Once the preserve of tie-dye wearing hippies, yoga is now completely mainstream in the west and, increasingly, taught to children too. We talk to two yoga gurus (and mothers) Jane Kersel and Charlie Anderson Sumner about why yoga is great for kids, and share some great resources to get your kids started.
Yoga is for everyone – you’re never too young (or too old) to start. Kids yoga classes are a great way to increase co-ordination, self-awareness, confidence and self esteem while they stretch and strengthen their bodies. Regular yoga practice can help children to relax and concentrate in a gentle, creative environment. It certainly works for my youngest, who at 3, started taking classes at his Montessori nursery.
You only have to watch young children to know that they love to play and move their bodies. It’s an entirely natural thing that requires no instruction. They also tend to live in the present moment, engaging completely in the play or drawing, Knex model or homework in front of them: they aren’t thinking about what’s for supper, or when the bills need paying.
But the reaction of many parents when I tell them that my full-on, boisterous child finds inner peace on the mat, is to laugh.
So if you question whether your child could lie still in shivasana or hold mountain pose without falling over, read on.
London-based yoga teacher Jane Kersel:
A class for children will often be based around a story. It could be a teacher asking the children to turn their bodies into the shape of trees or animals in that story. That teaches them great body/hand coordination, keeps their imagination fed and gives them good feelings about being at play.
The older a child gets the more the pragmatic benefits come into play: it’s helpful for bad posture when they are sitting for much of their day at a desk, it’s also valuable to do something with less intellectual left brain focus (dynamic and goal orientated) and more right brain activity (creative/passive/no agenda). It gives older children a place to stop and unhook from the pressure of school life – to reconnect with their bodies, their breath and to slow down and feel instead of think.
That is the art of surviving modern life. So many of us only connect with our bodies when we feel something is ‘wrong’ with them or we reject our bodies based on our body image.
The deepest teachings of yoga – if you find a good teacher –will continually bring you away from the outer superficial world and get you to connect to a deeper and more stable inner world. This can be hugely beneficial for children who have been through trauma, or are adjusting to new family members, a change of school, or those who are scheduled and don’t have very much time to play independently.
With yoga, you are learning to be self-directed, self-governing; able to notice thoughts that are harsh/critical and separate yourself from them.
Ultimately, childhood is about learning individualisation. The gift of yoga (taught well) is that you start to gain confidence in yourself. It’s not a ‘marked’ process, children are so often defined by a maths grade. There’s no ‘good at yoga’ or ‘bad at yoga’, you are subconsciously learning to embrace all the different parts of yourself on a mat and to enjoy the process of being you. With regular practice, you will notice a positive shift in your child without having to measure them by x, y or z.
I’ve taught many children, and parents, of all ages and I truly don’t believe you can have a ‘bad’ child or a ‘difficult’ child. I think yoga is best if it is embraced by all the family. So often a child’s behaviour is deeply connected to the atmosphere at home, the energy between their mother and father, the dance between the members of the family…
Charlie Anderson Sumner teaches yoga in Surrey and notices the benefits of regular practice in her own two young daughters:
Yoga is the science of bringing things into balance – physically/energetically/emotionally – this is of huge value to our kids as they are growing and changing by the second. Children are growing up in an increasingly busy, stimulating and competitive world, with an unhealthy preoccupation with screens and body image. Yoga helps teach them to focus on being kind and content, to look for satisfaction from within rather than external validation.
With regular practice and the right teacher you could hope that a buzzy child would find techniques to self calm and that a nervous child will become more contented.
Yoga isn’t about perfection, it’s about acceptance. It gives my girls a frame of reference so that when they have been reactive they are able to reflect on what happened and why without judging themselves negatively and feeling ashamed. Physically, they love the fun challenges that yoga presents – only yesterday my 8 year old came to me, bubbling with excitement that she has managed to hold crow!
While sitting in meditation is not really their thing, both girls love to chant. Scarlet (4) does a killer rendition of the Ganesha mantra that sounds something like the Macarena. And nothing puts a smile on my face more than listening in to my 8 year old and her friends talking about their yoga class at school: who came, who was late, what sun salutes they did… I still can’t quite believe how lucky we are that this generation just takes yoga’s existence as a given and not like some weird alternative lifestyle choice.
Yoga For Kids: Resources To Get Them Started
- Find a gentle introduction by reading The Yoga Game By The Sea with your child. We like the rhyming prose, the fact that children guess the poses, and the illustrations, which show each posture in the context of a day at the beach. Get it from Amazon or Waterstones.
- Yoga Cards are fun for children who take classes or parents who already practice and want to do so together. We like Enchanted Wonders A-Z Cards: Inspiring Yoga Activities to Elevate Your Child’s Self-Expression.
- To find a class local to you, search by postcode on the British Wheel of Yoga. Sort through them and don’t be frightened to ask questions. Ask if the teacher has children themselves: do they have a happy open energy, are they walking their talk?
- There’s a lot of great information and classes around the country specifically designed for children from age 2+. Have a look at Yoga Bugs.
- If you are looking to help a child through a difficult patch, have a look at The Minded institute.
- Triyoga run a number of classes for older children in London (Camden and Chelsea).