May 6, 2016 by Sandi Schwartz
Are you looking for a simple way for your children to unwind and get in touch with their emotions? The yoga mat can serve as a retreat from the pressures and stress that they face every day. Yoga offers so many incredible benefits to our children including a time for inner focus, to connect to their bodies, and even to enjoy a bit of silliness to lighten the moment.
I reached out to several children’s yoga teachers about how children can learn to better understand their feelings by practicing yoga. They shared the different tactics they use to effectively engage their students and guide them to manage their emotions.
A Fun Break
“Yoga gives children the opportunity to slow down in the fast-paced, tech-driven world that we live in,” explains Jolie from Kidding Around Yoga. But yoga doesn’t always have to be a serious time. Teachers like Jolie and Mary Holman-Anderson of Green Valley Works incorporate fun concepts into their yoga lessons like asking the children to pretend to be animals while doing their yoga moves. Some other creative ideas include:
- Children pretend that a small furry animal is moving from one part of their body to another when they do a body scan.
- Rename poses: Cobra pose becomes Carmen Chameleon, Pigeon pose is either Eagle or The Best Bird Eagle, Garland pose is called Chicken.
- Ask children to meow during Cat pose and moo during Cow pose.
Focused Attention Using The Breath
Yoga teaches children to breathe mindfully (called pranayama) and focus on the present moment. This allows them to move their attention away from the many thoughts and feelings inundating their mind, and to begin to think about and control how they truly feel.
“When children are given the tools to use their breath, they can modulate and calm themselves down in any stressful situation such as an academic test or a shot at the doctor,” Jolie of Kidding Around Yoga explains.
Mary Holman-Anderson of Green Valley Works was happy to share that the “best moment comes when we ‘awake’ to the present moment and the children say the first word that pops into their mind. Often it is something beautifully expressive like: calm, peaceful, quiet, brave, strong, big as the sky, expanded, and aware.”
Sandy Gologursky of Ladybug Yoga provided one of the breathing exercises, called the Sigh Breath, that she uses in her classes to help the children calm down and connect to their emotions:
- Children sit comfortably with hands on their knees and eyes closed.
- They inhale deeply through their nose and exhale through their mouth, making a loud sighing noise.
- Explain that when the children breathe in, they breathe in happiness and when they breath out, they can let out any anger, sadness, or stress they may be feeling.
- Repeat 3-5 times.
Jolie of Kidding Around Yoga believes that the physical part of yoga (poses or asana) is a wonderful activity for children that serves as an alternative to or break from competitive sports. Yoga allows children to move and challenge themselves without competing with their friends. While practicing the poses, children have another opportunity to be aware of their breath and focus on their physical body while stretching and strengthening their muscles.
Yoga movements can also be used to express how children are feeling. Giselle Shardlow wrote a post for Childhood 101 about managing big emotions through movement. Because movement and breath help to alleviate stress and anxiety, she put together a series of five yoga poses that children can act out to calm down. They include:
- “I am strong.” Pretend to be a surfer with Warrior 2 pose.
- “I am kind.” Pretend to be a tree with Tree pose.
- “I am brave.” Pretend to be a skier using Chair pose.
- “I am friendly.” Pretend to be a dog with Downward-Facing Dog pose.
- “I am wise.” Pretend to be an owl with Hero pose.
You can also download an adorable poster that walks you through these poses.
The teachers agree on how important it is to incorporate positive messages into the children’s yoga practice. Jolie of Kidding Around Yoga said, “When a child is feeling insecure in a new social situation, positive words can help to bolster confidence by making statements like ‘I am a good friend’ or ‘I can handle this’. It is very important to me as a yoga teacher to show the children that when things are going well they should stop and take a deep breath and say what they are grateful for in that moment. It builds a wonderful habit of gratitude and an intrinsic sense that their world is a safe place. Creating that feeling can then carry over to a more relaxed mood overall.”
Mary Holman-Anderson of Green Valley Works holds a weekly practice with junior high students who take their stress very seriously. In the beginning of each class, she asks them to communicate what they need that week. “Some of the comments are heart-wrenching and reveal just how much stress these kids carry on their shoulders,” she notes. “But it is interesting how well they are able to articulate what they need.” They almost always ask for symbols from nature and ways to become more resilient. Some of the most memorable comments from her class are:
- “I need to feel safe. Can we do a guided meditation where I am a wolf?”
- “Can we please do tree, and then meditate about a tree in a really big storm but none of my branches get torn off because I am so strong?”
- “Can we bow over pigeon and stay there a long time until I fall asleep?”
Use The Right Equipment
Fortunately, yoga does not require too much equipment, but the yoga mat is central to any yogi’s practice. It grounds us in a special space and allows us to just focus on what is happening on the mat. It becomes our own personal island where we can leave our troubles behind.
My daughter and I had the opportunity to practice yoga together on this gorgeous purple Aurorae Impression yoga mat that has a calming flower pattern on it. We love this mat because:
- Aurorae is an amazing company that prides itself on offering a wide variety of active lifestyle products that are both environmentally-friendly and safe for humans and animals. The mat is hypoallergenic and does not contain harmful chemical like phthalates, phenols or PAHS. It is also free from latex, rubber, and silicone. It is odorless, not emitting any chemicals or gases. It has been successfully tested against harmful substances and is FDA-approved. Finally, the Classic and Northern Lights mats are even biodegradable!
- It is 5mm thick, providing just enough cushion and support to protect your knees, back, hips, and joints by absorbing the impact of the floor while still allowing you to grip the floor for balance poses.
- It is durable, lightweight, and easy to care for. Instructions are included that explain how to break in and maintain the mat.
- Designed with special memory foam, it will mold to your hands and feet during yoga practice and any indentations will disappear over time.
- It comes with an Aurorae Yoga Slip Free Rosin Bag to absorb any perspiration, natural oils in your skin, or resin from the mat itself that can cause slipping. It increases gripping power on your mat and is made from natural materials.
- The mats come in a variety of designs that allow you to individualize your mood and focus. They also have a focal point icon that helps you focus on your poses.
You can choose from several different types of Aurorae yoga mats that come in a variety of colors and patterns:
Aurorae also has some amazing accessories to go along with your yoga mat that your whole family will love:
How have you incorporated yoga into your children’s lives and what benefits have you observed?