If there is one thing to be said about teaching children, it is that it’s one of the most rewarding things you can do with your time. Teaching mindfulness, meditation and yoga to children is no exception. There are endless benefits of teaching children tools they can carry with them throughout their day. Be it in pranayama (yogic breath), asanas (poses to strengthen and train their bodies) or in meditation and mindfulness, even the youngest child takes something with them at the end of each class.
The real magic often goes unseen as it’s a subtle shift in the child’s way of reacting to their day-to-day lives outside of the yoga classroom or studio. Often you hear from a parent just how much the child practices what you’ve taught them at home. But every now and then, if you’re lucky, you see the benefits firsthand. The child blooms and opens their heart to yoga. It can be so tiny a change in them as they help roll up the mat of the child next to them or it can be as powerful as seeing your most unsettled child calmly walk into class one morning and quietly listen.
How rewarding it is to have a student state that “they can never do Crow pose”, then within two months raise their hand and once called upon they say nothing, but with steady ease, show off their best and longest Crow.
All of these successes (confidence in asanas, utilizing pranayama, etc.) stem from the lesson of mindfulness. When we teach a child how to listen to themselves, when we allow them to feel exactly what they are feeling and to focus on what they’re trying, we give them this massive building block to be applied to any of life’s circumstances.
Mindfulness isn’t just a moment of seated meditation while tuning into our inner-selves. Children can understand mindfulness in many forms and through many fun activities. There are endless ways to tap into the concept of mindfulness.
Bringing this beautiful practice into the very chaotic world of a child is truly a gift. One of the easiest ways to start a solid practice of mindfulness is the body scan or head-to-toe relaxation technique. Often reserved for the end of class, the body scan goes beautifully with savasana (the posture of laying still and breathing), but that does not mean it can’t be introduced from the moment they kick off their little shoes. In fact, the act of kicking off their little shoes would be a perfect opportunity to gently approach the child and redirect them into mindfully putting their shoes on a mat or a designated area so as to not knock over any of the other students’ shoes. This very first act of mindfulness can be the first “ripple in their pond” to start off the other acts of mindfulness. Mindfully approaching their mat, unrolling it with ease and calm and being aware of their space and the space around them all directs their little brains into the art of “noticing the here and now.”
Opening pranayama with balloon breathing is a favorite for young yogis. They begin to slow down, calmly taking breaths and focusing on the in and out. Ask them to picture what their balloon looks like. What color is it? What does the texture feel like? Is it round? Oval? Guide them into being aware of their breath in a way that reaches them on their level. Leading them to make a sound like the ocean on the exhale can aid in keeping their focus through their sense of hearing while having them envision blowing up their very own special balloon using their imagination. Even adults lose track of their thoughts, so reminding children how normal that is and how it is all part of strengthening your practice of mindfulness will keep them from feeling overwhelmed. After all, fine tuning awareness takes time and patience.
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