Suzie Manson, Founder of Yoga4Kids South Africa and children’s yoga teacher trainer, urges us to remember the invaluable role that meditation (or creative visualisation) and breathing exercises play in children’s yoga.
Meditation serves to calm children’s bodies, minds and emotions, allowing them to develop awareness of their inner being. It allows them to connect with their internal experiences and filter out external diversions that get in the way of them being true to themselves. It also improves their ability to concentrate and learn.
A typical Yoga4Kids class will start with the students seated in a comfortable meditative pose – either in half or full lotus, or simply cross-legged. It is not realistic for the teacher to expect perfect stillness, but the mere act of getting the children to sit still, straighten their spines and close their eyes helps them to change state – either from an over-stimulated and hyperactive “Tigger” or a sad and sullen “Eeyore” – to a calm and balanced “Winnie the Pooh”.
Yoga4Kids teachers will inspire their students with the leading question, “You know how to be still, don’t you?” and ask them to become aware of their mats and to bring their awareness to their noses. Simply breathing evenly in and out through the left and right nostril for a few moments will calm the children.
Young yogis need to be guided through meditation, or their attention will quickly drift. An example of one Yoga4Kids guided meditation or visualisation involves asking each student to think of his or her heart as a flower, and to see what colour that flower is. They are then prompted to imagine the flower as tightly closed into its bud, before picturing love shining onto the flower like bright, warm sunlight that makes the petals open one by one. After this they are told to imagine care flowing into their hearts, like raindrops that cause more and more petals to open. Once all the petals of their heart flowers are open, they are assured that they are now open and ready not only for their yoga practice, but also to give and receive lots of love.
Various breathing exercises are also incorporated into a Yoga4Kids class. Manson believes that breathing is the single most important thing we can teach a child, as it is the tool that balances the body and mind and allows the spirit to be nourished. Conscious breathing allows children to release tension and calm and balance the nervous system. Awareness of the breath brings the mind into the body, allowing the children to be more present in the here and now.
A typical Yopga4Kids class will offer a series of both energized breathing exercises (such as “bunny breath”, “cake and candles”, “lion breath”, “panting dog” and “dragon breath”) as well as some peaceful breathing techniques (“elephant ear breathing”, “balloon breath”, “tree breath”, and “fish on tummy breath”).
Knowing how to use the breath is a tool that children can take into their lives outside of the yoga class, allowing them to slow down, centre themselves, and make behaviour choices from a more non-reactive and integrated place.
For more information on meditation and breathing for children, to find a Yoga4Kids class near you, or to enquire about becoming a Yoga4Kids teacher yourself, visit www.yoga4kids.co.za.