When you think of balance, what do you think of? A ballerina delicately perched on toe point? A tightrope walker? Maybe a waiter carrying a platter of dishes? Being able to physically balance is a vital part of functioning as a human. If you can’t balance, you can’t walk, run, bike, or even sit upright! But, of course, having balance is more than avoiding a fall. There is a more abstract definition of balance.
The word yoga originates in Sanskrit from the word yoke, as in union or connection. In yoga we bring together strength and flexibility, the inhale and exhale, reaching up and rooting down, the light and dark. Yoga is a balance between two seemingly opposite forces. When we immerse in our yoga practice, we are ultimately practicing balance in all of its forms. Children often easily recognize the physical balancing postures (and love the challenge of them), but explaining the more nuanced balance ideas is sometimes more difficult.
So start with what they know! Practice fun balance poses with them. Some favorites are:
Encourage them to start by using the wall or a chair (or a friend) to help them stay upright until they have the confidence to perform the postures all by themselves.
Learning balance also requires concentration. Do an experiment: have kids come into tree pose while following you with their eyes as you wander through the room. Then have them try it again with their eyes on you while you stand perfectly still. Which was easier? To help kids find focus on their own, have them place a pompom or coin about 2 feet in front of them on the floor. This is now their drishti, their focal point. Their gaze should only be at their drishti. After they practice their balance posture using the drishti, ask your students how their mind felt. Chances are, they will answer that they can’t feel their mind or their mind feels still. Exactly! Mentally focusing on a drishti while physically working to stay balanced gives your monkey mind a brief respite. (This works for adults, too! Try it – you’ll probably get a break from thinking about your grocery list or those music lyrics that have been bugging you all day).
Want more balancing fun? Play Yoga Jenga! Using a Jenga game (if you don’t already have one, make a trip to a thrift shop). On about 2/3 of the blocks, write the name of a balance pose. Then stack up the blocks and start playing. Each player takes a turn pulling out a block. If it is blank, they simply place it on top, just like the original game. But, if there is a pose written on the block, they must first perform the pose (on both sides, if applicable) before placing the block back on top.
Now it’s time to explore the other side of balance – balancing busy-ness and calm, balancing emotions, and balancing time. A cool way to introduce this is to invite the kids (and you, too) to play KooKoo Head. When you say “go”, everyone loudly lists everything, everything, that they’ve done all day, that they’ve thought all day, and that they’re planning to do all day. If they run out of things to say, just repeat “blah blah blah” over and over until you call time, usually about 1-2 minutes is plenty. How did that feel? Was your mind racing? Were you inundated with noise and stimuli? This is the busy-ness your mind has to tread in nearly all day, everyday. To balance out this chaos, spend some time settling the mind through mindful breathing practices and through meditation. You can also encourage your kids to strike a balance between being a “couch potato” watching YouTube videos and playing video games and racing from activity to activity, lesson to lesson. Both activity and stillness are important to our mental health, but we must find that sweet spot that keeps us energized yet calm.
Finally, before you can expect your children to have a balanced life, you must walk-the-walk yourself. Take some time and examine your daily schedule. Is it balanced? Does just looking at it make you stressed? Has your to-do list taken over your life? Time to take a moment, take a breath, and find balance.