Gopala Amir Yaffa
So, what makes Children Yoga classes different from other movement-based activities incorporating music and games? There are four key areas that set yoga apart:
1. There is no other form of exercise that offers such a wide range of movements. While practicing children’s Yoga, we bend forward and back, we twist and side bend, strengthen and stretch, balance and even spend some time upside-down.
Besides the obvious benefits of yoga in helping us be stronger and more flexible, Yoga for children also helps in developing coordination, balance, and many other important motor skills. Yoga can even make us a bit taller by improving our posture and stretching and lubricating our muscles and joints!
Furthermore, children’s Yoga classes offer fast and active play while warming up or playing with yoga poses as well as quiet more focused time while holding certain poses or practicing relaxation exercises. As time goes on, the whole practice is done with heightened awareness to the body and the individual parts of the body being stretched, strengthened or relaxed during the practice.
2. Yoga for children not only exercises our body, it exercises the mind and strengthens the breath. Before, after and while in poses children are encouraged to regulate and deepen their breath through focused attention. Having more oxygen in our body enhances our mood and our ability to focus, and increases our capacity to relax both our body and our mind.
Many yogic exercises adapted for children assist in cultivating and enhancing the mind’s capacity for creativity, sensitivity, inquisitiveness, and expansion as well as the ability to consciously focus or still the mind. Learning the skills to consciously focus the mind and enhancing meta-cognitive processes (the ability to think about how you’re thinking), are indispensable skills if we want our children to live happy, meaningful lives.
3. Children’s yoga has one important benefit that is generally not part of adult yoga;it involves interaction. In the class, children are not isolated to their own yoga mats; partner and group poses, cooperative games, self-expression and creativity are the norm in a children’s yoga class. Developing social skills is a critical component of self-development and is central to the Rainbow Kids Yoga philosophy.
Through Yoga, children learn valuable verbal and non-verbal communication skills, and become increasingly aware of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all beings; an understanding that is essential for a healthy social life.
Emotional and cognitive skills that we learn in the relaxing environment of a yoga class can serve us greatly when faced with stressful events throughout our lives.
4. Children’s Yoga fosters not only an awareness of ourselves and our friends, but creates a broader awareness of the world around us. A central tenet of Yoga practice is respect and honor; for ourselves, for each other, and for our environment. During a yoga class, children are often guided on a magical journey around the world, learning about other countries and cultures.
Additionally, through the incorporation of the many yoga poses based on the movement of animals, children learn about different animal habitats, endangered species, and about global issues such as recycling! Children have an innate affinity with the natural world and with animals in particular. They understand and enjoy learning about and caring for the earth and its inhabitants, both human and animal.
Yoga for children may be a new concept, but it is as natural for children as running and jumping. Stretching and balancing through imitating nature is the most natural and intrinsic way for children to explore their bodies and their world.
In fact, Yoga can be adapted as a mode of teaching and learning just about anything! What better way is there to explore a subject than to move through it using creative yoga poses that are so good for you? History, geography, science, literature, and languages can all be learnt in this supportive and encouraging environment.
In this way, yoga is a holistic practice, with an inner as well as outer focus. But most importantly for children, yoga is fun!
We spend most of our childhood and youth learning, but there are many important life lessons that we miss out on at school and education must extend beyond the walls of the classroom. The main-stream education system rarely provides us with the tools which help us to be happier, healthier individuals; we don’t learn how to release tension or how to focus. And while schools have a tremendous focus on learning outcomes, they continue to fail to teach our children how to actually study effectively.
Yoga is much more than yoga poses; it is a way to discover our bodies and more broadly, our inner world. As human-being’s, we experience the universe through our minds and our hearts, so being able to consciously relax, uplift and focus ourselves are vital abilities.
It is never too early (or too late) to embark on this journey of self-discovery!