By Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan
As I wrote about in my last post, yoga can help kids develop flexibility, strength, agility, balance, and body awareness. When teaching little yogis, it’s important not to worry too much about proper poses or "doing it right.” It’s more about exposing them to basic forms and muscle memory, and having fun. They will gradually learn the nuances. Here are five great starter poses for building well-balanced kids. They can be done individually as you need them, or together as a sequence.
Summer brings a lot of unstructured time, which is great for free-flow play. But it can be challenging to get your kid to shift from hunting salamanders to, say, prepping for a swimming lesson. Tree pose can help teach the value of a smooth and strong transition. Invite the child to bring their foot above or below the knee and press it into the leg while they press their rooted foot into the ground. To begin, their hands can remain pressed against each other in front of their heart (if they’re toppling over, suggest they place one hand on a wall or actual tree for stability). As their balance improves, they can move their arms toward the sky like branches of a tree. Repeat pose, switching feet for symmetry and strength.
Liam demonstrates the Tree post. Photo: Devin Joesting
To help your child avoid muscle fatigue during sports, teach them to breathe evenly into their entire body instead of shallowly into their throats and necks. This is called full, big-breath breathing. Have them place their hands together in front of their heart, fingertips gently touching one another. As they inhale gradually, open their fingertips like they are holding a sphere. As they exhale, have them bring their hands back to their starting position. Repeat at least three times. Breath work allows a child to reconnect their mind with their body, and is good for the immune system and the nervous system; use this calming pose after temper tantrums and before bed. They can also use a plastic Hoberman Mini Sphere ($15 on Amazon) that mimics breath when opened and closed in unison with their inhales and exhales.
Big-Breath Breathing with hands and a Hoberman sphere. Photo: Devin Joesting
Is your child finding it hard to let go of a difficult moment? Waterfall (or forward fold) increases blood flow to the brain and works like an eraser for the nervous system. To work on flexibility, add a slight twist by having the child swing their arms side to side above their feet like water rushing over rocks. The inversion invites the child to see the situation from a different perspective, and when they slowly rise up one vertebra at a time, they are ready to begin again.
Waterfall. Photo: Devin Joesting
This pose teaches children the importance of strength, being grounded, and staying true to themselves. Have your child stand hip width apart with all four corners of their feet firmly anchored on the ground. Let their roots grow deep into the earth and their shoulders fall away from their ears, hands active, with their gaze steady and soft on a focal point of their choosing in front of them. Invite them to activate their leg muscles and connect with their breath and their muscle strength in this pose.
Strong Mountain. Photo: Devin Joesting
This pose helps develop a child’s strength, agility, balance, and aptitude for risk. As your child comes out of Mountain pose, have them extend their arms out like a soaring eagle. When they are ready, gradually raise one leg up behind them as they bend forward at their waist. You can also start by doing the Partner Eagles pose. Hold hands and each bend at the waist toward one another while kicking one foot back as you help each other balance.
Flying Eagle. Photo: Devin Joesting
At the end of each pose or sequence, place palms together in front of your chest. Then raise them to your head for peaceful thoughts, lower them to your lips for peaceful words and your heart for peaceful actions.
For more kid-friendly postures, check out Yoga Calm at http://www.yogacalm.org/.
Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan is a writer in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and four young sons. She recently completed her Yoga Calm training.