*This is a guest post from Tamika Schilbe and Carolyn Jyoti Burke of DevaTree School of Yoga*
When Carolyn’s daughter Anabel was eight years old, she came home from a yoga birthday party upset. The yoga teacher told the birthday girl she was practicing downward facing dog wrong. Apparently her heels weren’t touching the ground.
Yes, you can wreck yoga for children.
Yogis are passionate about the benefits of yoga, so they naturally want to share it with their young students and even their own children. Yet too often well-intentioned yogis become confused by their child’s lack of interest, or even dislike of yoga. They can’t figure out why their efforts to share their passion aren’t igniting a spark of intrigue. In most cases, the problem is they’re sharing their adult version of yoga rather than tuning into the unique needs of the child.
Children’s yoga is vastly different from adult yoga. Here are five common mistakes when sharing yoga with children:
1. Postural alignment:
The refinement of your triangle pose or downward facing dog will definitely help you stay safely aligned in your practice. However, alignment is often irrelevant to children. Children love to jump, run, bounce, and experiment with all sorts of positions in their bodies. This is their natural way of moving. If a position doesn’t feel good, children usually change it on their own.
While teenagers and some preteens are eager to learn the finer details of a posture, for younger children less focus on alignment is needed. Not only can we bore them to death with detailed alignment, but we can also interfere with their natural development and body awareness. Focusing on alignment takes away their sense of freedom and ease. When young children are asked to use their mind to control the fine details of their movements, they can lose the ability to trust their natural instincts. They become frustrated because it’s counterintuitive. Children’s yoga is meant to be fun!
A typical adult yoga class moves from warm ups to a more vigorous practice or peak pose and then gradually cools down to relaxation. On the other hand, children’s classes often have multiple highs and lows. It’s common to alternate between active and reflective sequences in children’s yoga. Because every child is unique, being responsive and adapting to their energy levels is the key to creating a fun experience for young students.
While some adult classes might begin with a centering meditation or breath practice, children are more able to sit quietly in a brief meditation after they have been flying like an eagle or jumping like a frog. After some peaceful breathing, young children might be ready to jump up and move again. By honoring their natural energy and matching their pace, we can create a kid’s yoga experience that is both enjoyable and relaxing.
Children cannot hold a yoga posture, sit in meditation, or practice breathing as long as adults can. They don’t need to. Understanding this fact, rather than attempting to make a child sit still and meditate, will reduce everyone’s frustration. Holding postures for long periods of time is not good for growing bodies, nor will children naturally do this. Sometimes having children hold a stuffed toy while breathing on their backs will keep busy hands occupied and allow them to stay in relaxation pose a few moments longer.
Children naturally digest life at a different speed than adults. They can move through the experience faster, and still get the same benefits as an adult who takes much longer to practice.
4. Student Self-Determination:
One of the most important foundations of DevaTree™ yoga is student self-determination. In children’s yoga, this translates into allowing little ones to take the lead whenever appropriate. Most children love to share their ideas. When we provide a space to hear them out, honor their creativity, and allow them to shine, they feel amazing. This could be as simple as asking them what color their butterfly is while practicing butterfly pose.
Children’s yoga teachers need to keep the containment and structure in the class, but they can also find creative ways to give children as much choice, power, and freedom as possible. For parents practicing at home with a child, allowing the child to teach them a posture, even when it’s not a typical yoga pose, makes the child feel empowered and free. This also reduces power struggles.
5. Let Go of the Outcome:
We practice yoga because it keeps us sane during periods of huge transition and chaos—connecting us to something bigger than ourselves. We love yoga because it helps us get quiet and accept ourselves as we are. These are the “whys” of our yoga practice, but we cannot expect our children to feel the same way.
At times Carolyn’s kids practice alongside her, but other times they simply aren’t interested. We might hope the children will lean on yoga as a lifelong healing tool, but they are on their own unique path. The more we let go of our need for them to “get yoga,” the more curious they seem to be. Trusting this, we can find comfort in knowing the yoga path will always be available to them if they choose it.
Carolyn Jyoti Burke and Tamika Schilbe are excited to return for their 6th year sharing children’s yoga at the Toronto Yoga Conference. You can view and register for their workshops here or RSVP to their Facebook event page to let your friends know you’ll be attending. Carolyn and Tamika are co-founders of DevaTree School of Yoga, as well as professionally trained therapists. Learn more about the HeartRise Yoga for Children Certification (RCYT) at their website.