By Dr. Rita Khanna
Teaching Yoga to children is one of the most delightful experiences. Children are naturally spontaneous, open, and full of imagination. Yoga practices keep these innocent qualities alive in the child. Yoga provides the tools for children to develop into focused, well-balanced, positive, and creative adults. It gives them ways to manage their lives, and life situations, in a constructive way. It recognizes the interdependence of body, mind, emotions, and spirit and the need for health and balance in all these layers of our being.
Through the practice of Asanas, children learn about their bodies, how to sustain a healthy body, and how to keep it flexible and youthful. They learn co-ordination, although it has been said that this is not fully developed until all the milk teeth are lost. Co-ordination leads to a certain grace and poise, which is carried over into other areas of their life and personality. Through Pranayama practices, children learn to bring about a balanced emotional state. They learn to manage stress, to become aware of agitation, and how to deal with it, and to channel their energy creatively. All of this helps to increase their self-confidence and inner stability. The practices of Pratyahara and Dharana give relaxation and disciplines, which develop clarity, improve concentration, attention, and memory.
How to Set a Yoga Class for Children
Looking for a venue:
When looking for a space to teach Yoga to adults, we look for a place where there is minimum amount of disturbance to the class. This is not necessarily the case when looking for a place for children to practice Yoga. We need to consider that we should not be disturbing others, as children can be quite noisy. The space needs to be clean and clear, free of furniture and other objects. It is helpful if the floor is non-slippery – wooden floors are good. Know where the fire exits, toilets, and telephones are located.
Finding the children:
Decide which age group you wish to teach. It is better to group the children in 5-7 years, 7-9 years, and 9-11 years, and so on, as they respond in different ways to the practices. The teacher’s language needs to change according to the age of the class. Going into schools, to offer Yoga classes after school time, is a good starting point; alternatively, advertising in libraries, health food shops, doctors’ surgeries, etc. brings good results.
Length of class:
For small children, 45 minutes is a good amount of time for a class. Allow time for them to change, take off their shoes and socks, etc. For older children, the classes can be longer – one hour to an hour and a half.
Creating a sacred space:
The classroom can be decorated with posters, relating to the theme or topic of the class. Incense and a candle (where appropriate) will increase a sense of being special. It is a good idea to ensure that the children have mats to practice on, and this may mean providing them the same, in case they have not brought theirs. With all of this, and any other props you might need for the class, a helper is a useful asset. A helper or assistant is also useful for giving children individual attention, such as helping them with Asanas, or taking them to the toilet.
What to Teach
Children love Asanas, especially animal Asanas, where they can make noises and also learn about the qualities of that animal, and thus, a little more about the world around them. The important thing in Asana is not to expect perfection, for as the child’s awareness increases, the practices will perfect themselves. Yoga with children should be FUN. It should be remembered that a child’s body is still growing, until the age of about 17 years; therefore it is not a good idea to hold postures. Inverted postures (i.e. headstand) should also be avoided.
Pranayama practices that are simple, and which do not involve retention of the breath, are suitable for children. There is a wealth of children’s Yoga books in the market – some geared to teachers and some more appealing to children themselves.
Yoga nidra is a favorite for children. It should be kept short, as they can relax deeply and quickly because they tend to be less tense than adults. However, children do experience stress from home s