Yoga as a Family!
I remember that when I first started doing a lot of yoga, my family in Idaho was kind of in shock. I discovered it in the early nineties and back then it wasn’t anywhere near as popular as it is today. My dad would joke that I was doing some sort of “yogurt”. But I kept on my path and started showing my parents gentle yoga postures and breathing exercises. My mom started to notice less strain in her neck and shoulders and my dad loved how much more range of motion he was getting in his golf swing. My sister in laws started doing my yoga DVDS regularly and most of my family members have come on one of my yoga retreats. Even my older brother has started doing yoga regularly. I have my whole family on a path to wellness and it feels so good!
I was set up on a blind date with my now husband through one of my yoga students. I make sure he does yoga with me and I am a huge advocate of doing yoga with my children. Yoga saved me during my pregnancies and I know my babies felt comforted from within when I sat and connected to my breathing and moved my body gently in restorative yoga while they were inside my tummy.
My older son has been doing tree pose since he came out of my womb! I did a lot of baby yoga stretches with him when he was an infant, and he was always on my mat near me when I practiced. I would hold him and use my ujayii breathing to calm him down when he was crying. He’s now four years old and he does down dog, warriors, tree, eagle, even tries to stand on his head with my guidance. Timothy definitely has a yoga body and I want to nurture that. I also notice how important it is to keep him tapping in to his breath when he gets frustrated or upset.
My twins are ten months old and I do similar breathing and baby yoga stretches with them. It’s incredible to watch children naturally breathe deeply through their diaphragm and sit up nice and tall in a cross-legged seat. I want to take advantage of keeping their limbs supple and their spines long since this is their body for life. I love to see them stretch their arms up after a nap and grab their feet in happy baby pose while lying on their backs.
So you could say everyone from my parents to my children practice yoga together and it is truly an amazing way for us to all bond. If you want to make yoga a fun, mindful, healthy experience for your whole family as well, here are some tips:
MAKE IT FUN!: Sometimes people start doing yoga and they take themselves too seriously. Yes yoga can help us concentrate and focus and that is great; but yoga is about being present. When you are having fun, you are soaking in the present moment and finding joy in what you are doing. I remember teaching in Taormina in Puglia on a yoga retreat and I brought my older brother and his wife. My older brother has the best sense of humor and as he was struggling in my classes, he made light of his tight hamstrings or stiff shoulders. He did what he could and had only done a few classes up until that point. When we did a partner pose at the end of class, he made “jazz hands” and kept the entire group giggling and having fun.
REMEMBER IT’S A PROCESS: Sometimes we get too caught up with judging ourselves or how we look or are doing in a pose, instead of being in our body and enjoying the process. We want to nail a crow or do a handstand and when we can’t we get down on ourselves. I love watching my four year old, he is a great reminder to me to keep trying and not get discouraged about doing a pose “right”. His tree is his own variation and he even makes up poses sometimes. He never gets upset when he falls out of a yoga posture, he just does the pose again.
CONNECT WITH THE BREATH: When we tap in to our breath, we connect to our life force. When we feel alive, we are more connected with the ones we love. I often start class with my husband sitting back to back and syncing our breath. With my babies, I sit them in my lap and let them feel my breathing to calm them down. I notice immediately when I tell my four year old to stop and take a deep breath, his mood shifts immediately. So many of us take shallow breaths a majority of the day, yoga slows us down and forces us to breathe deeply and fully. As a family it also allows us to stop all of our distractions and be fully alive together.
PLAY A GAME: Timothy and I have a super fun Yoga Spinner game from Think Fun. We play it all of the time and he loves it. He learns yoga postures and he gets stronger as he works on holding them. There are also partner poses we try together. It’s not a competition and that’s what I love about yoga. Everyone is doing their best in their own body. You can also have tree holding contest to see who can hold a pose the longest just for fun. You can play leap frog, you can sing songs, you can build things with yoga blocks and you can have a tug of war with a yoga strap. You can play follow the yoga leader, have a freeze dance and stop in a yoga pose, or do stop and strike a pose, where you turn your back and when you turn around everyone has to stop and hold a pose. Babies love foam yoga blocks! Learning yoga postures while having fun is one of my favorite things in the world.
GET SOME AWESOME GEAR: I also LOVE the Moodster’s yoga mats. Kids feel special when they have their own gear. Timothy has a Coz yellow yoga mat and it really brightens his mood when he gets on it. The babies wear proprioception socks and wristbands with little bells on the them. My husband is much more apt to do yoga when he feels comfortable. He gets super sweaty so I make sure to have a yogi toes grippy towel for him. My parents feel better when they have straps and blocks to support themselves in postures that are difficult. When someone has the right comfy yoga clothes on, has a good supportive non-slip mat, and props that help them get deeper in to a posture, it’s much easier to keep them coming back to practice with you.
PICK A GREAT ENVIRONMENT: When you have a special place to practice, it makes it so much more appealing. I went on a two-week rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with my father nine years ago. My dad is probably the least likely to do yoga with me; but waking up on the river and doing a few sun salutations in the canyon was pretty amazing. He couldn’t help but take in some deep breaths and forward folds while we saluted the sun rising on the red river rock wall. I know it’s not every day you can be in the Grand Canyon; but you can go outside to a park, practice in your favorite room of your home or find a center that you love. I often take Timothy and the twins to Central Park Sheep’s Meadow to do yoga.
WEAVE IT IN TO YOUR DAILY LIFE: Take a moment to meditate for five minutes in the morning with everyone to set the tone for the day. Strike a standing balance pose when you need to regain focus. Do a partner pose if you find yourself in an argument with each other to reconnect. Say and “om” before a meal to eat with more presence. Stretch your arms overhead, do a down dog or some sun salutations first thing when you wake up. Lie on the floor and stretch or do some restorative, calming postures before bed at night. Remind your family members it doesn’t have to be a formal practice. You can sneak yoga in to your life all day long.
Kristin McGee is a celebrity yoga and Pilates instructor in New York City. She is the star of over 100 videos, a contributing editor at Health Magazine and a spokeswoman for many brands and causes she believes in. Kristin also appears frequently on television. A proud mom to three, she sure keeps herself busy!