5 Non-Dogmatic Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Love Yoga
It’s only natural for parents who have a deep understanding of the holistic benefits of yoga to want to share it with their children. But no one wants to force a way of thinking, being, or believing onto their kids. By this point in human evolution, it’s pretty well understood that kids are only going to get the full benefits of yoga, or anything for that matter, if they develop their own relationship with it. Here are a few ways to encourage a love and appreciation of yoga from an early age, and maybe even inspire a lifelong love for it.
Bring Your Practice into the Open
The very first thing that parents with children of any age can do to begin sharing yoga with their little ones is to bring their own practice out into full view. According to Yoga Journal, kids who see their parents doing yoga are likely to ask questions and even join in. Why tuck yourself away in the meditation room? Yoga is meant for the living room! Invite the kids to climb on you, to swing from your tree pose and scamper beneath your downward dog. Not only is it great fun for the kiddos, but it’s a good way to practice balancing your own needs with your family’s, both literally and figuratively.
While quiet time is important, especially for parents with young children, think of your practice at home as family time. If your regular daily practice is at home, you can always set aside a block of time in the morning for solitary practices like asana and pranayama, and reserve the afternoon or evening for the more strenuous, high energy part of your practice to share with the kids. Parents who work and find themselves sitting a lot can focus on poses like downward dog, pigeon pose, mountain pose, and other stretching exercises to help undo some of stress of sitting all day. The more dynamic the pose, the more fun it is for kids to engage with.
Turn it into a Story
For young kids, simple fun is one of the best introductions to yoga. Turn yoga time into story time by using fun kid-friendly poses like cat pose, partner boat, table top, camel, and tree pose to weave grand tales of adventure. Can a cat hop a boat that takes her to a grand feast where she meets a camel stuck in a tree? There’s only one way to find out.
Of course, helping kids develop a meaningful relationship with yoga is about more than imitating animals with asanas. It’s about helping them find sanctuary in the practice. Stories are a great point of entry.
Teach Breath Awareness
Not every moment of raising kids is fun and games. There are tantrums, there are freak-outs, and there are patience-testers. Yoga can be applied to those moments as well.
Students of any age will tell you that yoga can improve concentration, self-control, and breath awareness. The more practice a person has honing these skills, the easier it becomes. Teaching children to be aware of their breath, and consequently learning about its impact on their behavior, will not only help ease the immediate tantrum-moment, but it will help them grow into more self-aware adults.
Simple poses like half sun salutations and tree pose will help calm kids by providing focus and soothing the nervous systems through methodical movement. In moments when a timeout is called for (obviously it’s not always possible to go straight from a crying fit to sun salutation), try a similar, yet more yogic alternative. Leading the upset youngster in a simple child’s pose exercise pulls all their energy inward by relaxing the muscles and cutting off all outside stimulation. It will help soothe them and teach them that focusing on their breathing will enable them to calm their minds.
Encourage their Mystic Side through Play
An active imagination is a sure way to encourage a child’s sense of curiosity about the world around them. It’ll help them learn to ask questions about themselves, their reality, and their relationship to the world. Kids who ask these sorts of questions are the ones who grow up to really engage with their fellow humans, pursuing careers like counseling and psychology, things that really help us get at the root of what it means to be human. If that’s not a spiritual endeavor of the non-dogmatic variety, I don’t know what is.
For a kid, there’s nothing that grows imagination like play. A child engaged in imaginative play is like a bear cub tussling with its siblings — it might seem lighthearted and silly, but that’s a good thing. The emotional and psychological benefits of fun are insurmountable. Parents whose kids play imagination games which, on the surface, might not seem related to the child’s inner growth, will tell you that in fact they’re picking up lots of valuable lessons. A little girl who collects rocks for her imaginary friend is learning about the importance of sacred objects. Maybe the next day her mother can show her the small altar in her meditation room, and the girl will have a better sense of what it’s all about.
Kids Yoga Classes
Finally, there will come a time when your child is old enough to take a yoga class on their own. Set them free, let them explore the practice on their own terms and with peers. Not only will it help them grow confidence and independence, but it will give them the chance to build their own community of like-minded friends.
There are online resources to find yoga classes near you, but it’s best to start by asking your own yoga community for recommendations. If there aren’t any active yoga classes for children in your area, that’s a good sign that it’s time to start one.