I keep returning to yoga practice in my adult life. It provides me with a space to be present in my body and helps me to notice what I am feeling and where I am carrying stress or worry that might affect my choices and actions. I wish I had known about this practice as a child, and I am training to be a child yoga instructor so I can share its benefits with my own and other children.
Yoga is a contemplative practice similar to meditation or prayer. It’s purpose is to create a space where children can pay close attention to heart, mind, and body connections. When children practice yoga, they learn to listen to what their bodies are telling them about their feelings. Yoga also provides a variety of tools (in the form of poses) that children can use to alter their emotional states when they think a change is needed. Thus, yoga helps children develop self-awareness and align their intentions and emotions through purposeful movement.
Educational psychologist Roxanne Rashedi and her research team report that contemplative practices like yoga encourage kindness, openness, and compassion. These virtues flow from children’s ability to regulate their emotions and make conscious decisions about how they want to act. The greater a child’s awareness, the more empowered a child is to live out their values through mindful self-regulation.
Even if you are not a yogi, you can build yoga practice into your family’s day. Teach your child a handful of poses that you like or find a short YouTube video for children to use as a guide (see Related Resources). Then start your morning with a few stimulating or heart-opening poses (such as Cat and Cow Stretches or the Hug pose). Try a few calming poses (Rock, Relaxation) before nap time or bed. Pause for a stress-relieving pose (Downward Dog) when your child is feeling overwhelmed. Do the poses with your child, and don’t worry about getting them exactly right.
To deepen your child’s spiritual experience with yoga, try these ideas:
- Help your child notice what is happening in their body. While posing, ask questions that focus on their physical experience: Where is your body stretching or relaxing? How does your body feel in this pose? What parts of your body move in this pose?
- Explore how the practice affects your child’s feelings. After you finish posing, ask questions that help children connect their practice to specific feelings: How do you feel when you do [name a pose]? Can you show me a pose that helps you feel peaceful (joyful, energized, strong, or loved)?
- Integrate poses into daily activities. Throughout the day, encourage your child to use poses to self-regulate their emotions and actions. You might cue them to use a calming pose before a stressful event so they don’t lash out, a pose that generates a sense of being loved when they feel lonely, or an energizing pose when they complain they are ‘too tired’ to do assigned chores.