“We’ve been sitting aaaalll day!” Those were the first words from 9 year old Clara, one of the kids in my Thursday after school kids yoga class. These kids didn’t need to sit and meditate right now. They needed to move.
Kids love to move. It’s what they’re designed to do.
Yet somehow we’ve created a culture with, perhaps, the most sedative children in the history of the world; a whole generation of over-stimulated minds and under-stimulated bodies. Just as in adults, yoga has the potential to wedge some space, some calm and
some physical vitality into children that are finding these essentials a little harder to come by.
Yoga, at its essence, is an invitation to find balance. Moving with breath, which is really the essence of hatha yoga, is a whole brain activity. It engages both the right and left hemispheres of the brain as it allows a child to concentrate and relax at the same time.
If there is lethargy, yoga can stimulate and invigorate. If there is stress or an over-taxed nervous system, yoga can calm nerves and generate a relaxation response. And with kids, the yoga toolbox is wide open to achieve either.
When kids have energy to burn, I’ll introduce challenging poses and inversions, motivating longer holds with storytelling and the nature imagery that many yoga postures are rooted in. Regardless of a child’s ability, there is always a pose that will
take them to their personal edge. Yoga poses are designed to strengthen the spine, allowing for optimal development and nerve function in growing bodies. Even a small improvement in posture expands a child’s lung capacity and improves their blood
Once the physical body has been tended to, we can go deeper. Nervous systems are settled with breath work and chanting or singing. Breathing is linked to both our mind and our emotions so that an unsettled or anxious mind manifests as short and shallow breathing. Teaching children to breathe deeply from their diaphragms is a skill they can draw on again and again to calm their minds and gain control of their emotions.
Concentration and focus are explored through a guided meditation or visualization. It can be as simple as imagining a certain colour radiating from the body or it can be a longer ‘journey’ based meditation that takes a child on a peaceful river trip or on a
magic carpet ride. I love the conversations these spark afterward because every child has their own unique experience of the exercise.
Yoga can be a creative laboratory for kids, allowing them to explore their own physical and emotional potential and to discover the tools they can use to find balance. It’s age-appropriate svadhyaya, or ‘self-study,’ a life-long process that can begin on the yoga mat.
At the end of the Thursday afternoon class I had the kids build small caves out of blocks and blankets. The darkness and muffled sound created small, personalized ‘sensory-deprivation’ chambers, a small respite from their busy lives. After a few minutes of
fidgeting, the room settled into complete silence. When the kids emerged ten minutes later, they were quiet, refreshed and smiling. On her way out Clara whispered, ‘can we do that again next week?’
Written by Christine Alevizakis
Originally published in Tonic Magazine.