Yoga has many benefits to kids on physical, social and emotional levels. Yoga for adults tends to be a very solitary activity even if it is done in a classroom with other students it is very internally focused. In a kids yoga class, they tend to be very focused on the group and many of the activities require paying attention to the interactions and dynamics of the group such as singing, dancing, discussion, games, partner and group poses. The class is much more externally focused for a portion of a time.
Many of the activities encourage cooperation and teamwork such as when they are doing a partner pose where one person is balancing on the other. There are usually ice-breakers as well in the beginning of class where kids introduce themselves and get to know the other kids such as throwing a ball to another child and then they say their name. These warm-ups are more essential since kids will have a higher amount of anxiety around people they don’t know.
On a physical level, the poses help to tone and stretch muscles. They also help with balance as well and help to develop motor and sensory skills. The more vigorous poses help to build endurance. Since children have so much energy, the poses are a great way to channel their energy into activities that will nourish the body and the mind.
On an emotional level, the poses help to develop concentration, empathy, focus, confidence, self-esteem, respect for others, improved attitude, more positive outlook. This will often help them achieve better results with their schoolwork and have better relations with their family members, friends and classmates. It equips them with skills to be able to manage their stress more effectively. It can help with many behavioral issues as well since they learn how to manage their emotions more effectively.
On a spiritual level, they help to develop compassion, awareness and a sense of purpose as well.
What are some ways to teach breath awareness, meditation, visualization, yogic concepts to kids?
One fun way to teach the importance of oxygen is to light a candle and then put it inside a glass. When the candle goes out, you can initiate a discussion of why it went out and then use this example of how we need oxygen for our bodies to light us up and give us energy. This is a great activity to do when the kids are rambunctious and you want to focus them and settle them down. Some great breathing exercises are bumble bee breath. You have the child close their eyes and plug their ears and then make a Hmmmmmmmm sound. After you ask them what their experience was like. This helps them to inwardly focus. You can also have them block their ears and eyes and have them do this with an ocean breath sound as well. Have them imagine the waves coming in from the ocean up to the shore. It is very focusing, grounding and helps them to concentrate. You could also have them hiss like a snake while on their bellies. They should repeat about 3-5 times very slowly and then check in and see how they feel afterwards.
A nice group-breath activity would be to have all of them join their hands in a circle and then they come in with a breath together and raise their hands and then exhale and back out of the circle with their arms coming down. This helps to build community and cooperation and can be a centering exercise.
A nice way to incorporate breath work with confidence building activities is to have them inhale in a positive affirmation such as, ” I am strong” and then they can exhale out a different affirmation such as, ” I am beautiful”.
An effective way to teach yoga lifestyle concepts to kids is by having a discussion first about topics such as non-violence but to use kid-friendly language by using a simpler word such as, “peace”. You then talk about examples of peace such as when your brother or sister is being mean to you, you can send them thoughts of peace instead of just thinking negative thoughts. Let the child experience what happens when they do this. Ask for examples of other ways they can show peace. When you are in a pose later in class that is quite meditative you can remind them that this is practicing peace as well since you are feeling calm when you are doing it.
A fun way to teach visualization and meditation to kids is with, “Imagination Vacations”. You can lead them through some very simple guided imagery (the younger the child, the simpler the imagery should be) such as a being in outer space, in the ocean, on the beach, playing in a garden. After this you can tie it together by having them draw a picture of what they saw. They can focus on their picture whenever they want a special place to return to.
What are some tie-ins for kids?
A tie-in is a way to bring yogic concepts from class into their every day life at home or in the classroom, which helps kids to internalize the lessons. There are stories and books that you can use as a basis for discussion at the end of class. One example would be the candle in the glass that extinguishes which I discussed above. Another good one is by using three yoga blocks to represent the breath, mind and body. You can pile the blocks on top of each other and show how they are all connected. Have one of the kids remove a block and show how they seem to fall apart when they are not working together or connected.
Another example is having the kids draw with crayons after they had their visualization. For older kids and pre-teens you could have them journal things such as, “What do I like about myself?” or “Write Yourself a Thank You Note.”
What are specific activities or behaviors in a yoga class that can build self-esteem?
Using affirmations when in a pose is a great way to build self-esteem. When you are in a very strengthening and challenging pose such as Warrior, you could have everyone yell, ” I am strong (or proud)”.
You could also have songs that have positive affirmations as well, such as the I Grow With Yoga song that has verses such as, I grow strong like a mountain or I see the universe in you… the beauty in your heart shines through.
For the visualizations, you could have them imagine goals they are achieving such as being able to focus better in school so they can get better grades, improved behaviors such as getting along better with their siblings or parents. Use simple kid-friendly language so that it is memorable and has lots of colorful imagery in there.
You can have them create art projects that affirm positive things such as a Gratitude Tree or Me Tree (things they like about themselves). You could either have one big tree and everyone hangs something on it or kids could draw their own tree which they could then take home.