Yoga for Happy, Healthy, Resilient Kids

By Lisa Flynn, E-RYT, RCYT

Sharing yoga as a family is not only fun but also has the power to strengthen the family unit. A strong family leads to well-adjusted children who are positively connected to those who love them and are empowered to reflect that love out into the world.

Understandably, it can be difficult to find downtime in a hectic family schedule. Fortunately, the practice of yoga is adaptable. You don’t have a full half hour to dedicate to “yoga time”? Try taking a few deep breaths together in the car on the way to the play audition, practicing a couple of simple stretching poses paired with a calming breath before heading out onto the soccer field, letting off steam together with a Lion’s Breath, or sharing a visual imagery exercise before bed.

Adapting yoga sessions for your family—even one to five minutes here and there throughout the day—can be beneficial. These yoga breaks provide wonderful opportunities to connect as a family while providing your children an opportunity to experience how yoga can be used as a helpful tool any time!

Your family can benefit from “connecting moments” in yoga—these can be moments found in partner poses, games, family activities and projects, family performances, or a quiet discussion of a yoga principle or following a visualization exercise. In these moments, you’ll learn more about one another, build trust, engage in teamwork, and deepen bonds. Family communication and interaction becomes fun yet meaningful, enhancing connectedness between yourself and your children, and the family as a whole.

The weeks after a new school year begins, the holidays, the days leading up to an important test or a sports competition, or a traumatic family event are all examples of times when you and your child may experience increased anxiety, stress, and pressure. Taking a few minutes to practice yoga together will give you a safe “respite from the storm,” remind you of what is most important, and teach skills to manage uncomfortable feelings. Practicing these skills will support your family members throughout their lives.

The following sections highlight just how yoga practice can benefit your family.

PROMOTE POSITIVE COMMUNICATION

When practiced together as a family, the kind of positive, playful communication and interactions found in yoga set the stage for improving intimacy, leading to more rewarding family relationships. Through partner poses, you will experience positive touch. Breathing together will connect you energetically.

Encouraging one another when attempting new yoga postures provides a sense of appreciation and community. Through the discussion of the yoga principles, you’ll be finding common ground and new language with which to communicate.

With this newfound set of verbal and nonverbal communication skills, you’ll find a new level of connection that ultimately supports the overall family system.

PROMOTE RESPECT

Yoga is a practice in self-regulation. Through a regular yoga practice, your family will benefit from learning to pause, reflect, and think before acting or speaking.

During times when tempers are hot and the potential for hurtful comments is high, having the language of yoga at your fingertips will offer your family an opportunity to pause together, choose and practice an appropriate calming yoga breath or activity, and then reconvene from a more peaceful, positive place.

Armed with the knowledge of yoga principles your family can learn to act respectfully both in and out of the home.

REDUCE FAMILY STRESS

It’s important to remember that for the most part, stress is a state of mind, and we can choose to be stressed or not. Families who learn and practice this concept together find that their stress level decreases. No, many times we can’t remove stressors from our family life. What we can do is learn to be less reactive to them, and we can teach that important skill to our children as well.

Ultimately, being okay with the way things are is the goal of yoga. Modeling nonreactivity is a powerful way to share this concept with your children. Alert your kids when you are feeling overwhelmed. “I’m looking around at a messy house, you would like my help with homework, and I still haven’t made dinner. I’m feeling overwhelmed . . . will you sit and breathe with me?”

This approach not only provides you with a moment to calm and regroup, but it also models positive coping skills for your child while giving you an opportunity to connect.

Your children may enjoy reminding you when you need to “Count Down to Calm”—and you should let them! It can be fun to feign not remembering how to do it and to ask for their assistance in leading in the breath. They will feel valued and helpful, and everyone benefits.

During especially stressful moments, try calling your family to a “yoga rescue.” Create a quiet corner of one room dedicated to yoga and other peaceful activities. Gather your family there, and have all members share their current feelings and thoughts. Based on what those are, choose a relevant, simple breath and yoga sequence to practice together. When finished, again share your current feelings and thoughts, noting any changes experienced in your minds and bodies. Have a family hug and move on with the day with a greater sense of peace and connectedness.

PROMOTE BETTER FAMILY BONDS

A family that spends time together is a well-bonded family. Having said that, practicing yoga with your child will give you an opportunity to bond in a way that is very different than making dinner together or playing ball. Yoga time is playful yet focused. It’s a time to give your children your undivided attention, something hard to come by today. It opens the door to deep discussions about feelings—about fears, concerns, current challenges, and what brings us joy. It provides families with a unique language of wellness and a toolbox for living and improving bonds and communication.

PROVIDE A SOURCE OF JOY AND PEACE

Let’s face it—families can get so busy; it’s often all work and no play. Family yoga provides an opportunity to have fun as a family. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for laughs moving your bodies into poses. Yoga is about finding joy in the body, and sharing this understanding with your child will add to the experience.

Though you are focusing on bringing yoga to your child, family yoga will bring you many gifts as well. The sense of play that naturally arises when you do yoga with your loved ones will inevitably have you reconnecting with your own “inner child,” perhaps bringing a new awareness and discovery of your true, authentic self!

Doing yoga at home as a family also encourages a greater sense of peace. As you create a quiet space together during mindful, focusing activities—and at the end of your practice during relaxation—you’ll generate a sense of calm and peace in your hearts and home. Bedtimes will go much more smoothly after a yoga session!

INSPIRE PLAY!

Do you play as much as you work? Is play a part of your self-care regimen?

According to the National Institute for Play, play is the gateway to vitality. Playfulness is a big contributor to overall wellness and happiness, for adults and children alike. Family yoga is an opportunity to bring beneficial play into your family life at home.

If you’re a serious yoga practitioner, you can let that go at home. Doing yoga as a family automatically gives you permission to take it less seriously and have more fun. In a studio, you might focus on perfect alignment, being quiet, and listening to the instructor’s every word. At home, while practicing with your family, you’ll rediscover the joy in the experience as you laugh together trying a pose, falling, and getting back up again. You’ll “ribbit” in Frog Pose, listen like a rabbit, wag your tail like a dog, and breathe into your balloon belly along with your child. How can that be anything but joyful? The joy experienced in your yoga sessions together will soon begin to permeate your home.

 

Excerpted from Yoga for Children: 200+ Yoga Poses, Breathing Exercises, and Meditations for Healthier, Happier, More Resilient Children (F+W/Adams Media, 2013) by Lisa Flynn, E-RYT, RCYT, founder of ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms.

 

FOCUS/CALMING SEQUENCE

(10 minutes, ages 4 - 12 years)

This sequence calms the nervous system, promotes focus, andbalances energy.

What to do:

Kids love moving, laughing, and being noisy, but sometimes your child just needs to calm down and focus—and so do you! Use this sequence to teach your child quick and simple tools for centering and rebalancing when her energy is too high. It’s a great way to “clean the slate” before getting homework done or settling down for quiet time.

What to say:

1. Sit beside me in Easy Pose. Hmm, is your posture happy or grumpy today? Remember to sit up nice and tall. Good!

2. What do bumble bees sounds like as they swarm their hive? That’s right, it’s a buzzing, humming sound. We can sound like that too when we do Bumble Bee Breath. Let’s try it. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose before exhaling out to “Hummmmmm” as long as possible. Good. Let’s try it again, this time with our eyes closed. Was that a different experience? How so? Now, let’s try it one more time but with our eyes closed and our hands over our ears. Where did your focus go? How do you feel? Shall we try that again?

3. Let’s become a sitting Crescent Moon. Bring your right hand to the floor beside you, and reach your left arm up overhead as you inhale deeply. Now exhale out and bend to your right. Beautiful Crescent Moon! Inhale back up and switch sides. Use your breath to guide your movements to flow back and forth from side to side a few times.

4. Now bring your elbows to your sides with your hands resting on your shoulders. Inhale deeply through your nose. Exhale and swish, swish, swish right and left by turning side to side from your belly. Let me hear you “pssh,” “pssh,” “pssh,” like a Sprinkler. Good!

When you run out of water, stop twisting for a moment to fill up your sprinkler hose by taking another deep breath in through your nose. Exhale and twist back and forth, once again. “Pssh, pssh, pssh.” Imagine all of your excess energy coming out of your sprinkler hose to help water and grow the grass.

5. Now come into Sandwich Pose. To make the first slice of bread, straighten your legs out in front of you. Point your toes to the sky! Inhale and reach your arms up above your head to create the second slice of bread. Exhale as you fold forward, bending from your hips. Reach your hands forward toward your shins or feet. Good. Relax your head and shoulders and breathe in and out here a few times.

6. Come into Child’s Pose. We’re going to practice relaxing Rest and Press. Is it okay if I press a bit on your lower back? Good. I’ll give you a turn and then maybe you can give me one. Go ahead and take a nice deep breath as I rub your back. Just breathe in and out, in and out. (Continue on with instructions, checking in with your child along the way.) All done now. Let’s take a nice deep breath in and out together. Very, very slowly come to sit up and gently open your eyes. How do you feel?