Kids May Not Be Zen, But They Will Do Yoga If Parents Keep These Five Things in Mind
When people think of yoga, they’re probably imagining a beautiful, flexible woman striking a serene pose on a beach, not a classroom packed with wiggling, squealing kids. But the instructors at Mission Propelle, a mobile company that teaches yoga for kids at schools and other kid-friendly spots, see a different picture.
The team believes that yoga is for everyone—no matter their age or body shape—and empowers children by teaching the ancient practice in a way they enjoy. Rather than focusing on perfecting form and increasing flexibility, their classes are about exploring movement and having fun. As the co-owner of Mission Propelle and its head of media and professional development, Jill Carey is full of tips for introducing kids to yoga.
1. No Rules Allowed
The first rule of kids’ yoga is that there are no rules—it’s just about moving your body and feeling good. Because yoga is generally not a competitive discipline, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Encourage your child to get into a pose in a way that feels good to their body, and let them know that their movements won’t be judged or evaluated. (Mission Propelle has just one guiding principle: “Don’t hurt yourself.”)
Kids sometimes think they have to be flexible to do yoga, but Jill begs to differ. “Occasionally, I’ll have a girl say, ‘I’m not flexible, I can’t do yoga,’ and then I show her that I can’t touch my toes even though I own a yoga company, and that’s OK,” she said.
2. Let Them Lead
The best thing to do when introducing children to yoga is to let them lead at first, Jill said. She often starts a session by saying, “This is your mat and your space to move your body. Now show me a pose that feels really good.”
Kids are naturals. They will inevitably get into a yogic pose—most often child’s pose or star pose—without even being aware at first that it’s a named part of the practice. Praise them for feeling through what works and what is comfortable to them.
3. Tell a Story
In Mission Propelle classes, Jill and her fellow instructors make classes fun through storytelling. They might pretend to be jungle explorers, moving through a series of animal poses such as cobra, lion, and grasshopper. As the kids are doing these poses, she encourages them to make the animal’s sound.
“In children’s yoga, it’s not about getting into a pose and being bendy and flexy; it’s about barking in downward-facing dog and mooing in cow pose,” she said. “We combine all kinds of sounds and senses that make it exciting and different from other physical disciplines.”
4. Use the Big Words
Even though kids love poses with fun animal names, it doesn’t mean that they won’t like the Sanskrit names. According to Jill, children are often interested in learning the Sanskrit words because they sound so different from any other language they might hear at school. “When you say, ‘We’re going to go into Virabhadrasana 1,’ it piques their curiosity. … We’ll be doing mountain pose, and they’ll say, ‘What’s the real name?’”
Kids might be especially excited to have their very own yoga gear, like a mat and nonslip socks.
5. Remember That They’re Kids!
“Children are not zen!” Jill said—it’s best to let them be the squirmy, excitable kids that they are. Don’t expect them to sit still and meditate. When children are engaged and having fun, they will be excited to do the activity again. You can even encourage them to come up with their own poses.
Here is a simple yoga for kids sequence that will get you started, courtesy of Mission Propelle:
Photos by Katie Schuering, Groupon