen, yoga allows children a chance to move and breathe- working those muscles, then relaxing those muscles all in a single class.
My yoga classes always end in a rest pose. For at least five minutes children get the chance to actively rest. Rest is not something that is always valued in western culture but it is so important, especially for growing little bodies and minds. Most people also don’t know how to rest without sleeping or television. Yoga allows children to learn how to rest.
I have found in my career that yoga is a fun way to sneak in the techniques that help children have a strong foundation of physical health and emotional awareness. How can you implement yoga techniques and fun with the littlest people in your life?
Meet NGY Teacher, Leah Lonegan
Leah is living the adventurous life in Alaska! She enjoys time with her family and is a recent graduate of NGY’s 95-hour RCYT program.