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.
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.
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.