Yoga and mindfulness are important to our children. Yoga is the art of bringing the breath, mind, and body together. While children may use these areas independently, the union of the three increases their ability to be patient, identify and manage emotions, and see the unique light in others.
Aside from the physical benefits – increased strength, flexibility, and coordination – children are encouraged to bring attention to their breath, enabling them to become more mindful of their physical body, their thoughts, and emotions. However, while the benefits of yoga and mindfulness may be clear, some are still sceptical.
Don’t children get enough exercise between physical educational and extracurricular activities?
Children’s yoga gives them more than just an opportunity to move around. “A child’s yoga practice is a rare opportunity to experience play and focus without worrying about being wrong,” says Shana Meyerson, founder of mini yogis (miniyogis.com) in this article from Parents Magazine. They have a choice to participate based on how they are feeling. They can rest in child’s pose if they’re tired, creative children may invent new poses, while shy children may choose to share their thoughts when they feel comfortable and ready.
I’m raising my child Jewish/Christian/Agnostic etc. and don’t want yoga to influence their pursuit of this religion.
Yoga teaches youngsters to be more aware of others’ individuality and the importance of being kind to each other. It illuminates the beauty of being human. This generally applies to all religions. If you have specific concerns about chants, Sanskrit, etc., consult with the teacher – although those elements are often omitted in yoga classes for children.
My child is rambunctious and could not sit through a yoga class – this would not work for him or her.
While every child has different levels of maturity, patience, and listening skills, yoga is effective in helping them progress in these areas. In fact, there is research to support that children diagnosed with ADHD could benefit from yoga, as well as children with autism.
According to this article from NPR, researchers found that children with autism who did yoga at their elementary school behaved better than those who weren’t doing yoga. The researchers surveyed teachers at a school in the Bronx, NYC who said a daily yoga program reduced the children’s aggressive behaviour, social withdrawal and hyperactivity.
Additionally, yoga recognises each unique individual and is taught dynamically to address a variety of learning styles, so this is a great opportunity for children to flourish.
We just don’t have time for another activity.
This is exactly why yoga is a great opportunity for children. In a time where families are more and more busy, yoga offers a time for kids to slow down and equips them with tools for coping with a busier pace of life.
Yoga classes tend to work best when integrated into a child’s existing schedules. Gail Silver, founder of Philaldelphia’s Yoga Child, explains: “ideally, yoga should be integrated into school programs so that parents and children don’t have to squeeze it in between drama club, soccer practice and dinner, and so it can provide children with an outlet during the long and stressful school day.”
The tools to focus
Yoga and mindfulness has been deemed a must for busy professionals, new mums, and adults dealing with loss. It’s important to recognise the benefits of the practice for young children as well, so they may be happier, healthier and continue to experience its benefit as they mature into adults. As Silver says: “It is time for us to stop telling our youth to focus and time to start providing them with the tools and understanding as to how to do so.”
How to teach your child to meditate
When I tell people that I provide guided meditations for children, I’m usually met with a chuckle and a “really? How do you do that?!” But kids love to try new things. And in my books, if you start with two minutes of quiet and build it up, you’re winning.
Children today are bombarded with information from around the globe, most of which is unfiltered. Not only can the amount of information be overwhelming, but it can bring challenges for children whose capacity for discernment and good judgement are not fully developed.
How meditation can help
Meditation can be a very powerful tool in the development of self-awareness, and ultimately self-empowerment. While the act of meditation is still, if practised over time it can encourage action. Most importantly it can provide children with the tools to be strong in the face of adversity and build self-resilience from within. To walk into a room and not worry if anyone likes them, but rather if they like who they see. To find their uniqueness and then celebrate it.
How to teach children to meditate
Start small. Ultimately you are teaching your kids that self-care is important just by introducing them to the concept. There are a few key ingredients to keep everyone focussed. The first is to be relaxed. It’s key that there is no pressure for them (or you, if you are doing it with them) to be completely still or get it ‘right’. Remember that there is no right. We each have our own experiences while we meditate, and that’s how it’s meant to be.
Keeping the end in mind is important.
Let your child know that meditation is not about silencing their thoughts all together. We all have minds that chatter away. The key is becoming the observer of our thoughts and noticing how these thoughts are making us feel.
After a while we can become quite good at weeding out negative thoughts, and bringing ourselves back to the here and now. If they start to feel restless or that things ‘aren’t working’, ask them to bring their mind back to their breath, and reassure them that everything is working just fine.
Choose or create a calm environment, away from distractions.
Find a room with soothing colours and make it special – a nice cushion, a rug and some soft music playing are all fantastic ways to create an atmosphere that feels out of the ordinary and special. Let them help you prepare the room and have fun doing it together. Setting up your own lovely space will spark their own curiosity and help them want to be a part of what’s happening.
Headphones are a good addition because they can block out other noises, particularly if they are new to meditation and more easily distracted.
Explain what meditation is.
As I mentioned earlier, meditation is not about silence, which is a common myth. Meditation is about becoming the observer of our thoughts, getting rid of any that do not serve us and replacing them with those that will help, like positive self-talk and gratitude for what we have.
Explain that sometimes we all get caught up in our thoughts and the ‘busy-ness’ of life, but that meditating helps us stop for a while and be fully present in the moment we are in. It’s in the present that we can ignore thoughts of the past, (which we cannot change) and thoughts of the future (which hasn’t happened yet). In this moment, in this space, everything is wonderful and safe.
Meditation is a great activity to do together; so let them know you need this too. Let them know how important meditation is to you and why you love it, and particularly why you would like to share it with them. Or if you are starting out yourself, be honest and say this is a good thing to try together.
If you want to start small, sitting and working through a basic body relaxation technique is a wonderful way to start children connecting. Guided meditations are great because the kids can focus on the words being spoken. Even just a few minutes of talk followed by some soothing music is a great introduction. Gradually you can increase the time for each.
Don’t forget to use the opportunity to talk to your child afterwards about their experience. They will love the one-on-one attention from you and it can open up the lines of communication about what challenges they may be facing and perhaps help you know how you can guide them.