If you practice yoga, you are likely familiar with the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Written thousands of years ago, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali explores the eight-fold path, or ashtanga (which translates to “eight limbs”). This is the foundation of yoga philosophy and includes eight different practices that guide us toward balance, peace and good health.
The eight limbs include the following components:
- Yamas and Niyamas: Ethical and moral codes
- Asanas: Postures practiced in yoga
- Pranayama: Breath control
- Pratyhara: Withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana: Concentration
- Dhyana: Uninterrupted flow of concentration, or meditation
- Samadhi: Enlightenment
In a Kids Yoga class we explore all of these elements through breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation, and of course, poses. We also tie in concepts of caring for others and one’s Self. With older kids, tweens and teens, discussing these concepts usually sparks wonderful conversations and leads to introspection. With three- or four-year-olds, the minute you sit down, stop moving and start talking, you may quickly lose their attention. Focus can be fleeting with this age group – too much talking and/or ambiguous concepts, and you’ve lost them. It helps to keep the explanations and language brief. Some of the concepts are simple, like Asanas, but some are a little complicated and require more sophisticated thinking or conceptualization.
So, how do you keep it simple, yet still teach the concepts and make an impact? I’ve found that by paring each concept down to its simplest form and literally illustrating each point with a visual representation, as well as making it interactive, you can lay the foundation for an understanding of the Eight Limbs that can be built upon as the kids grow.
In order to introduce the Eight Limbs to my younger students, I created a Yoga Tree. I broke down each of the limbs into simple language that is meaningful to a young child – something that relates to the world as they understand it:
- Be kind to others
- Be kind to yourself
- Controlled breathing
- Control of your senses
- Focus and concentration
- Secret Garden
I focus on one limb per class. Briefly review the concept, the meaning and demonstrate it somehow in the class. For example, right before breathing exercises, introduce Pranayama (I say the Sanskrit word once, but then simplify it to “breathing” or “controlled breathing”). Ask a child to add the visual for controlled breathing to the tree, then immediately follow it with an age-appropriate breathing technique, like bunny breaths (three quick breaths in through the nose, longer one out through the mouth) or hot chocolate (cup your hands, breathe in and smell the hot chocolate, breathe out to cool it down).
Below are some ways to introduce each of the Eight Limbs:
Be kind to others (Yamas) – Roll up your neighbor’s mat at the end of class, smile at the person next to you or play “Pass a Smile” around the circle.
Be kind to yourself (Niyamas) – An easy way to illustrate being nice to yourself is to wrap yourself in a big hug. You can also discuss things we do each day to take care of ourselves, like brushing teeth or washing hands.
Poses (Asanas) – This is the easiest one to teach – pick any pose!
Controlled breathing (Pranayama) – Talk about how breathing (always in through your nose) helps to calm down your crazy monkey mind, and then lead the class through one or two breathing techniques.
Control of your senses (Pratyahara) – Since this concept is tougher to teach, it can be a brief introduction to the five senses – you may not want to get too “into” this concept. Focus on the different senses throughout the class:
- Touch – pass around a textured ball or item – something sticky, soft, rough, etc.
- Sight – play a game of Eye Spy, focus on an object – this can be an introduction to drishti
- Smell – use essential oils or Stinky Feet Spray (always a crowd pleaser!)
- Hearing – Using Tingsha bells or a Tibetan bowl – Tell the kids to pick up a pom pom when the sound starts, put it down when sound ends.
- Taste – if you can, use a food (talk to parents ahead of time – this could be tricky due to allergies). To stay on the safe side, talk briefly about taste and everyone shares a food they like to eat (tie this into the Yummy Yoga song).
Focus and concentration (Dharana)—Walk with a beanie baby on your head, walk across a “balance beam” (yoga strap), play Toe-ga (pick up pom poms with your toes)
Meditation (Dhyana) – You have likely been using a meditation technique during your classes already, so the kids should get this one right away. I use the mantra, “Peace begins with me.”
Secret Garden (Samadhi) – This is a very abstract concept. The simplest way to teach it is through Savasana, or relaxation toward the end of class.
For kids who are too young to focus on longer explanations or higher concepts, visuals and simple language is the key. I’ve found that this method also works well with some kids who have special needs, like autism. Too much language can be difficult to process, and visuals may make more sense. The Yoga Tree can help kids begin a life of learning and understanding what yoga is all about.
How to make a Yoga Tree:
- Grab some supplies from your local craft store – green card stock for the leaves, Velcro, poster board, brown paint, paintbrush, glue, and scissors. (If you want to make a larger tree, get a three-sided display board.)
- Print out some clip art (I just use Google Images) that represents each limb and put Velcro on the back.
- Cut out simple leaves from the green card stock and glue them onto the tree.
- Paint a tree with eight limbs on the poster board. Add a piece of Velcro to each limb.