Let’s start from the beginning.
Children’s yoga is gradually increasing in popularity. Even though it’s pretty clear to see that children are natural yoginis. From that first moments in the womb we are all of yogis on a multitude of levels and the beauty is we don’t even know it, well not consciously. We are born into this world pure and natural with few inhibitions. As children we have no problem flowing freely with the natural movements of the body and believe it or not the majority of us possessed or may still possess the wonderful skill of open speech, this being the ability to say whatever it is ‘”as it is ” without the need for a sensor. You may have experienced this yourself with a child or two. However here’s a great example.
I was teaching my six year old Kali the sounds associated with the chakras. If your not familiar with these they consist of the syllables ” Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Om.” Starting at the base and working all the way up to the sixth chakra. Once we got to the sound of ” Ham ” which is the sound that governs the throat chakra Kali interrupted. ” No mummy we can’t say that, we are vegetarian and we don’t eat pig, we should say carrot or something similar instead.” My heart truly opened to her because the words came out of her mouth with such true sincerity and to be honest if the vegetable ” Yam ” can be used as the heart syllable then why not the carrot for the throat? I feel a trend catching on. I wonder how the ancient yogis would have taken to it?
Ok so moving on…..
So what happens next?
Children are natural wrigglers it’s in their genes. Experiencing life through a number of children’s eyes it’s as if they sign a wriggling contract which they abide by until they hit their tender teens, don’t you agree? and then what happens? wriggling is no longer cool it’s no longer acceptable. However once the wriggling stops notice what happens. Posture changes, laziness kicks in, inhibitions and freedom of movement cease almost over night and your child wakes up one morning and all of a sudden their motionless, with no desire to move. However the funniest thing is that in adult hood a lot of us ” Find ” yoga and spend the rest of our years trying to gain back the freedom of movement and speech that we lost all those years before. So simply why do we loose it? why don’t we just keep the movement, keep the freedom of speech, wriggle till our hearts are totally content, it’s a great way to awaken the soul. ( Notice above i write ” Find ” in inverted commas due to the fact that yoga has never been lost, it’s our true natural state, all we needed to do is delve within and get back to that inner child ).
Getting down to the nitty and the gritty.
When you do yoga at home with your child or if your taking part in a class situation, first and foremost the key word is ” Fun “ it’s all about enjoyment. As soon as a child sense’s that there’s an ounce of restriction or even discipline within the practice they will loose their natural flexibility which causes rigidity in the body and mind. Now i must mention before the critics step in that i’m not trying in anyway to be little yoga and make out that it’s just a bunch of laughs but i think there’s a time and a place to start introducing discipline and right now at the merry age of childhood, which is what we are talking about, fun and enjoyment are the key, agreed? Children must Want to do yoga without force. As soon as their forced it becomes similar to a tutorial during school time, dull and boring ( apologise to all those school lovers this is not to offend, just a simple way to compare).
So where to begin.
Here’s 5 simple postures to practice with your children on a regular basis. You may want to link them together to create a dance or even a show to perfom to the rest of the family, be creative and have fun. To help encourage a child to practice it’s important to include one of each of the following movements. This will maximise full body movement and allow stretch in all directions possible helping increase strength and flexibility. Oh! and before you start have a good shake, not with ice – cream and milk, not that kind of shake, a body shake a little warm up to loosen your load. While you do this use the voice too, make sounds that come naturally to you whatever they may be, let rip, you’ll quickly start to connect with having fun, which doesn’t always come naturally to us adults, am i right?
Create positive affirmations to use throughout the practice. Embrace them, shout them, say them, whisper them, play with them and if your stuck here’s a few ideas to help you out:
- ” I enjoy being fully and completely me, WAH HEE ! “
- ” So grateful, so blessed “
- ” I am happy, I am good “
Backward bend posture.
- Lying flat on the stomach place your legs straight out behind with the feet together and the soles pointing upwards. Rest the palms of the hands on the floor underneath the shoulders. Allow the forehead to rest down too. Let the whole body relax as you breathe deeply in and out through the nose.
- When you are ready to begin take a deep breath in and slowly begin to lift the upper body off the floor raising the head, neck and shoulders. Straighten the elbows and keep the shoulders relaxed. It’s really important to use the back muscles to hold the position rather than using the muscles in the arms. Relax the pubic bone down to the floor and breathe for 5 long slow deep breathes.
- Visualize the third eye point (the space between the eyebrows). As the breath moves inward imagine a bright white light at the third eye. If white light doesn’t rock your boat then imagine a colour of your choice, play with the colour in your minds eye and as the breath moves outward visualize the light beaming upwards towards the sky like a laser beam. Oh! and don’t forget to breathe deeply, brightening the light with every breath. Children love to use colour so have fun with it.
- To release, exhale and slowly relax the body down to the starting position. Notice how good it feels.
Bhujangasana is a strong spinal stretch and a simpler variation may be practiced in the beginning. This is called “sphinx pose.” It can be done in the same way as cobra pose except the forearms and elbows stay on the floor throughout the pose. This is a wonderful variation for a child who isn’t so bendy. Remember take your time and have fun, there’s plenty hours in the day to practice achieving the full position, it will come in time, be patient.
Bhujangasana improves circulation in the back and tones the nerves.When the nerves are stimulated this increases communication between the brain and the body. This asana tones the gynecological area, stimulates appetite and alleviates constipation. Ok this is the technical stuff but i think it’s good to know what your doing it for, don’t you?
Forward bend posture.
- Sit on the floor with the legs out straight and become aware of the sitting bones (their the bottom bones if you didnt already know). Keep the spine lengthened upwards. Visualize a long string attached to the top of the head that stretches all the way up towards the sky. With every breath the string is lengthening your spine upwards and helping to keep it straight and long. When done with the breath this is a really good stretch, It creates space between each vertebra in the back and it feels good.
- Keep your awareness on the breath as you inhale through the nose the centre of the body expands outwards and as you exhale through the nose it gently contracts (that’s a posh word for relax). As you breathe in raise the arms above your head with the palms facing, keep the shoulders relaxed. For some reason the shoulder’s adore the ears and love to lift when the arms lift, so kindly ask them (and i mean kindly) to stay where they are while you do the pose. Flex the feet and keep the body in the shape of a right angle. Hold here and breathe, it looks easy but it’s a small challenge.
- As you begin to stretch downwards towards the feet keep the spine long by stretching into the space around you, stretching upward, forward and if possible aim to stretch beyond the feet. Reach, reach, reach. Keep the eyes closed, visualize and feel the body stretching.
- Grasp the big toes with the fingers and thumbs, pushing into the heels and drawing the toes towards the head. Now you will feel an exhilarating stretch in the calf muscles. Repeat to yourself ” mmm! this feels good, ” say it at least 6 times and feel the release. If it isnt possible to hold onto the big toes place the hands on the ankles or the legs. Move into the position slowly without jerking or forcing. Remembering if your kind to the body it’ll be kind back.
- As you hold the position lengthen on the inhale and relax on the exhale. The more the body relaxes the more it will stretch.
- To finish, release the fingers from the toes and as you inhale raise the arms up to a parallel position just like in the beginning, keeping the length in the body until you return back to a right angle. Repeat the affirmation ” mmm this feels good.” Take a deep breath in, exhale and release your arms down by your sides.
- At the beginning hold the posture for 5 long slow deep breathes and as you increase the practice the timing can be lengthened.
When practiced regularly Paschimottanasana will increase flexibility in the hip joints, tone and massage the entire abdominal area, and remove excess weight from the abdominal region. All good stuff.
Lateral stretch posture.
- Stand to the side of the mat with a legs length distance between your feet. By leg length i mean one of your legs not somebody else’s. Turn your right foot out to the right side and turn the toes of the left foot slightly inward. The heel of the right foot should be opposite the left instep.
- Inhale and stretch the arms up to shoulder level as if you have wings and really stretch into the space either side of you, have the palms facing down. Exhale and stretch towards the right side. Hold here for 2-3 breaths and feel the stretch all the way down the left side of the body. Isn’t it a nice one?
- Exhale and move the right hand down to rest on the right shin, stretching the left arm directly upwards with palm facing forward. Turn the head to look up at the left palm, keep the chin tucked in towards the chest and take 2-3 long slow deep breaths through the nose. This is a powerful asana which can create wonderful length on both sides of the body. As you hold the stretch, close your eyes and reach up high with the top hand and visualize the fingertips touching the stars, reach higher with every in breath. Go on keep reaching, it feels so good to stretch this way.
- To return to the starting position, inhale and stretch upwards with the fingertips of the left hand. Release the right hand from the shin and bring the body slowly back up to a standing position, keeping the arms stretched out a shoulder level. Exhale and release your hands down by your sides.Turn both feet to face forwards and before repeating on the opposite side take a few moments with your eyes closed to be aware of how the body feels after the movement, divine right?.
- If the full position is difficult to achieve in the beginning it may be easier to bend the front knee.
- If there is a problem with the shoulder’s or the arm’s, relax the top arm on the side of the body or rest the hand on the waist with the elbow pointing upwards. In time and with practice the full asana will be achieved. But remember be patient.
Trikonasana tones the entire body, strengthening the muscles of the waist, back and legs. It improves digestion, stimulates appetite and alleviates any digestive problems.
- Lie relaxed on your back with the legs and feet together. Place the arms beside the body with the hands facing down. Connect with a full yoga breath, breathing in through the nose and expanding the abdomen outwards and breathing out through the nose and relaxing the abdomen down. Imagine breathing in a multitude of positive and happy thoughts and breathing out any negativity that has been sitting inside you and believe me there will be some, even if it’s just a little.
- Inhale and lift the legs, aiming to get the toes touching the floor behind the head. Use the hands as support to help role the body backwards. Make the movement as slow and controlled as possible, that will involve using the tummy muscles so be strong. As the legs stretch over the head visualize that the feet are creating a rainbow from the first position all the way back to the floor behind your head, drawing a perfect arc shape with the toes. Rest the palms of the hands on the lower back and keep the chin tucked in towards the chest.
- Although the breath will become slightly restricted, continue to breathe deeply through the nose. This will help to strengthen the lungs and bring a fresh blood supply to the whole of the body when the posture is released. As you hold, visualize the colours of the rainbow filling the whole of your body. Beginners may want to start by holding the position for 15 seconds and in time increase to 1 minute.
- To release gently bring the back to the floor one vertebra (or bone if you prefer) at a time with full awareness on the movement of the spine as it unfolds. Once again visualize the arc of the rainbow as the legs slowly move back down towards the floor. It’s a strong one for the tummy, but worth it.
If it’s difficult to place the toes on the floor behind the head, just take the legs back as far as possible and cradle the ankles in the palms of the hands with the feet a few inches off the ground.
Halasana has a multitude of benefits:
- The internal organs are massaged which activates digestion.
- It’s a great position to do when suffering from constipation or dyspepsia. I don’t need to elaborate on that one.
- The spleen is revitalized. If you don’t have a spleen then the pancreas will work on it’s behalf.
- Insulin production and function of the kidneys and liver are improved.
- The spinal column is toned which reduces any back pains.
- Thyroid gland activity is regulated which naturally balances the metabolic rate. Metabolism is always a good one to have balanced, it keeps the body weight steady.
Doesn’t all this just make you want to hold ” Halasana ” forever?
Some may class this as the best bit …….
- Lie flat on your back and let the arms rest by the sides of the body with the palms facing upwards. This position will help the chest and heart centre to open so the breath can move through the body without any restriction.
- The neck is an extension of the spine, so it’s important when beginning this pose to take a deep breath in, lift the head off the floor, bring the chin in towards the chest and then allow the head to rest back down on the floor. This will give you a wonderful neck stretch and allow you to be aware of the neck so you don’t roll back on the top of the head, which is a common problem during relaxation so no worries.
- Let the legs rest on the mat allowing the feet to drop to the sides, the hips and thighs will naturally open. Lie still as if you were sleeping and focus once more on the full yoga breath.
- As the breath moves in and out of the body, visualizing the breath as coloured light can help deepen relaxation and keep the mind focused. This is a great preparation for meditation.
The knees can bend so that the feet are flat on the floor. A wonderful alternative if there’s a back problem.
Shavasana relaxes the whole body, always remember to do it after every yoga session so that maximum benefit is gained from the practice. It’s a great posture to do before sleep to help release tension in the body and mind. Shavasana also helps develop body awareness – mentally, physically and spiritually, and when the whole body is relaxed the whole being can let go.
If you like this article, then why not take a look at…
“Super Dad: Stepping Up to the Plate and Not Striking Out.” via Sojourner Marable Grimmett
“Pregnant Mamas Breathe.” via Helene Rose
“Gisele Bundchen: ‘Moms should breastfeed.’” via elephantjournal.com
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