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Yoga for Kids
Gemma and Ruby, two giggly pubescent girls, walked into the community yoga class, stuffed full of adults. They wanted to have “fun”, they said. But “fun” isn’t what the overworked, stiff-limbed, aches-and-pained adult cohort had in mind. They wanted release and peace.
Kids need age- and developmentally-appropriate yoga if they are to enjoy its full, holistic benefit. Heather Blashki, a children’s yoga teacher with over 20 years’ experience, is teaching them to be self-aware and mindful of others, while having a great time.
Ideally, classes should be grouped as “4-year-old girls, 4-year-old boys!” she laughs. Realistically though, the class groupings below are about as good as you’ll find.
3 – 5 year olds
“Having fun is the first thing,” says Heather, with loads of singing, music and joy worked into the sessions. She teaches movements that invite them to name and know their external body parts (feet, heels, ankles, wrists), and to distinguish left from right. Yoga games, like musical statues are terrific: when the music stops, you adopt a pose.
“You also start teaching group consciousness. I have rules about communication: they’re not allowed to talk to each other, unless they’re talking to the whole group.”
Posture work is creative, she says, allowing them to create their own. Kids love yoga poses that mimic animals and nature (lion, dog, frog, crescent moon, flower, mini sun salutes), and balancing work is great for any age (tree or half moon pose). Check out these great cards with yoga poses for kids.
“I never adjust young children. I don’t want them to think there’s a right or wrong way . . . I want them to feel what’s right in their body.”
Visualisation, which yogis use to rewire thought patterns and create uplifting feelings and chemical physiological responses, is easy for this wonder-full bunch.
“I ask them to imagine a bunny is right next to them, and if they’re really still, the bunny will come up and snuffle in their hand.”
Breath awareness is developed at this stage, rather than breath work which yoga uses to pacify or stimulate the nervous system.
“It’s important to teach them the breath, without bringing in tension . . . I might get them to put a paper boat on their tummy, and their breath is the ‘sea’ that makes it rise and fall,” she says.
6 – 8 year olds
Often less into “baby stuff” like singing, this group can get very excited about the exotic nature of Sanskrit and chanting, says Heather. Yoga uses chanting to create internal vibration that recalibrates the subtle energy body, among other things.
“We also start talking about what they feel when they do something,” she says, creating that vital mind-body connection, which is typically lost by early adulthood. They begin to have a sense of their muscles and organs in a general way.
Depending on the maturity of the group, Heather might start teaching proper placement in asana, turning the foot out or raising the arm a certain way, in postures like Warrior, triangle, plank, basic standing spine twists, back bends (dhanurasana) and begin inversions like half shoulder stand.
To build consciousness, Heather likes a “yoga whispers” take on the game, Chinese Whispers. “It teaches them how things can get twisted sometimes [through gossip/hearsay]; but they’re only allowed to whisper something nice.”
Breathwork can begin with humming breath, a great sensory experience, and alternate nostril breathing, and if she’s lucky, they’ll do up to 10 minutes of relaxation.
“They lie on their backs and pretend they’re a pond. If they’re really still, the ducks come and sit on their tummies. If they move, the duck’s gone!”
9 – 12 year olds
Challenge and communication are key to keeping this age group engaged. Most adult asanas (except head stand, not advisable for young spines) are fine as they’re learning proper control and how to approach them, says Heather, alongside the calming skill of single-pointed focus. Complex balances are great like eagle and dancing king and they enjoy being more energetic.
“I think communication is the most important thing, because they often have problems they don’t talk to their parents about at this age. Usually we start in a group circle and they talk about whatever they need to talk about.”