The National Institute of Health advises that children need an hour exercise every day, and yoga is one of their recommendations:
Like adults, kids need exercise. Most children need at least an hour of physical activity every day. Regular exercise helps children
Sound familiar? Turns out, children are like adults in one other regard: calling something exercise can turn it into a chore. Luckily, yoga fits the bill both for affording all the listed benefits and for being easy to make into games and just plain fun.
Even grownups get tired sometimes of the somber atmosphere at some yoga studios; after all, it was an adult who invented Laughter Yoga!2 Yoga is a natural play activity and you can turn breathing and posture practice into a game as easily as saying, “Can you do this?” Start with a simple posture like Mountain or High Lunge and progress to Warriors I & II and then onto Balance Postures and even funny ones like Eagle and Lion’s Breath. You won’t have to call it “yoga” and everyone will end up toning core and extremity muscles as well as their breathing, all while interacting, teaching one another and having a great time.
You can create a game by having a Yoga Off. Pick one person, perhaps the youngest to start (you may get to help them). They pick a pose and everyone has to mimick it and see who stays the longest. The one who’s still standing after everyone has dissolved in laughter or thrown in the towel, gets to pick the next pose.
Yoga poses equally lend themselves to story telling. Not only do many of the postures have stories behind them, but you can even create your own. Children are often able to do some form of Hanumanasana, also known as “the splits.” You can tell them the story of Hanuman seeking a rare herb grown only on the very top of a remote volcano. Committed to finding it for his beloved leader he leapt from one shore to the other in a great “splits” and act of faith and devotion.
You could let the poses tell their own story: start with Mountain Pose, and tell a story that travels to the forest, where you find Tree Pose, and Eagle Pose perching in the tree.
Try demonstrating poses to have the children try with you and have them name the pose. You’ll end up with your own family or group’s secret lexicon of yoga poses to pull out whenever you want to lighten the mood or focus the energy.
How about melding yoga poses with a familiar game? Musical Yoga Poses! Instead of finding a chair when the music stops, have everyone strike a pose.
You can have a magical game of round robin London Bridges: one person takes Downward Facing Dog, while the others crawl around and underneath until the falls asleep and collapses. Whoever’s closest gets to be the next Dog.
Getting ready for naps can be the perfect time for a little yoga. Children sometime love to be wrapped up tight, so try lying on the floor with your arms by your sides on one end of a blanket and letting them roll you up and unwind you. Then do the same for them. End with the blanket unrolled and the child already in Final Relaxation pose. Try reading a relaxation script or guided meditation to trundle them off to sleep.
However you introduce yoga poses to the children in your life, be sure to keep it light, playful, fun and moving. No need to stay in any one pose for more than a few breaths. Let them take the lead and show you what yoga invites their bodies to do. You’ll plant seeds of health and well-being that will bear fruit long after the nap times are forgotten.
1 Medline Plus: “Exercise for Children” Web site. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/exerciseforchildren.html. Accessed October 18, 2011.
2 Curiosity.com from Discovery: “How was Laughter Yoga Invented?” Web Site. Available at: http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/how-was-laughter-yoga-invented. Accessed October 18, 2011.