of yoga is becoming more widespread as people are realising that
it is not a religion, and therefore no threat to their religious
or philosophical beliefs. Despite its roots in the Hindu culture
of India, yoga is, in fact non-sectarian and maybe practised with
full confidence by anyone.
In India, thousands of years ago, men called yogis would sometimes
go to the jungle in order to meditate. During the time that they
were meditating, they would carefully observe the birds and beasts
that lived there. They would study the manner in which these creatures
prepared for sleep and the way in which they awakened: slowly stretching
their limbs and bodies without straining. They watched how they
continually tuned up their muscles to help to keep them-selves alert,
agile and strong. The yogis began to copy some of the postures and
movements they sow and soon they were able to create hundreds of
exercises of their own. They called them asanas, a word that means
'postures comfortably held'. They gave many of the exercises animal
names: cobra, eagle, lion, etc.
When they practice
these exercises regularly, the yogis found that they had plenty
of energy and strength for their work, and they were able to think
clearly, concentrate well and keep fit. They shared their knowledge
with others, who passed it onto us by means of writing.
The ancient yogis were wise, and therefore designed these exercises
to be done in a special way, so as to bring excellent health benefits.
You do them slowly and attentively. You never strain. You breathe
smoothly while you doing them, so as to bring a good supply of oxygen
to the working muscles. Once a posture is complete, you hold it
steady for a short while before going onto the next posture. Special
breathing exercises help to keep your lungs- your whole body in
fact healthy. They train you to remain calm when you are tense,
anxious or frightened.
You will probably
find the visualisation part of yoga particularly enjoyable. Visualisation
means creating mental pictures. Mental images can be very powerful,
as you will find out as you make progress in your yoga practice.
You can use this 'mind power' to help you to build confidence in
yourself, to do well in school and in after school activities and
to stay healthy.
Now that you have an idea of how yoga began and what it can do for
you, it is time to go on to the next chapter, which tells you how
to prepare for the exercises themselves.
and teachers should know prior to starting a yoga program for children
Working as a Montessori Teacher with children in a pre-school setting
enabled me to see how children behave throughout the day, and to
understand their needs for movement. Young children have a strong
drive for movement, through which they refine their gross and fine
motor skills. Children love to move their bodies all the time and
they find it difficult to sit still for long periods. For this reason
yoga for children must be dynamic, and the teacher needs to be adaptable,
and sensitive to the children's energy levels.
The yoga teacher should always practise the yoga asanas with the
children, thus demonstrating the correct posture, but should not
insist that the children achieve perfect postures. It is more important
that the children enjoy the experience and have fun, than that they
Regular practice of yoga, early in life, fosters an awareness of
what is happening internally as well as externally, which leads
to many benefits which are described later.
consequences of a chair culture
Many children in the west are now spending hour upon hour sitting
before TV sets and computer screens. They are being driven to and
from school and after school activities, and they are walking far
less than children did many years ago. Consequently, even if they
engage in outdoor physical activities, they tend to loose their
flexibility early and may therefore become more susceptible to injuries,
aches and pains.
yoga benefits, aims of the asana and meditation practice
Regular yoga practice can help to prevent this and also enables
children to become fitter and less tense and anxious. The slow-moving,
leisurely stretching and strengthening exercise can be done even
where the space is limited. They are ideal for maintaining firm
muscles and flexible joints, and for promoting good postural habits.
a solid foundation for life. Educators believe that children must
be of sound body in order to be sound of mind. It encourages attentiveness,
thus developing and improving concentration, and promotes clear
thinking thus facilitating learning. It fuels the imagination, thereby
enhancing creativity, builds self-confidence, which helps to develop
and maintain a positive self-image. Yoga promotes harmony between
mind and body, which reduces health problems and helps children
make appropriate responses to emotional stimuli.
These benefits occur over time, through the practice of techniques
which include slow stretching movements, and with full attention.
Many of the asanas ('dog',' tree', 'snake') offer an opportunity
for the physical expression of mental imagery, with which children
are usually very comfortable. They also provide a means whereby
those who are shy, withdrawn, or in some way handicapped, can shed
their inhibitions and experience a sense of liberty. This satisfies
their need for expression - children do not as a rule possess the
verbal resources which adults generally have. When they are given
a chance to express themselves physically, they grow creatively.
Yoga provides such channels, which are superb for cultivating a
strong sense of self-assurance and independence.
Children usually tend to have a short attention span and sometimes,
frequent changes of mood, coupled with a high level of activity.
The balancing postures are especially effective in promoting concentration
and calmness, and in improving co-ordination. The relaxation techniques
help in effective stress management and are particularly beneficial
prior to exams. They are also useful for combating insomnia and
ensuring sound, refreshing sleep. Visualisation practices offer
a safe, enjoyable opportunity for youngsters to give free rein to
their imagination. They also maximise the mind's potential for envisioning
relaxing images. Researchers have found that visualisation complements
other relaxation techniques to facilitate learning and improve concentration,
motivation and self-confidence, thereby fostering a positive self-image
and reducing health problems.
biological growth and development
Body proportions gradually change throughout infancy to puberty
when adolescence begins. During early development the bones of the
cranium form by the fusion of separate centres of ossification.
Although the suture generally disappears by age eight, as the bones
fuse, the adult skull commonly retains traces of the suture line,
which runs down the centre of the frontal skull. Baring this in
mind, a parent, or a yoga teacher must not teach sirsasana (headstand)
until the age of eight (some yoga experts think that this asana
should be avoided until the age of fourteen).
The period of skeletal growth is shorter in girls than in boys.
Girls grow most rapidly between ages ten and thirteen. Whereas boys
grow most rapidly between ages twelve and fifteen.
when and where to practice yoga
Encouraging the incorporation of yoga techniques into daily routines
is one of the best things you can do to foster self-discipline and
self-responsibility in children. Teaching them early in life to
utilise their own natural inner resources, in order to be more independent,
is one of the most precious gifts you can offer them.
You can practise yoga in many different places. You don't need special
equipment although a mat and a blanket would be useful. You do need
fresh air. Dim lights are better than bright ones, but you should
be able to see clearly. The floor needs to be level and smooth.
Children age six and younger may practice yoga with a parent, grandparent,
teacher or other adult. I suggest that all children be supervised
when first trying the exercises until they understand clearly what
to do. Working in a group is the best way to learn yoga principles.
Younger children, age two to three, benefit from ten minutes of
yoga practice, three to six year olds, from approximately twenty
minutes once or more times per week. Older children and teenagers
will benefit from doing the exercises daily even if only for ten
minutes. A weekly session should last as long as everyone is enjoying
it, but 45 minutes including the relaxation period at the end, should
Do not practise asanas immediately after eating. Let two to four
hours pass after eating a meal, and wait at least one hour after
eating a snack. Try to do the asanas at about the same time every
day or evening.Practising them in the evening helps to relax and
sleep soundly. If you are ill or have to stop exercising for some
other reason, start again in a gradual way, rather than trying to
make up for lost time.
how to practice
Always make your self comfortable before starting yoga practice.
Go to the toilet and empty you bladder and bowels if possible. You
may take a warm, shower or bath. Rinse your mouth or brush your
teeth. You can also have a bath or shower about 15 minutes after
exercising. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Take off your shoes.
Remove hair grips, jewellery, glasses and other objects that could
hurt you while you are exercising. Have a light blanket handy to
keep your body warm when resting at the end of your yoga session.
Girls should not practise Sharvangasana (candle) and other inverted
postures when having periods.
asanas slowly and smoothly. In general perform each posture once
only. Pay careful attention to fully understand the movement. To
start with, stay for several seconds in the posture while breathing
smoothly. Breathe regularly through your nose unless specified differently.
Breathing, as you exercise, brings oxygen to feed your working muscles
and takes away waste from your body. Do not hold your breath during
children should hold a position for a very short time (about two
breaths in and out). As they advance in their practice, they can
stay in the posture longer. Warming up helps to prevent muscle tightness.
Some warm-up exercises can be done during the day, at school or
anywhere. They can even be done while you watch TV. You'll find
them useful both as preparation for the yoga asanas and also for
preventing the build up of tension, so that you do not become too
anxious or afraid about things.
life, parents can make a game of practising warm-ups with small
children to stop them from becoming bored and irritable. Teachers
can stop a class if the children's attention strays and spend a
few moments practising appropriate exercises together.
and at the end…
Yoga helps children find balance in their lives. Children today
are under a lot of stress. Homework, pressure to compete with other
children, endless after school activities, over - scheduling, it
all adds up. Children who have experienced yoga say it is fun, and
it helps them relax.
I have seen
how yoga helps children develop better body awareness, self-control,
flexibility and co-ordination. Yoga has also been shown to help
hyperactive and attention deficit children. These children crave
movement and sensory/motor stimulus. Yoga helps channel these impulses
in a positive way. Yoga postures that seem to work especially well
are the warrior postures and the tree pose. They help instil calmness,
confidence and balance. The trick is to get beyond just 'doing'
the posture. I try to get children to think about what the postures
mean, to become like the postures: strong and confident like a warrior,
When it comes
to relaxation, some children have a difficult time closing their
eyes while others can't get enough. One technique that encourages
relaxation is visualisation. At first I may get them to focus on
belly breathing. Then I may ask them to imagine that they are at
the beach, playing their favourite sport, or doing some other activity
that they like. At the end of the relaxation exercise, I encourage
the children to share their own experiences.
is to create a guided visualisation or story with a calming theme
of some kind: 'imagine floating on a cloud'. The idea is to instil
a sense of peace and feeling of oneness with nature. In class I
encourage input from the children, and incorporate their ideas and
questions, to encourage their self expression as part of the learning
experience. There is such a wealth of knowledge and experience we
can offer our children through the practice of yoga.
yoga is fun,
it develops concentration, focus, self-discipline and self- discovery.
the entire body and mind and it is a life long foundation for children's
- it helps to develop strong, flexible and healthy bodies
- increases concentration, focus and attention
- builds self esteem and confidence
- opens up to peaceful, relaxed state of body and mind
- acquires personal tools for stress management
- helps to express creativity and imagination
- leads towards understanding of anatomy and health
- aids to learn environmental awareness
- fosters language development and social interaction
- explores reflection
maybe overly active have fun doing yoga for kids, while unconsciously
disciplining themselves in area of balance, focus and concentration.
In the beginning children wiggle, giggle, but given the serenity
of the practising environment, they soon learn to calm their senses,
visualise, incorporate their imagination and team the counting techniques
of stilling the mind of the 'never ending' chapter. They learn the
difference between inhalation and exhalation and when to incorporate
'the breath' during certain yoga postures. Over time these techniques
become learned and consciously applied in everyday life at home,
school and play.
Breathing techniques learned by the children help them to understand
the importance of the air we breathe and the effect it has on their
Games are incorporated into the class that 're-iterate' what has
been learned. For example Simon says…focusing only on yoga postures,
is a great game for the kids to implement memory skills, confidence,
self-empowerment and achievement.