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Yoga for Kids Get Started

Get Started

The next articls of this Yoga lesson are filled with activities for you to share with your child. But before you get started there are some things that you’ll want to keep in mind, and some preparations to make.

Yoga Kids
Yoga Kids

Guiding Principles for Sharing Yoga with Your Child

The following guidelines are essential principles that are more important than any of the individual activities. They should remind you of what is important as you undertake this work with your child. And if you find yourself forgetting to follow them, try to take a step back, evaluate your own emotions, and find some time for your personal practice.

Your child is more important than the yoga. Your child is an individual, and her needs and feelings must come first. This may seem obvious, but adults can get so wrapped up in our desire to teach or share an activity that we forget to stay connected to the child’s experience. Pay attention to how your child is receiving the activity, and if she needs to slow down, start over, or even do something completely different on that day, then be sensitive to those needs.

Participation needs to be a choice.Children generally don’t benefit much from activities that they participate in under duress. Think about ways to engage your child in the activities, and start with the ones that you think will be most interesting to him. Make connections between the activities and the things that your child cares about in his life. Even if your child resists participation at first, you can still provide information and model the activities—he will absorb what you are doing and saying. Continue to set aside time to practice the activities during the day, and continually invite your child to participate with you.

Yoga mom and kid
With your kid

If something doesn’t feel right, stop. A big part of yoga is learning to meet your own needs and recognize your own boundaries. Make sure you tell your child early and often that if something hurts, feels uncomfortable, or just doesn’t feel right, that she can stop. It’s always appropriate in yoga to take a rest, slow down, or decide to do something different. Support these choices and encourage your child to always share how she is feeling.

A good outcome is not always the one you expected. When you begin an activity or a conversation with your child, you may have a particular outcome in mind. It’s easy to try to measure success, both for your child and for yourself as a parent, against how close your child comes to this outcome. But what happens so often is that your child’s mind isn’t working the same way yours is, and if you allow him to have some creative freedom and some mental space, the outcome you get may be one that you had never even considered. Try to let go of your preconceptions, and remember that a good result is not necessarily the same one that you were planning.

Prioritize quality of experience over quantity of activities. Don’t rush! The activities in this book are not meant to be accomplished one after the other like a checklist of lessons. Take your time, and encourage your child to fully explore each of the activities. If something is very compelling to your child, continue to practice it and don’t feel like you are somehow wasting your time on something she has already “learned.” As long as she is engaged by the experience, she is still acquiring valuable skills from it. Every child will have a unique path through these activities, and it’s always more important that she have a complete and positive experience than get through them all in any particular time frame (or ever!). Remember, there is nothing to accomplish here, only things to practice.

Make sure your child experiences more successes than challenges. You want to inspire confidence in your child, but sometimes it’s easy to focus so much on challenging our kids that we forget how important it is to nurture their spirits. Parents have a tremendous impact on their children’s beliefs about their own competence and capacity for achievement. When children don’t believe that success is possible for them, learned helplessness can set in, whereby children feel that it is impossible for them to succeed, so they stop trying. It is your job to make sure that your child has the opportunity to experience many more successes then failures. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t challenge him and teach him to work toward a difficult goal, but if you know you are about to work on something that might be frustrating, make sure to bracket that experience with activities that you know he can feel good about.

Yoga Kids
Yoga Kids

Your attitude changes everything. The attitude that you approach these practices with will make a huge difference in your child’s experience. If you embrace the activities with a spirit of curiosity, playfulness, and exploration, your child will be much more likely to do the same. As you practice and learn together, remember that these things are new, and what your child needs is compassion, acceptance, and support in order to feel positive about them. Try to use this time together to break out of any previously established negative patterns of interaction. 

Making Space for Yoga

Life is busy and full, and creating space for something new can be challenging. While yoga and mindfulness can be practiced as an integral part of daily life, when you and your child are first exploring these activities you will have to create space in your home, space in your schedule, and even space in your own mind and emotions.
Taking the time to prepare carefully will set the stage for a successful experience. When you show your child that something is worth creating space for, rather than just being squeezed in between all the busyness, it gives that thing value and changes the way he perceives it. You want your child to see that you are creating space in your life for yoga, and, more important, space in your life for him!

Physical Space

When you start practicing yoga with your child, it is important to choose an area of your home that will support her experience. Choose someplace quiet where you are not likely to be interrupted or disturbed. A room where you can close the door is best. The place you choose to practice should feel very safe to both of you and ideally should remain the same for each session.

Physical Space yoga
Physical Space yoga

While rooms for children often contain a large amount of stimulating things such as pictures, colorful objects, mirrors, and lots of books, the best space in which to practice yoga (especially if you are struggling with focus and attention) is one that is very clean, with limited distractions. Your child will benefit from a space where you’ve worked to reduce clutter and visual noise. If the scenery outside the window is natural and calm (such as a view of trees or water), go ahead and leave the shades open, but if you can see the street or neighbor’s children playing outside, close the blinds. Try to choose a space without mirrors, and if there is one in the room cover it with a sheet. It’s a great idea to choose a space where you have the option to dim the lights, or if that isn’t possible bring a scarf or two to lay over the lamps when needed.

If you are setting up your yoga space in a room that is regularly used by your child for another purpose, think about what you can do to make it feel more special for your yoga practice time. Maybe you can set up a diffuser to fill the room with a scent that your child enjoys (lavender or vanilla often work well for kids), or bring a special object to place in front of you during your practice. Natural objects that connect to the seasons often can work for this. For example, set up a beautiful vase of flowers in the spring and summer, choose a selection of leaves and pinecones in the fall, and plant a tiny evergreen tree in a pot for the winter. Don’t go overboard and load up your clean, simple space with lots of stimuli—just choose one thing that will help make the space feel special, and keep it consistent.

Mats and Materials

You will definitely want to use yoga mats for both you and your child during these activities, even if your space is carpeted. Mats provide grounding and structure. They give each of you personal space with clear boundaries and a sense of having a home base. Many children get quite attached to their yoga mat. It feels like their own safe space. For this reason I don’t recommend using a mat that you have around the house or one that is shared by other family members. If it is at all possible, purchase a yoga mat specifically for your child, ideally with his input. If you can do this in a store, let your child feel the mats and choose one that he likes. If you are ordering a mat online, let him choose the color. Consider purchasing a mat made of natural rubber, which will be a healthier surface for your child to spend time on.

yoga  Mats and Materials
Mats and Materials

There are a few other materials that you may consider assembling for your yoga space. You won’t need all of them for each session, but having them close by will make it easier to change course if your plan for the day doesn’t match your child’s needs.

Singing Bowl: A singing bowl is a small metal bowl that comes with a wooden striker and can be rung much like a bell. Using a singing bowl for mindful listening practices is very effective. The fact that it is a unique object that your child is not used to seeing in her daily life makes it feel more special and interesting. The resonance of the bowl makes it more appealing to listen to than a simple bell, with a richer sound that lasts longer. You can often find singing bowls for sale at yoga studios, and a quick Internet search will also offer you plenty of options.

yoga Singing Bowl
Singing Bowl

Eye Pillow: A small eye pillow is a wonderful thing to use during restorative and relaxing activities, particularly if your child struggles to keep his eyes closed and his body still. The gentle weight of an eye pillow is very soothing and encourages deeper relaxation.

Yoga Eye Pillow
Eye Pillow

Several Firm Blankets: There may be times during yoga poses that you or your child will want some extra support under hips, knees, back, or head. Having some blankets around that you can fold into various shapes and sizes is the simplest way to meet this need. Blankets that are very soft or fluffy don’t work as well as simple thin ones do.

yoga Firm Blankets
Firm Blankets

Journal or Notebook, Drawing Paper, and Colored Pencils or Crayons: Some activities call for journaling or drawing specifically, and even when they don’t it’s a great idea to have these materials available to your child anytime she wants to use them to process or reflect during or after her yoga practice.

What to Wear

You don’t need to purchase special clothes for yoga! You and your child should both wear something comfortable that you can move freely in. Remember that you’ll be putting your body in all different shapes, so wear something that will stay put and not make you feel uncomfortable if you are bending or stretching.

yoga kids Wear
What to Wear

Practicing yoga barefoot is a good idea, because you will be able to balance better and avoid slipping. If you are worried about your feet getting cold, bring some socks with you to your space to wear during seated or reclining activities.

Space in Time

Finding time in your day and in your child’s day to establish a regular practice can be challenging. It is important to make time for consistent, scheduled sessions, as well as finding ways to work yoga and mindfulness activities into your daily life. It is more important to make time for regular, frequent sessions than it is to make your sessions very long.

Establishing a Routine

Give some thought to both your child’s schedule and your own, and decide on a time that you can dedicate to your yoga practice at least once per week. If you can find two or three times per week that is even better. Start with an amount of time that feels manageable for your family. Even fifteen or twenty minutes on a consistent basis will be great. Some people find that one longer session during the weekend plus one or two shorter fifteen- to twenty-minute sessions during the week provides a nice balance.

kids yoga

Once you’ve decided on your schedule, do your best not to change it. Establishing a routine will help make these practices a stabilizing and supportive force in your child’s life. Knowing that he can count on this time and that you’ve prioritized it will mean a lot to your child (even if it seems like he would rather do something else); rescheduling his practice will make it feel less important. Because this consistency really matters, make sure that the schedule you choose is manageable. You can always add to it later.

Once you’ve established your regularly scheduled yoga time, you can start thinking about how you want to incorporate the activities from the next articls into that space. My recommendation is to stay simple and open-minded, and not try to plan very far in advance. As we discussed in the previous articles, the LFY program consists of five elements—Connect, Breathe, Move, Focus, and Relax. 

Try to expose your child to activities from each element during the course of the week. Depending on how you have arranged your schedule, that may mean doing just one activity on any given day, which is completely fine. You do not have to teach the activities in the order that they appear in this book. Go ahead and mix and match based on what you think will work for your child on any particular day.

Let your child’s interest drive the pace at which you add new activities. It makes sense to repeat practices that your child enjoys and shows engagement with. Allow him to have a progressively more in-depth experience. Feel confident that as long as he is engaged by the activity, he is still learning from it. Don’t be in a rush to add new activities if things are feeling good.

Opening and Closing Rituals

Consider making a simple opening and closing ritual part of your regularly scheduled practice sessions. These rituals will provide simple transitions for both you and your child, allowing you to start your practice time in a more centered way and honoring the work you’ve done before heading back out into your family life.

An opening ritual that we use in many LFY classes is to gently ring a singing bowl one time, listen for the whole sound to finish, and then practice a few rounds of Heart and Belly Breath. This only takes a minute or two, but it creates an energetic shift that supports all of the work you are about to do.

Your closing ritual should also be simple. A traditional way to end a yoga class is to bring your hands to your heart and say “Namaste” to each other. This is a lovely Sanskrit word that can be translated as “the light inside of me bows to the light inside of you.” Another option is a Singing Bowl Send-Out. In this activity, you and your child would each take a turn holding the singing bowl up to your heart, imagining filling that bowl with love, and then ringing it one time to send all that love out to someone who needs it.

Feel free to make up your own opening and closing rituals with your child. The important thing is that they are simple, feel good, and create the energetic effect that you are looking for.
Daily Life Integration

In addition to your scheduled yoga time, you will want to open your life to the creation of mindful moments. Once your child begins to get comfortable with the practices, start looking for ways to incorporate them into her day-to-day experience, even for just a minute or two at a time. Each activity described in the following chapters includes suggestions for daily practice. If your child enjoys an activity during your yoga time, make sure you talk with her about these options.

Emotional Space

Once you’ve created a physical space in your home and space in your schedule, it can be easy to overlook the need for you as a parent to create some emotional space for the work you are about to undertake. Yoga is a nurturing and fulfilling practice, but it also can contain unexpected challenges and frustrations. Sharing yoga with your child is bound to have you questioning your assumptions, rethinking some ideas, and struggling with your own emotions. Your personal preparation will make a tremendous difference in the experience of your child, both during these practices and in everyday life.

Make sure that you take time for yourself and commit to your own personal practice. Your practice can look very different from your child’s. Remember that when you take care of yourself, it not only makes you better able to care for your child, it also provides him with a powerful example of self-care.

What to Expect from the Following Articles

The next articles are broken down into each of the five LFY elements and will provide you with activities to share with your child. In each articles you’ll find an introduction that gives you more detailed information about the element, along with some suggestions for teaching the activities. The activities themselves are offered with simple step-by-step instructions. After the instructions, you’ll find three short paragraphs—follow-up, challenges, and daily practice.

The follow-up section after each activity will give you some thoughts for expanding the experience and providing your child with extra support. In challenges we discuss common struggles that kids experience in the activity, along with ways to help. The daily practice paragraph will offer you some thoughts on how to integrate the activity into your child’s day-to-day life.

It is important that you practice these activities yourself before teaching them to your child. You should know how the activities feel, what emotions they might bring up, and what sensations they produce. When you share the activities with your child, you want to be able to understand his experience and give him guidance based on a true knowledge of what you are asking of him. You might even find that some of the activities you think are just for your child become a favorite part of your own personal practice!

Dive In

You will never be 100 percent prepared for this undertaking. Don’t be afraid to just dive in and get started sharing yoga and mindfulness with your child. Make sure you read and practice the whole activity that you are about to share, As long as you approach the work (and your child) with love, compassion, and a sense of playful curiosity, you will be providing a positive experience that helps her become the best version of herself.