- Created on December 9, 2013
- Written by Samantha Simons, 200 RYT
The concept of yoga for children is growing by leaps and bounds in mainstream society, with increasing research to support the benefits of adopting a practice during childhood. In the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, “Yoga” translates as “to yoke or unite,” offering a mind - body connection teaching adults and children alike to exercise the body while calming the mind and spirit. I like to share this with my wee yogis and their parents as the building blocks for a balanced self through focus on mind, body, and breath. Yoga supports the development of the whole child. In the case of toddlers practicing with their parents, it supports the bond between them. While a yoga class for youth might look markedly different than your typical adult class, rest assured the benefits are the same, and then some! Children may experience increased lung capacity, focus, balance, strength, flexibility, coordination, and stimulation of both sides of the brain. The physical focus for toddlers is on gross motor skills, although most will experience enhanced fine motor skills and dexterity. Yoga also serves the many aspects of self: esteem, confidence, expression, discovery, regulation, and acceptance.
Yoga provides us as caregivers a beautiful opportunity to share in this experience alongside our children, reaping benefits for the individual together with the bond between parent and child. It’s a time to playfully connect with your child as he/she explores the body, breath, and mind in a safe environment. The child is given the chance to learn self care through the parent example, and be encouraged and rewarded for the experiences and socialization. Toddlers don’t have the language skills developed to express how they feel. Through your practice together, you’ll discover ways to communicate and understand their needs as they are better able to self-regulate their emotions. Our little ones are also excellent at listening to their bodies! If a pose hurts, they won’t remain in it, or try to force themselves in deeper as adults sometimes do. The ego is less present in these bright young beings! When a toddler shares yoga with his or her parent, it provides the family unit with a toolbox for transitional and trying times. Regular practice instills stress reduction mechanisms that become automatic through repetition. These techniques come to the aid during temper tantrums, periods of boundary testing, major life change. In allowing the parents in the class the chance to find stillness, they are strengthening their container, in turn being more able to nurture those around them, especially their children.
A parent/toddler class will generally be brief in length, forty-five minutes on average, quickly moving from one game, activity, or pose to the next, often using themes. The plan is structured but allows for flexibility based on the needs of each family and the energy in the space. The focus is three-pronged: asana (physical postures), pranayama (breathwork), and relaxation. It is beneficial both in a studio setting and practicing at home with your child to bookend the class with a calm and quiet beginning and end. Young children thrive on routine. Strive to begin and end each session with the same song, chant, music, or activity. Children’s yoga uses a variety of mechanisms to employ growth through the eight multiple intelligences (see Brigham Grid for Learning) from story telling to puppets, music, art, rhythm, rhyme, games, and more.
The beauty of practicing yoga with your toddler: It’s portable; you can do it anywhere! No special props or equipment are necessary to practice mindfulness, breathing, and poses. The main goal for practice time with your wee yogi should be presence without expectation. Some children won’t engage in every part of every class...and that’s alright! All children learn in different ways and will enjoy different activities. Expect the three C’s: calm, chaos, and connection. Parents, enjoy the time you have to explore yoga through the eyes of your children and watch them grow a practice that’s all their own!
Sharing the gift of yoga with the pairing of parent and child gives us, as caregivers, permission to let go and play, while forging a solid foundation for our children to be strong, compassionate, happy, calm beings as they mature.
Samantha Simons is a certified kunga and children's yoga instructor living in Japan with her husband and two sons. She is an outdoor enthusiast , youth running coach, scout advisor, with a passion to serve.