Yoga philosophy in children’s classes


Teaching yoga to children is not just about physical poses or story telling.

Have you ever heard the saying; yoga is not about touching your toes but rather what you learn on the way down? Scrolling through Instagram, you might perceive yoga as an activity for super flexible bodies, dressed in funky clothing and contorting into impossible poses. I’m sure anyone of any shape or age who has attended a yoga class knows in actuality it is so much more. The poses are merely one part of this ancient practice and for children there are many other important aspects to consider. In this blog we look at Patanjali’s Eightfold Path and specifically how we include yoga philosophy in children’s classes.

Dhyana - Meditation

Dharana – we use mudras to help us focus and concentrate

Without philosophy, yoga would be gymnastics.

Yoga is not just about the physical poses but is made up of 8 different parts called the eight limbs of yoga. The Eightfold Path is the heart of yoga philosophy and offers a way to develop a healthy, peaceful life. This ancient code consists of universal principles, personal disciplines, postures, breathing, focus, concentration, meditation and the opportunity to experience joy in every moment.

These 8 limbs of yoga are:

  • Yama: social restraints or ethical values similar to universal commandments
  • Niyama: our personal disciplines
  • Asanas: physical exercises
  • Pranayama: breath control or regulation
  • Pratyahara: sense withdrawal in preparation for meditation
  • Dharana: concentration
  • Dhyana: meditation
  • Samadhi: ecstasy/enlightenment

Incorporating yoga philosophy in children’s classes using the Yoga Tree of Life

To introduce the Eightfold Path and yoga philosophy in children’s classes we use the concept of the yoga Tree of Life. Looking at an image of this tree we share examples as we explore yoga theory. We ultimately want to encourage children to “live” their yoga off the mat too. The best way as teachers to impart this philosophy is to truly practice what we teach for children to observe and absorb. By understanding and following the Eightfold Path children can achieve a healthy body, wise mind and the ability to feel compassion, whilst ultimately finding true inner peace and reflecting this outwardly too.

1. Yama – The Roots

Ahimsa – Non-violence

Violence is not only physical but can manifest in the words we speak. In our children’s yoga classes we encourage children to speak with kindness to others and to themselves whilst developing positive affirmations together.

Asteya – Non-covetousness / stealing

Encourage children to come up with their own creative ideas and if they are to copy someone or something to give credit. Do not take anything that does not belong to you, just take a moment to think about how you would feel if something was taken from you. This is important with time keeping too as being late is also stealing another person’s time.

Satya – Truth

Always speak your truth and act in a way that is true to your inner self and integrity. Only make promises that you can keep as honesty creates trust and more self-confidence.

Brahmacharya – Self-control

This yama is about greed and desire, which is a big problem in today’s society as we always want more! This can refer to food, sweets, toys, clothes, new technology etc. Teach children not to take more than they need and to be grateful for what they have. A great story that we use whilst teaching this yoga philosophy in children’s classes, is the story of Ubuntu. The direct translation of this is word and philosophy is, “I am because we are.”

Aparigraha – Non-accumulation of needless wealth and materials, non-possessiveness.

For many children the amount of possessions they have is very important (media and advertising have a lot to answer for here). Ultimately we are trying to detach from too many possessions, so encourage your children to give some of their unused items to charity.

2. Niyama – The Trunk

Saucha – Cleanliness and purity

This refers to our bodies, thoughts and words. As adults we can set the example by living a clean, balanced life with exercise and healthy food, caring for the environment and not speaking negatively in front of children.

Santosha – Satisfaction and contentment

To be satisfied with all that we have and all that we are may be one of the most important Niyamas. To accept what is and remain unaffected by what may be taken away.

Tapas – Self-discipline and the the ability to try and work hard

Encourage children to practice yoga at a certain time each day or week as this will develop positive habits. Perhaps they could try a few sun salutations each morning or 5 minutes of quiet sitting each evening. We know that hard work pays off so let’s teach this to our children too.

Svadhyaya – Introspection and self-study

Children have many questions about life so let us encourage them to think about these and enjoy such discussions. Introduce meditation and contemplation exercises to get to know one’s self and try to be the best person you can be.

Ishvara – Pranidhana – Faith in a higher Power/source

A belief or understanding in something bigger than ourselves and our egos. Something that is not driven by our individual wishes and desires.

Asana - We are all connected

All Yoga Poses/Asana can be practiced solo or with friends

3. Asana/Poses – The Branches

By practicing physical asanas we improve our circulation, respiration and digestion. Our body becomes stronger and supple and our memory, concentration and willpower improve. Asanas help us to be calm and are also very important for a healthy body and mind. In children’s yoga we explore traditional poses in fun accessible ways whilst teaching all the benefits that yoga has to offer. Some represent living things like cobra, lizard, eagle and trees. Some poses mimic natural forms like our standing mountain pose. Others represent man-made objects such as boat, bridge, chair and some are inspired by geometric shapes like triangle pose. We also give the children opportunities to make up their own poses.

4. Pranayama/Control of Breath – The Leaves

Practice breathing exercises to teach about inhalation and exhalation and the importance of our breath. There are many fun ways to introduce children to recognising in controlling their breath for example: blowing feathers and bubbles, breathing with the Hoberman Sphere, breathing deeply with hands on the belly etc. Until a child is 12 years old and their lungs have fully developed it is important not to encourage retention of breath.

5. Pratyahara/Control of Senses – The Bark

Here we use poses and activities to stimulate and educate the senses. Eyes around the clock wakes up our visual sense, listening to different sounds with the eyes closed, mindful tasting, smelling different scents and exploring feely bags to encourage the tactile sense.

6. Dharana/Concentration – The Sap

Balancing poses such as Tree, Warrior 1, 2 and 3 are wonderful for increasing focus and concentration. Present warriors in the context of determination, perseverance, focus, concentration, strength and personal power. Try to incorporate affirmations such as “I am brave. I am balanced. I have the strength and focus to realise my dreams.”

We also like to include mudras into our children’s yoga classes to encourage focus. If you would like to find out more about incorporating these into your children’s yoga classes, you would be welcome to join one of our upcoming Mythology, Mantra and Mudra workshops.


Dhyana – Relaxation and Meditation

7. Dhyana/Meditation – The Flowers

Relaxation and guided imagery are ways to introduce meditation to young children. Encourage drawing mandala meditation, sitting meditation and mindful exercises. Dhyana should be uninterrupted, deep concentration for a prolonged period.

8. Samadhi/Enlightenment – The Fruit

We cannot show this full realization to a child, but the feeling just after you have eased yourself up from your relaxation – that blissed out and happy sensation might be just a tiny glimpse of Samadhi.

Yoga is a way of life.

Children’s yoga is not just about story telling or clowning around. When practicing yoga poses with children, it is important to introduce them to yoga theory and philosophy too. To give them an understanding of yoga in its entirety so that they are not blindly following what you are doing. They can then internalise a greater knowledge of yoga’s benefits, where it originated and all aspects that will take their practice to a deeper level.

To find out more about teaching yoga to children see our Children’s Yoga Teacher Training page.

How Yoga and Montessori philosophies benefits the whole child

YogaBeez children and young people workshops in schools for Healthy Living Week

Yoga and Montessori philosophies benefit the whole child as they both offer a mindful, non competitive approach to help children learn, develop and live harmoniously with others.

Maria Montessori once commented that ‘children are the makers of man’. By providing them with a foundation of love and respect, for themselves and the world around them, we help the new generation to create and live harmonious and satisfying futures.

She saw each child as a unique individual, who developed at their own rate, and believed in educating the whole child, with movement paramount to the education of the mind. “Movement, or physical activity, is thus an essential factor in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside,” she wrote in Discovery of the Child. “Through movement we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas.”

Yoga, like Montessori education, is a process of discovery.

A mindful, non-competitive exercise, emphasising movement and breathing and the connection of body and mind, it helps students of any age to understand our own nature and live harmoniously with others. In an age where technology means that children often spend long hours glued to a screen, this is more relevant than ever. 

In fact, Yoga and Montessori philosophies align seamlessly in many ways: 

  • Both focus on exercising, educating and empowering the whole child 
  • Both are non-competitive with the emphasis being on the process and not the end result – we encourage children to enjoy the poses without trying to perfect them
  • Just as Montessori aims to build self-esteem, we modify the poses and give children the tools they need to complete them successfully 
  • They both work to balance and calm the child
  • Both begin simply and gradually increase in difficulty, moving from the concrete to the abstract 
  • Yoga and Montessori both value movement as vital to the development of the mind 
  • There are three parts to a yoga pose: going into the pose, being in the pose and coming out of the pose with control. These correlate with carrying a piece of work from the shelf, using the work and thoughtfully placing the work back on the shelf
  • Just as the Silence Game is sometimes used in a Montessori classroom, meditation is introduced to children in yoga classes to help improve awareness and focus

Merging the Montessori curriculum into our children’s yoga classes we can stimulate all areas of a child’s development. 

Yoga for personal, social and emotional exploration

Yoga games, group and partner poses are a great way to encourage social interaction. We always foster a win-win attitude – there is no right or wrong or winning or losing in these explorations, just taking part and putting in your best effort is all that’s required. Emotionally we encourage not only interaction with others but also looking within to find your inner silence. Breathing exercises teach children to master their own emotions – breathing out stress, breathing in calm, exhaling anger and inhaling joy. We teach children to try and focus on the positive but also that all emotions are recognised and welcomed. The Volcano Pose is a great tool for noticing anger or anxiety in the body and finding a healthy way to channel these sometimes crippling emotions. 

Why not try this one at home next time someone in the family is feeling furious?

Volcano Pose – Good for all ages

Start in Mountain pose and jump your feet apart into Open Mountain. Bring your hands into Namaste right down at the bottom of your abdomen. As you inhale, rise your hands up to the top of your head and then exhale as you separate your hands and bring your arms up and out to the side. Really blow out your breath like a volcano exploding. Repeat this several times. This is a great pose to do if you are feeling really CROSS!! Imagine that angry feeling in the pit of your tummy – like burning hot lava. As you bring your hands up move this agitated feeling up through your body until you are finally ready to release it out of the top of your head and blow it a way. Fun to start with a really cross, scrunched-up face and as you let go of this feeling a happy peaceful calm feeling washes over you and a smile spreads to your cheeks. Now you could fill your volcano / pit of your tummy with happy thoughts and feelings or anything you love and imagine this bursting out of your volcano instead. 

Physical development with yoga

When moving through the poses, children become more aware of their bodies… noticing how they feel, learning correct anatomical terminology and becoming more spacially aware Yoga strengthens, stretches and loosens muscles. Senses are educated and each pose has a particular balancing effect on the body’s various systems – skeletal, muscular, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, nervous, lymphatic, hormonal etc. Body awareness leads to self care. This is something so many of us need to relearn as an adult… when the body is broken only then do we stop. Instead we can help children recognise when they need some time out, time to be still, to recover, to rejuvenate.

How about some family yoga at home? Partner poses are great fun to explore together:

Sit and Twist
Sit facing your partner in a comfortable cross-legged position making sure your knees are almost touching each other. Then both wrap your right arms behind your back. Now stretch your left arm diagonally across your body and try and find your partners right hand, which should be just poking out next to their left waist. When you have both found each other’s hands give your self a little spinal twist as you both look over your right shoulders. You might need a little help initially trying to coordinate this pose but once you have it you will see what a great twist this provides with a little help from a friend. 

Story telling through yoga

Communication, language and literacy

Many children’s yoga classes have themes, which we discuss and explore. Through the theme of the class we discover the anatomy of our bodies and learn the scientific names for our bones and muscles. We chat about nutrition and how to live healthily. The children take turns to read guided imagery or make up stories during the relaxation period at the end of the class. We bring books to life with yoga, play name games and explore the alphabet through our poses. The vocabulary we use in the classes is rich and varied and languages from around the world are introduced. We also encourage teachers to set up pen pal projects with children in other yoga classes across the globe. When last did you receive an envelope in the post that wasn’t a bill or a statement or advertising of some sort. Let’s bring back letter writing.

Here’s a fun mindful activity to assist your child’s letter learning

Alphabet Backrub – Age 4 – teen

Sit down behind your partner and use your finger or hand to write a letter of the alphabet on their back. Let them know if it is a small or capital letter otherwise it can be a bit tricky. The recipient must guess what the letter is. This is a fun way to learn to recognize the alphabet. Older children can write words or even short sentences. Take turns.

Knowledge and understanding of the world for the whole child

We use the theme of each class to explore different cultures, languages, foods, instruments and music from different countries. Fauna and flora and animal’s habitats are learnt through adventures to rainforests, jungles, wetlands, under the sea, to space etc. We use the poses to plant seeds in various learning areas so that the children are continuously being exposed to new facts about ecology, science and biology.

For example: Alligator –
Lie on your belly and stretch your arms out in front of you. Turn your arms so that the back of your hand is on the floor and roll onto your side. Lift your top arm up as you open and close, clapping the other hand as you come down – Snap Snap Snap!!! For an extra challenge – keep your legs together and lift your 2 feet up like a big alligator tail. Then roll over swap arms and start again.

Some Interesting facts: Alligators and Crocodiles are similar in many ways but there are a few differences too: 1. Alligators prefer fresh water habitats, while crocs usually live in salty water! 2. Alligators have a rounded u-shaped jaw, while crocs have a more pointed v-shape. 3. Their teeth are different too – an alligator’s teeth don’t really show when its mouth is closed, while crocodiles’ teeth have a special interlocking pattern that does show, plus a large tooth on their lower jaw that sticks out over their top lip even when their mouths are shut.

Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy

We highlight patterns, sequences, angles, numerical awareness, counting and rhythm while practicing poses.

For example, singing the Tea Pot song is a fun way to introduce young children to the Triangle/Trikonasa yoga pose. For older groups we look at angles – obtuse and acute – and measure the various triangles our body makes – scalene, Isosceles, equilateral.

Creative development

We encourage the imagination and creativity of each child through the use of props, guided imagery, drawing and colouring meditations. We make models of skeletons, paint interpretations of visualisations and prepare healthy snacks.

Music from all over the world is incorporated into our classes through different instruments, rhythms and beats.

We do not incorporate any religion into our sessions; we simply honour and respect the diversity of all beliefs, cultures and traditions. One area we try and escape from completely is the technical world. Children receive so much stimulation from technology and the media today. In our yoga sessions we aim to leave all this at the door and come back to our basics … our bodies, our minds and our spirits.

As role models, parents and teachers we have a duty to plant seeds, teach children how to water them and give them the tools to create their own beautiful gardens and yoga certainly helps to do just that.

If you’re feeling inspired to share yoga with children, take a look at our range of training courses. These courses are suitable for parents, teachers, yoga teachers or therapi

Children enjoying yoga