Although kids’ yoga has become much more popular in recent years, kids can always benefit from going deeper into the aspects of yoga beyond the physical postures. In other words, they need to ‘break the ice’ with yoga itself and this is a great opportunity for teachers to help them understand that yoga is more than just trying to bend their bodies into funny shapes!
For ways to ‘break the ice with yoga,’ it’s always important to first ask the kids if they have done yoga before and what they already know about it so you can present it in a way that makes sense to them and captures their interest. If you ask them, “What is yoga?” and no one knows what to say at all, you can begin by showing them a few postures. One of my favorite way to teach postures to first-time students is to play Simon Says. Kids usually feel happy doing something familiar while learning something new. There are innumerable other ways to introduce postures using games and songs most (American) kids know; use your imagination or see what other teachers are doing. Remember to check back with kids the following week to see what they remember, since getting to know the postures takes more than one class–getting acquainted with yoga is an ongoing process!
On the other hand, if some or all of the kids know what yoga is, but seem limited to the idea that yoga is only postures, then this is a great opportunity to open them up to the wider world of yoga by exploring the other aspects of yoga such as mindfulness and concentration. To begin with, you can incorporate activities that bring kids’ awareness to their senses so that they can more easily practice mindfulness. For instance, you can start with the sense of touch by bringing in different objects that have different textures. Each student can say what their object feels like (some examples can be furry like a cat, smooth like a stone, rough like cement). This type of exercise in awareness can be a reference point when you ask kids what they notice while practicing postures. Remind them often that it’s important to not just do the postures, but to feel them: feel their feet pressing into the ground in TRIANGLE pose, their fingers stretching up to the sky in TREE pose, or their bellies and chests expanding like balloons in CAMEL pose.
We can also practice mindfulness by bringing awareness to the sense of sight (drishti and tratak are both important aspects of yoga as they are powerful tools for focusing the mind). Pom poms are generally a favorite for kids to focus their gaze on a colorful object. Sometimes to add variation or to share a different prop with them, I bring in a bag of plastic butterflies, which kids can use as a focal point for their eyes; I often do this when I do a class with butterflies as a theme, which is nice since we have BUTTERFLY pose to work with.
The sense of hearing is also very important in yoga as we work with mantras and aural cues. I frequently link breathing practices to sound. You can ask kids what their breath sounds like when they breathe through their mouths or noses; when they breathe very slow or very fast; or when they breathe through pursed lips or through teeth. You can also bring some vibration into the practice and have them hum or chant OM. Whenever I ask kids where they felt the vibration in their body, they come up with all kinds of answers, such as: “In my tummy!” “In my teeth!” and “In my butt!” (this last answer is bound to come up some time!).
The sky is the limit when bringing awareness to the senses. The overarching idea is to get kids to not just appreciate how varied the practice of yoga is, but also to appreciate how they can use their minds by noticing how postures feel in their bodies. (Read more about including sensory awareness here). In this way, they ‘break the ice’ with yoga as well as with their own bodies.