Yoga is a great activity for kids, and has many benefits including increased flexibility, strength and concentration. Yoga can be a fun way to get your kids or students to stretch and relax – plus, who can resist kid-friendly animal poses such as frog, cobra, dog and dolphin? Kids of all ages can benefit from yoga. From toddlers to varsity basketball players, the gentle stretches, strengthening, and mindfulness techniques taught in yoga can be taught to kids of any age. For younger children, yoga can be a fun way to teach body awareness, and help your child relax or focus. For older children, more difficult poses can be taught for developing strength and flexibility. Kids of any age benefit from the focus, breathing and relaxation techniques taught in yoga. In fact, many experts now encourage students and athletes to learn yoga because of the impact it has on performance both in and out of the classroom. Yoga has even been shown to decrease conflict between students, decrease sports injuries, and improve test scores.
One of the best things about yoga is that you can do it any time and anywhere – all you need is your body (no fancy gear necessary)! Once you know a few basic poses or sequences, you can practice them with kids whenever and wherever you like. Yoga for kids is easy to learn, especially through online courses such as this Kid’s Yoga Course and Getting Started in Kids Yoga.
While it’s helpful to wear comfortable loose-fitting clothes so you can move freely, you don’t really need special clothing or gear to do yoga. You can practice yoga with kids anywhere – outside in the grass, waiting for the bus stop, in your living room on a soft rug, or in a gymnasium using a mat. Kids love to move, and it’s a great way to have fun and increase focus and flexibility.
Sample Yoga Poses
Here are a few yoga poses that you can do with kids. You can make yoga fun for younger children by keeping it simple and fun (make animal noises or have them guess how a pose was named!). With older kids, you can combine poses into more complicated sequences as their strength and flexibility increases. Here are a few simple yoga poses to help get you started:
- Downward Dog – Downward dog is a classic. Keep your feet hip width apart, and bend at the waist, placing your hands flat on the ground forming a V-shape. Stay here and take about 5 slow breaths in and out. This is a great pose for calming kids down.
- Tree – Standing up with feet hip width apart, bring one foot up to balance on the inside of the calf or knee. Alternate sides, and bring the arms out to the sides or above the head for an extra challenge. You can also wave your arms around like tree branches swaying in the wind to see if you can keep your balance. This is a great pose for improving balance.
- Cat/ Cow – Starting on your hands and knees with a flat back, arch the back into cat pose. Drop the back down through flat back, letting your belly hang into cow pose. Repeat slowly through cat and cow, which loosens up the back. Add a few “meows” or “moos” for fun.
- Frog – Start in a squat, with hands touching the ground between your legs. This is a great stretch for the legs and pelvis, and can be turned into a more vigorous pose by straightening the legs and turning it into a forward bend, and alternating between the two poses.
- Cobra – Lying on your belly, bring your hands under your shoulders and slightly raise your chest off the ground while looking straight ahead. Slowly raise and lower your chest and head, warming up the upper back and arms.
- Happy Baby – Lying on your back, bring the feet up in the air, bending your legs and holding them with your hands. Rock the body from side to side, loosening up the legs and back.
Additional poses to explore include wheel, lion, dolphin, wheelbarrow, triangle, corpse, airplane, moon and child’s pose. You can also have kids partner up and help each other do more difficult poses. Hold each pose for as long as you’d like, but at least for a few deep breaths in and out.
Combining Poses into Sequences
Once you learn a few yoga poses, you can combine them into sequences of several or more poses. You can make your sequences as short or long as you want, but in general it’s best to start slow and easy, then move to more difficult poses, and conclude with slower, relaxing poses. Try to make the yoga combinations fun, and tailor the experience to your specific students. You can create your own sequences, or search online for ideas.
One of the most important parts of yoga, and yoga for kids is paying attention to the breath. This is an important part of how yoga helps you focus, and become relaxed. In general, you should slowly breathe in and out while holding poses, and never hold the breath. This slow in and out breath helps the body relax, and the mind to focus.
You can start or end your yoga practice with a few simple breathing or meditation exercises. These don’t have to be complicated, and can be as simple as asking your kids to sit or stand with their eyes closed and take 5 deep breaths. Here are a few sample breathing exercises to try:
- Laying down on your back with eyes closed, put your hands on your belly and feel your normal breath for several breaths. There’s no need to modify anything, just ask your kids to notice whether their breath feels long, shallow, deep, tense, or relaxed. There’s no right answer! After observing a few breaths, ask them to try to make their breath as slow and smooth as possible. Do this for 5-10 breaths.
- Sitting cross-legged on the floor, have pairs of students sit back to back with their eyes closed. Have your kids roll their tongues into straws, and slowly inhale through the “straw”. At the end of the inhale, have them close their mouths and slowly exhale through their nose.
Breath is an important part of many relaxation techniques. To learn more about other relaxation techniques, try Learn the Art of Relaxation.
Yoga should never be painful, and as with any exercise routine, make sure you and any kids you work with are healthy enough to participate. Also, be careful not to over-stretch muscles, as children can often be very flexible already, or vulnerable to injury when they are growing quickly.