Yoga is an interesting exercise for any age if done in the right manner. But, making kids practise yoga diligently and in a disciplined manner can be quite a task.
This article gives details on the age and the type of yoga that should be followed. It also describes the different benefits including physical, mental and emotional. It also talks about what can be done to make yoga interesting for kids.
- People of any age can practise Yoga, however, it is hard for children below 7 years to hold their interest and focus which is essential for Yoga. The younger they are, the less able they are to understand the instructions, to stay focussed on one thing; the less their strength; less their muscle tone and the less their body-mind co-ordination; their body ratios make some postures more difficult for them.
- Children are known to practise yoga through imitation more than by following instructions.
- A teacher has the ability to put the children into various positions, if only the children are willing!
- Young children are flexible in certain ways but donot have the strength to hold the posture.
- Development of muscle, strength, stamina, flexibility, and good posture and therefore counteracting all damage occurred while sitting hunched in front of TV & computers and studying.
- Development and maintenance of correct breathing
- Yoga develops coordination, body awareness, strength, flexibility, balance, inner awareness and relaxation
- Development of concentration, co-ordination, will power, patience, mental stamina
- Helps with hormonal changes in teens (particularly anulomaviloma) and it helps them to be more calm and relaxed, with a more balanced use of energy
Children are less likely to be inspired or motivated by the benefits of the asanas than adults, although some exaggeration of lack of exercise could be demonstrated. “Do you want to be like this?” (demonstrate some sort of hunched over bow-legged position or getting up from the ground with great difficult moaning and maybe gasping for breath). Kids find it much more difficult to sit still, their minds being so active. This mental energy needs to be channelled into productive physical activity (otherwise it could cause disruption in the class when there is lots of talking and excessive movement). Because of this potential disruption the pace of the class should move along, with various activities and creative ideas to capture their imagination. The less different activities on offer, the shorter the class should be.
- A mixed age group will make it considerably more difficult to engage all throughout a single class, as it is more difficult to pitch the class. 6 years and below could be one group – very simple, even more like play. 7 years up to 12 years can be another group, where more understanding and effort can be expected. 11/12 year olds are generally able to join adult classes. Even from age 8 this may be possible on their own [i.e. not in groups] depending on their mental and physical ability to join in.
- A teenage class could be useful for addressing emotional issues most often occurring in this age group, utilising pranayama, meditation and a little philosophy as solutions.
- Parents and children in the same class depend on how distracted the parents will be by the children and vice versa. Younger children often do not want to be separated from familiar people. They can learn by imitatingtheir parents or siblings.
To create a class, below are a few things to remember. Children naturally have:
- Limited concentration, but increased awareness
- Limit a class to 45-60 minutes
- Reduce posture holding times
- Reduce relaxation times
- Use the breath for concentration
- Focus their attention with a story, songs or mantra chanting in the beginning of class
- Use mantra chanting to re-establish focus
- Increase number of postures each with less time period
- Increased flexibility and energy
- Try using challenging asanasie. King cobra, tortoise wheel, etc.
- Do some active exerciseseg. Hopping, star jumps, etc. for warm ups
- Strong imagination
- Work with asana names (animal names, etc.)
- Use stories
- Create simple competitions
- Use visualization during relaxation
Teach abdominal (balloon) breathing. Place hand or toy on the abdomen.
- Create a regular class format so the students can become familiar with it, but which also has room for some variations
- Start with a prayer &/or chanting of mantra (eg. OM) and other spiritual songs – something to help them focus their mind as an initial savasana can be difficult for children.
- Arrange classes according to age groups as much as possible
- Below 7 years – less strength, less concentration. Use more games and stories.
- 7-12 years – better focus, use more postures
- > 12 years – teach adult-style class
- Arrange a demonstration for family. Kids will put more effort into their practise to show to their family
- Naughty kids – enlist their help in setting up or tidying up the studio and to demonstrate asanas.
- A couple of children in the 7 – 12 years class can team with the young ones so the young ones may copy the older ones. If the young ones don’t copy and don’t stay on their mat, the teacher may have to re-think it!
- Tell a meaningful story at the beginning or end of class, if time allows
- Do some breathing exercises
- Try eye and neck exercises
- Surya Namaskar – develops coordination and focus.
- Creates names for the different positions of suryanamaskar. Try creating some general competition to encourage them to do it nicely and uniformly.
- Follow with leg raises and other warm ups and then theasanas
- Follow the usual order of the basic class, although variations can be used as alternative asanas
- Final relaxation
- Use an imaginative auto-suggestion, with visualization, in order to help them stay still
- Have a playful energy, making the asanas fun but with the aim of practising good concentration and making improvements, which does require some effort
- Take advantage of the names of animal postures, use animal sounds if appropriate for age group – e.g. what colour is your butterfly?
- Be creative in attempts to improve the asanas: exaggerate wrong and right way; what is in your sitting forward bend sandwich – peanut butter? Or thin cucumber? How small is this posture/animal, etc? how tall…? Etc.
- Be imaginative with breathing e.g. big balloon breath for abdominal breathing (in India, imagine a puri and then a roti)
- Be snappy with different stretches eg. When doing standing postures with arms up! Then arms shoulder height! arms in front! Arms behind!etc. change directions by jumping, etc. to keep them “on their toes”
- Use variations ofasanas for mental variety
- Kids like challenges and generally love backward bends and balancing postures
- Kids generally like the headstand (possible after age 3 year) although some individuals have an aversion to their head being on the ground; younger ones will need to use hands and head, not elbows.
- Having: “Demonstration Days” for parents and family. This preparation can work wonders for the children’s concentration!
- Use plenty of visualisation, especially for final relaxation. This can be the hardest part of the class. Prepare this before hand, if it doesn’t come naturally, in order that the visualisation can flow.
Kapalabhati (advanced yogic breathing technique) can be started from around 10 or 11 years. AnumolaViloma (alternate nostril breathing) can be introduced from 7 years, with no or very little retention. This requires a lot of encouragement so that they do not strain during retention and long exhale. Some creative ideas as to what they are doing could help to inspire them.
This can be introduced with Om or Om Namo Narayana (other suitable chanting) out loud and then mentally (not on chakra). Tratak (is a method of meditation that involves staring at a single point such as a small object, black dot or candle flame) could also be practiced using candle or another object for visualizing. Some other suitable visualization could also be done if it helps to focus the mind inwards and make it quieter.