When I tell people that I’m a Yoga teacher, they automatically assume that I’m a tree-hugging, vegan, hyper-flexible hippie. And while some of that description is true, it leaves out so many descriptors: competitive athlete, harried mom, wine lover (did I mention harried mom?). Yoga is not a diagnosis, and not everyone comes to a Yoga practice for the same reason. The same is true for kids in Yoga. Not all children want to dance and pretend to be butterflies. Sometimes, kids want to compete and be strong. They might not fit the mold of what people picture as a Yogi. So, as a kids’ Yoga teacher, it’s my job to find a way to make Yoga interesting, fun, and useful for any child that walks into my class.
A great way to get “buy-in” from the athletic kids that end up in my class is to use sports as a jumping off point. I start with sharing a list of celebrity athletes that practice yoga. For example, LeBron James (basketball), Ray Lewis (football), and Evan Longoria (baseball) practice Yoga regularly. The New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and the Los Angeles Lakers all make Yoga a part of their team practices. I ask the kids why these big, strong men might like practicing Yoga. Why would it help them be better players? Together we figure out that it helps them stay flexible, it strengthens muscles that often get overlooked, and it helps them avoid injuries.
After the kids are excited that their sports heroes practice Yoga, then it’s time to try it in the class. I like to make slips of paper, each with a sport and a corresponding pose. I use the following:
- Soccer…dancer moving through to extended leg balance
- Diving…half sun-salutes
- Baseball slide…heron
- Baseball catcher…squat
- Baseball pitcher…large arm circles
- Sumo Wrestling…goddess
- Golf…eight-points touching (like you’re rolling a golf ball with your nose)
- Biking…reclined pedal motion
- Motorbike racing…cow face (hold feet like handlebars)
- Bowling…warrior 3
- Football…mountain jump-back to plank
- Hockey/Ice Skating…any balance pose
- High jump…camel
Put the slips in a bag and have kids pull them out one at a time, teaching each pose as it came up.
Once they have learned the poses, play a round of Musical Mats. It’s fun to use college fight songs for the music. Place a different pose slip on each mat, with one less mat than children. Play the music as the kids walk (or leap from mat to mat). When the music stops, each player has to find a mat and take the pose labeled on the mat. The child without the mat becomes the “coach” and in charge of stopping the music for the next round.
Play Pass the Orange for a team-building activity. Kids sit in a circle and pass an orange (or ball) by holding it in their feet. This takes communication, cooperation, and core muscles. Add to the fun by having each child say a sport or sport team as they are holding the orange. No repeats!
The beauty of Yoga is that anyone can find a place to put their mat. Classes can be light and full of fairies and unicorns. Or Yoga can be strong, loud, and athletic. The important thing is that, as a kids’ Yoga teacher, you provide safe space for all the children that come to you.