C hildren today are under a lot of stress. Homework, pressure to compete with other children, endless after-school activities, over-scheduling - it all adds up. And just like their parents, kids today are turning to Yoga to help them relax.
Teaching Yoga to children, I've seen how Yoga helps them develop better body awareness, self-control, flexibility and coordination. I've also seen how they can carry these skills beyond class and into their daily routines. For example, one of my students, Liza, a 10 year old, asked me what to do when she gets frustrated, like when her computer doesn't work properly. First, I asked her what she thought would help.
"Sometimes I do the child's pose when I've had a bad day" she said. I told her that was an excellent idea. We then talked about breathing exercises, such as the three-part breath, that could help her stay centered and calm in difficult situations throughout the day.
Yoga has also been shown to help the hyperactive and attention-deficit child. These children crave movement and sensory/motor stimulus. Yoga helps channel these impulses in a positive way. Yoga poses that seem to work especially well are the warrior pose and tree pose. They help instill calm, confidence and balance. The trick is to get beyond just "doing" the posture. I try to get them to think about what the postures mean, to become like the postures -- strong and confident like a warrior.
I use partner poses to develop trust. Working with each other on poses, the children develop team skills. It also fosters bonding.
When it comes to relaxation, some children have a difficult time closing their eyes while others can't get enough. I once had a 10-year-old boy ask me if we could have an extra long relaxation session as he wanted more time to relax. One technique that encourages relaxation is visualization. At first I may have them focus on belly breathing and listening to relaxing music. Then I may ask them to imagine that they are at the beach, playing their favorite sport, or doing some other activity that they like. At the end of the relaxation exercise, I encourage the children to share their own experiences.
Another approach is to create a guided visualization or story with a calming theme of some kind. For example, I may ask them to imagine themselves walking in a green pasture. "Notice the beautiful trees and the butterflies flying over head," I may say. "Smell the fresh air. Listen to the bluejays calling for their mates." The idea is to instill a sense of peace and feeling of oneness with nature.
In class, I also try to encourage input from the children. Most importantly, their ideas and questions are easily addressed to allow learning to take place
It is my wish that more and more Yoga teachers will choose to offer Yoga classes to young children. It is our dharma to teach children the meaning of union of mind, body and spirit. There is such a wealth of knowledge we can offer our children with the practice of Yoga. The simple chanting of OM makes their faces light up and smile.