There’s a standing joke in our family that even the toys have their own yoga mats. This is actually true. One long, rainy day when we had exhausted all the usual painting/cooking/dress-up games we could think of, Amba (my youngest daughter, four at the time, now six) and I cut up one of my old yoga mats into eight, mini mats and had fun “teaching” a yoga class to her favourite cuddly animals. Unsurprisingly, they were exceptionally good at Downward Dog and we had fun giggling and memory-making along the way.
This is typical of how yoga happens at our house. It’s about fun, getting everyone involved at a level they feel comfortable with and letting go of expectations of what yoga should look like.
Another example, could be my getting out yoga-ed by my eldest daughter, Maya, who sneaks in beside me as I practice and just oh-so casually stretches into a beautiful Dancer’s pose without so much of a warm-up stretch or Sun Saluation.
Or when my son Joseph, who I thought was totally immersed building his latest Lego creation, comes over as I stretch forward into Paschimottanasana and gives me the best ever adjustment and the most wonderful shoulder massage. How on earth does a ten year old boy know how to do this? Where does that awareness and thoughtfulness come from?
The only way I can explain this is that we are all yogis at heart. Yoga is within all of us and yoga is for everybody. With such a strong belief, you would expect me to make my kids do yoga all the time. But that’s not the case. Yes, they have all gone to yoga classes and clubs on and off since they were tiny and enjoy them but it is not something I insist they do every week. For me, it is more important that yoga is part of their life than an activity they have to commit to on a set day at a set time every week.
So how do I do this? Well, first of all I try to be a positive role model. I practice yoga around them and let them join in whenever they want – which can mean I may not always get a fully-rounded flow but what I do get is far more valuable in the long run. Secondly, I give them “yoga solutions” – breathing exercises when they get anxious or angry, relaxation techniques when they get stressed, massage tips for exam pressure and restorative poses for when they can’t go to sleep. Lastly, I don’t tell them they have to do yoga because as we all know forcing children to do something is never a good idea.
Why our children need yoga in their lives
Our children live in a ‘hurry-up’ world – busy parents, busy school runs, busy evenings filled with homework and clubs, busy weekends packed with family plans and sports activities, busy holidays with play dates and travel plans. Not only do we expect our children to keep up with everything and they also put such high expectations upon themselves to keep up - whether that’s a high score in their spelling test, the ability to catch all the Pokemon or to get lots of Likes for their latest Instagram post.
Child psychologists unanimously agree that children need ways to slow down and escape the pressures of modern life and time to just be. I believe yoga offers them this by teaching them importance of self-care and relaxation. I have seen first hand how yoga has helped my kids navigate life's challenges with a little more ease and I believe helping them to lay the foundations for a lifelong practice is one of the best gifts I can give them.
The benefits of yoga for children.
There are so many benefits of bringing yoga into your family’s life both mental and physical. While practising yoga, children exercise, play and develop a greater acceptance of themselves and others.
Yoga teaches self-acceptance.
Yoga teaches kids to accept themselves as they are. With the pressures of social media, celebrity culture and the endless “perfect” images they see in on TV and in advertising, children are constantly comparing themselves to others and can easily receive messages of inadequacy. Yoga can’t make growing up any easier but it does encourage our children to accept and love themselves for who they are. Learned young, this incredibly valuable lesson arms kids with the tools to fight off the increasing feelings of self-doubt that come during the teen years and beyond.
Yoga teaches acceptance of others
Namaste - the light in me sees the light in you - is a special blessing we can all teach our kids. If they learn early in life that all living beings are to be respected, we are hopefully helping to create a more peaceful and happy future for them.
Yoga helps kids to focus
We live in a world of distractions and instant gratification. It’s little wonder children are finding it increasingly difficult to focus on anything for any extended length of time. Yoga can really help with this as it teaches our kids to be present and more mindful.
Yoga teaches that it’s ok to relax
Yoga teaches children that relaxation is not only allowed; it is encouraged. Relaxing is not easy and learning to relax takes practice. Yoga provides space for the mind to slow down and settle. If children can learn how to relax and be still, they will be able to handle better the stressors and pressures that will begin to hit them as they get older.