Stop. Relax. Breathe. For many of us, the stresses of the holidays ramped up at Halloween and haven’t loosened their grip. Too often we focus on all that needs to get done between now and the New Year, instead of on the spirit, beauty, and joys of the season. Are our kids feeling the same way?
“Yes,” states children’s yoga instructor Nitya Griffith. “Kids’ lives are extensions of the busy world of their parents. It is common for children to rise early to rush to school where they deal with academic demands and social pressures, then go directly to after-school activities, which are often competitive like sports, or based on continued improvement like piano lessons, then home to homework, chores, and the chaos of getting everything ready to get up the next day and repeat. Downtime is not always built into their day.”
Just as it does for adults, yoga teaches kids to calm the mind and find peace while building strength, flexibility, and body awareness. This is accomplished through holding a series of postures that target all muscle groups, while learning breathing techniques and meditation. The individual chooses her level and understanding of the pose, eliminating competition. “Whatever the body can do is the right level for that person. It’s very gratifying,” explains Griffith. “The ultimate grace is when the skills kids learn in yoga transfer to other areas of life.”
Richmond mother, Nina Sims, heartily endorses yoga for her daughter, Lauryn, age 8. “Lauryn has been practicing yoga for three years.
I often see the benefits played out beyond class. Lauryn takes deep breaths before tests to center herself and even reminds the rest of our family to breathe and calm down when we’re uptight. I credit my daughter’s ease at school to yoga. Her teachers comment on her strong ability to pay attention and stay focused.”
Lauryn acknowledges that she does use yoga techniques in school, but her main thoughts about yoga are less about a toolbox for life skills and more about plain old fun. “I love kicking like a donkey [preparation for handstand] and shooting like a rocket [mountain pose with arms overhead]. I love the songs and stories that go with each class, and being able to just be me.”
That being able to just be me part may sound simple when a child says it, but self-acceptance is one of the most valuable lessons of yoga, says Griffith. “We live in a world where we are always trying to get to the next level and reach the next goal. Can you imagine how peaceful we’d all feel if we were to love and accept ourselves just the way we are?” In this way, yoga is the antithesis of New Year’s resolutions, which tend to focus on self-dissatisfaction.
Although babies are too young to be hard on themselves, Itsy Bitsy Yoga®, which offers yoga for newborns through age 4, helps remind parents to accept their little ones exactly how they are. “It’s common in our society to rush kids along. This can foster a feeling that our kids aren’t good enough, or that our parenting must somehow be faulty,” says instructor Candy Beers. “Sometimes parents need gentle reminders that children innately know when they are ready to add another skill; self-mastery of milestones will happen for each baby and toddler in his or her own time,” says Beers. “Yoga reinforces that we are perfect just as we are in the present moment. I try to create an environment where each child can stand in his own light.”
Yoga for babies through toddlers helps develop balanced musculature and assists with motor development. Little yogis are well prepared for school in that they’ve learned to stay on task, have a respect for their own and others’ personal space, and possess body confidence.
To keep class fun, Griffith uses inspirational stories, games, songs, themes, and discussion to teach the philosophy of yoga, which she describes as “living with a peaceful mind, easeful body, and compassion for all living things.” Around the holidays, she renames certain postures as sled (plow pose), skier, (chair pose), ice skater (warrior three), and icicle (shoulder stand). She also sings songs to keep students engaged. “I design my classes to be interactive and heavy on imagination. Winter is the perfect time to emphasize giving from the heart and respecting the stillness within nature and ourselves.” Griffith has watched even kids with anxiety disorders and attention deficit disorder learn to calm themselves and stay focused. “Yoga plants seeds that germinate over time.” Griffith encourages parents to stay committed to see the long-lasting physical and mental effects.
Yoga is known to improve physical fitness, confidence, concentration, and provide tools to manage stress and difficult emotions. Ellie Burke, co-founder of YoKid, believes that all children should have access to those rewards. YoKid, a non-profit, provides yoga to kids, no matter their ability to pay. “We don’t want cost to limit a child’s access to yoga.” YoKid brings yoga to schools, kindergarten through high school, making it easier for students to get in their time on the mat. “Yoga can be used at any time to still the mind,” says Burke. “Our students apply yoga techniques to focus better in school, and are better equipped to deal with chaos and anger management. They feel confident because they can control themselves, even when their world may feel out of control.
That sense of grounding is well described by Burke’s elementary school students. “Yoga [is] good for a person with stress. It calms you down when you are sad,” says Bobby.
Another student named Erin adds,“It helps the stress go away and I felt very relaxed when I finished with yoga.”
Says Burke, “Yoga has had enormous growth over the past decade, but it is still largely adult-based. I’d love to see as many kids as possible exposed to yoga. Can you imagine our communities if all children were raised with this practice?”
A world where kids grow up basking in their inner light and respecting the beauty of nature? where kids start puberty pre-inclined to accept themselves and others? where feelings of anger and frustration can be managed with breathing instead of bullying?
Yoga for kids captures the real spirit of the holidays. If we all grew up doing yoga, peace on earth just might be possible.