Yoga teaches us to uplift our human family and ourselves. It teaches us to be at peace with ourselves, so we can be peaceful to one another. Making the world a better place might not be an easy task, but our yoga philosophies, practices and teaching methods do have the capacity to build stronger communities of learners. This applies to all religions, races, ethnicities, genders, and levels of physical and mental abilities or exceptionalities. No matter where we are located in the world, we can teach yoga in a way that will make it an uplifting and supportive practice. Here are five simple ideas to apply to your Kids Yoga classes, or to your own personal yogic journey.
- Make Silence Part of the Practice: Instruct with the intention of having dedicated quiet time. This can be through mindfulness activities or meditation. Sitting comfortably in silence helps us regulate our heart rate and breath. It is a way to clear our minds. Children and adults must learn to give themselves the gift of quiet time. For children, sitting quietly for a minute might be a struggle at first. Be patient. Encourage children to become more comfortable with silence. In my Kidding Around Yoga class, this example of the Peaceful Garden (our guided meditation) shows how it provides quiet time, though many teachers opt to add relaxing or soothing music. Find guided meditation scripts here and check out this article on mediating with children here.
- Practice Active Listening: Active listening makes the speaker feel valued. It helps them express themselves without fear of interruption. It is a therapeutic modality used by counselors and trauma-informed therapists. Simply put, the purpose is to have the focus on the individual who is speaking without distracted “fidgeting” or being able to interrupt verbally. To practice active listening, children can work in pairs. They will need an age appropriate prompt such as, “Tell me all about your favorite yoga pose and why you love it!” Teachers use a timer to give each student a minute or two to talk without interruption. Children should look into their partner’s eyes and listen without interrupting. Make sure there are no distractions such for the children to touch or look at. The listener should give praise and compliments when time is up, when their partner is finished talking. For more information on active listening for children, visit Oxford Learning here.
- Encourage Student Teacher Activities: Children love to become the teacher. They like to show what they have learned. While older children and pre-teens may want to work in groups and come up with a yoga sequence to share, younger children are also capable of teaching poses. Students should sit silently on their mats before you begin the activity. Provide a yoga pose to each student with the KAY Yoga Deck or another medium. As each student observes their assigned pose, make sure they are comfortable sharing the pose with the class. Be considerate of students with varying abilities and have several options available for students who would like to switch their pose. Ask each student to teach the class their pose. Let them teach in the way that speaks to their heart. When the activity is over, ask them questions and give them feedback. Some sample questions are, “If you could rename this pose, what would you call it?” “Is this pose easy or challenging?” “Do you feel relaxed or tense when you are in this pose?” The questions help children connect with their physical and bodily sensations. With poses that are inspired by animals, ask students if they are familiar with the animal. You may want to prepare some photographs of animals in nature to share with them.
- Opt for Yoga Charades: For students who are non-verbal or do not enjoy talking, try charades in place of student-teacher. Follow the same concept as mentioned in suggestion #3, but allow students to teach without speaking to the class. You could display a KAY Yoga Poses poster to help students visualize all the poses available for the game. For other ways to facilitate charades, more ideas are available for Icebreaker Ideas here. It is helpful to have a chime or bell to stop and start this activity, as students can become quite excited shouting out their ideas. Using a signal will help them quiet down and stay engaged.
- Tell & Create Yoga Stories: Children are gifted storytellers. Stories help children process their reality and encourage creativity. Using KAY Yoga Stories, you can read part of a story and then have the class finish it by going around in a circle. Each child will tell part of the story. For tips on telling engaging stories, view this video by Dr. Jean Feldman. You may want to add visual aids, puppets or stuffed animals to help children stay focused. By allowing each student to tell part of the story in a circular setting, everyone gets to contribute. This is a wonderful way to let them participate and feel fully engaged in class. A teaching suggestion is to include a signal, bell or chime, to allow students a signal to understand their story telling turn is up. Using a talking stick to pass around the room is a helpful way to encourage respectful behavior in the class. Watch a short demo of a talking stick circle here.
By implementing these techniques into your yoga classes or personal practice, children of all ages will be better equipped to:
- Tune into silence by feeling their own heart beating and rhythm of their breathing when sitting silently.
- Listen attentively to one another, giving respect and attention to other children.
- Give encouragement to other children and receive encouragement from others as well.
- Gain confidence in using their voice and body to express their ideas and feelings.
- Regulate their own emotions.
Children do not always require explicit instruction of kindness and compassion. Modeling of these behaviors is a highly effective strategy to get them tuned into the true peaceful nature of their hearts and souls. Children can uplift and support one another through yoga!
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