Why yoga for children? Ten years ago, that question was most likely asked about martial arts. Now there are classes for children at martial arts studios around every corner. And, like martial arts, yoga develops many wonderful qualities in children. In addition to the obvious benefits of exercising the physical body, both sharpen the child’s ability to focus and give self-confidence and self-discipline. And yoga, practiced regularly, helps children become aware of themselves from the inside out. From this awareness, children can change and grow in new and positive directions.
Montessori argued that healthy children are naturally drawn to a sense of the spiritual: reflectiveness, good will, a love of work, and so on. This is the root of the “normalized child”-the positive model of health and intelligence that all Montessorians are called to facilitate.
More and more professionals who work with children with autism, special needs, sensory integration, learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD are being trained to teach children’s yoga–and with great results. Yoga is a natural for children, since it addresses the whole child, including the brain/body connection.
Introducing yoga to the Montessori classroom is one way we can promote the normalized child. In establishing a yoga program, teachers must recognize that children need much more support than adults in order to begin to recognize the effects and benefits of yoga. If they do not receive such support, they will not be likely to create a clear sense of yoga or of how yoga can help them.
Recent neurological research links deficits in the body’s ability to produce endorphins early in life with addictions later in adulthood. But yoga trains the body to recognize the effects of endorphins and other similar neurological chemicals. Although it is not clear whether yoga may serve as an inoculation against addictions later in life, it is consistent with Montessori goals and practice to pursue any such promising pathway. In any case, the teacher and her methods should not stand in the way of the child’s internal path.
Tips for Doing Yoga with Your Children
Create a special time of the day for yoga with your child. Take some time in the morning or evening and follow it with a deep relaxation.
Make a “sacred space.” Use a small table or cover a box with a cloth. Decorate it with pictures and objects that have special meaning for your child. Use a candle for focus during a meditative yoga time.
To begin, sit with your child on the floor with legs crossed and eyes closed. Take a few deep breaths to quiet your mind and tune in to your inner guidance.
How long to do yoga? With preschoolers, 10 to 15 minutes is a good start. Each exercise should last 30 seconds to one minute. You can increase the time as they get used to it and develop the ability to stay focused. Elementary-age children can easily practice yoga for 20 minutes, including a few minutes of deep relaxation and perhaps a few minutes of meditation. Of course, each individual child is different. You will know best what your child’s capacity is. Remember, it is better to start simply and build gradually.
F-U-N. Those three letters that are so important! Entice your child with interesting, imaginative, engaging exercises. Challenge them, for example, by using a timer (“Let’s see how long you can stay up in that pose with deep breathing!”). Use your intuition and light-hearted humor rather than your intellect to motivate them.