Heart opening poses are one of the best ways to get children interested in doing yoga. They really stretch the chest and sternum, strengthen the back, and encourage our physical body to open up to allow our emotional body to grow. Kids love the symbolism behind heart openers! They are naturally inclined to creating friendships, showing empathy, and building flexibility. The following poses are great to try and keep practicing for open minds and open hearts.
· Bow pose -To do this pose, have child lie flat on their stomach on the mat. Instruct them to slowly lift their chins first, then, lower them back to the mat. Next, instruct them to lift both of their legs off the mat by squeezing their bottom (they will get a kick out of this!) then lower the tops of their feet back to the floor. Finally, tell them to put it all together! Have them lift their chin and their feet at the same time. Encourage them to reach their hands behind them to grab their feet. Cue them to push their feet into their hands. Help them visualize themselves as strong bows who are flexible and ready to strike out their day!
· Bridge pose -This pose strengthens legs and promotes flexibility in the back. Kids naturally do this pose from around the time they can crawl! Older kids love doing it because it is already so instinctive to them. To begin, have the children lie on their backs. Instruct them to place their hands underneath them and to plant their feet into the ground, like strong weeds! Next, ask them to lift their bottom, their back, and their knees high up to the sky as if they are being pulled upwards. Let their hearts and chest open and guide them upwards. Remind them to keep their feet and shoulders firmly on the ground-they are a plant that wants to grow, not be uprooted!
· Restorative Fish – Fish is a bit of a difficult pose, and not one that I would recommend for those whose necks are still developing. To compromise, practice restorative fish towards the end of class with a nice, fluffy bolster or pillow. Place the prop under the back, reaching from the very top of the neck to the pelvis, if possible. Encourage the children to lie back with their whole body relaxed. They should have a slight arch, made by the pillow, in their back so that the chest is open and the heart is facing upwards. Let them know that they are safe and the pillow is holding them. Begin a meditation or relaxing story of your choosing. Stay in this pose for at least five minutes for optimal relaxation.
· While this isn’t a pose, it is an effective exercise and one that opens kids’ hearts to those around them. Have kids get in a circle. Pass out a pre-cut paper heart and pencil to each student. Ask them to write one thing they like about the person next to them and one thing that they would like to learn about that same person. Invite them to share with each other. If the children are too young to write, or are with their family, split them into pairs and have them tell their neighbor or draw a picture!
Having an open heart is what kids do best! Sometimes, as we age though, we forget. The above can help us adults see the world as a child does while physically opening our chest, where our heart resides.