In theory, yoga is the perfect activity for preschoolers.
It’ll make them calm.
It’ll serve them well their whole lives.
And besides, they’re super stretchy, so of course they can do it!
But can a preschooler really do yoga?
Let’s start by talking about what it means to ‘do yoga’?
On a practical level, yoga cultivates health and wellbeing (physical, emotional, mental and social) through the regular practice of movement, breathing exercises and relaxation.
However, the more holistic and traditional technique of a yoga practice is that it’s an approach to life; a journey of yourself.
The techniques practiced in yoga allow for the body (the movements), the breath (the breathing exercises) and the mind (the relaxation) to all hop on the same swing at the park, and work together to gently swing back and forth.
When it works, it’s give you that same feeling as when the kids are all peacefully playing in harmony. Rare I know, but possible!
So doing yoga is not all about being stretchy, nor is it about bringing on instant calm (because it won’t do that anyway).
The beauty of yoga is that it will meet you where you are, wherever you are, in life.
That’s why giving kids exposure to yoga from their preschool years can be hugely successful in helping them get a handle on things that adults can take a lifetime to master.
So if I am ever asked, ‘can anyone do yoga’? (which I often am), the answer is of course, ‘yes’.
Whether we’re talking about a 3 year old with boundless energy, a confident 9 year old, a 16 year old suffering from anxiety, or a parent with their life in check (yeah right!), yoga is for everyone, whenever you need it.
The second thing to cover is what it means for a preschooler to do yoga.
Let me assure you, it’s very different to an adult doing yoga.
If you’re imagining a bunch of preschoolers sitting in a circle chanting “om”, doing the poses slowly, with grace and reverence, then walking out all calm and zen, I’ll let you know that the reality is quite the opposite!
A class of yoga for preschoolers is less about whether the yoga pose is perfect and whether it lasts as long as it should, and a whole lot more about the fun stuff.
Things like roaring like a lion, making “hisssssss” sounds like a snake, and putting on a pair of snazzy red sunglasses! These are things the children can relate to.
Needless to say, yoga classes for preschoolers can be loud, crazy and sometimes – chaotic! And that’s OK.
In my teaching I’ve always found that exposing kids to this new trick called yoga, is like any new trick; you learn it bit by bit, not all at once.
As the child develops physically; the poses will grow with their maturing gross motor skills.
As the child develops socially; their yoga practice will lend itself to a more structured group class.
As the child develops emotionally, the relaxation and mindfulness will lengthen and become more regular.
Imagine if you were taught the techniques of yoga as young child. This is what you’d have on tap 24/7:
movements to stretch and strengthen your muscles and help avoid injury in daily life (ever hurt your back picking up the shopping bags?)
breathing exercises to help… oh so many things! Things like managing anxiety and panic, helping regulate your sleep and being in control of your emotions.
that elusive ability to ‘switch off’. Sure, mindfulness, meditation and relaxation can take a lifetime to master, but if you learn it from the beginning of your life – then you really do get a lifetime!
With yoga as one of the many tools in the toolbox of life, surely all the challenges of finding our place in the world would be easier to navigate?
With that in mind here’s our top 5 ways to get preschoolers stoked with doing yoga!
1. Make it fun.
To be engaging and memorable for kids, a yoga practice should be spontaneous and entertaining.
Try this super simple game. Think of a location, and a scenario. Something like ‘You’re stuck on an island. What do you need to get home?
Naturally, the kids will say, ‘We need a boat. We need a bridge.’ Then you say, ‘OK, then, let’s do those poses!’
This also encourages the kids to use their imagination and creativity. Before you know it the kids will have taken you to on a plane to Africa, you’ll go swimming with sharks and then you’ll be digging through mud.
Most importantly, listen to what the kids want. You can grab a few images of the poses we use in our stories here.
Remember, trying to get kids to participate in an activity they’re not into is frustrating and not very effective, so if you hit a barrier with them, move onto something else or try again another time.
2. Teach them to breathe.
One of the most powerful, and simple, ways to induce a state of calm and improve focus is to breathe deeply.
Interestingly, newborn babies do this instinctively, but by the age of about 10, we lose this ability. So if you’re trying this as an adult think of it as teaching yourself an old trick, not a new one.
It’s often called ‘belly breathing’; and here’s how to make it happen.
Lie on the floor on your back, let your feet relax.
Put your hands on your belly.
Imagine a balloon is in your belly.
Breathe slowly in through your nose, and feel your belly grow bigger. This is the balloon filling up.
Breathe out your mouth, and notice the balloon go back down. It’s floating up to the sky.
Repeat several times, keeping your body soft and relaxed as your breathe.
If any thoughts pop into your head, remind yourself of the balloon you are filling up.
3. Make it part of your routine.
You might be able to find a local kids yoga class, or you can try our kids yoga audiobooks, but if you can’t, don’t worry.
Take your own yoga, pilates and any stretches you do as an opportunity. Invite your kids to use your body as a playground while you’re practicing. My kids love hiding underneath me when I’m in downward dog, or when I’m on my back with my leg or knees up they hop on for a plane ride.
Naturally, kids will mimic what they see. So rather than separating your ‘yoga time’ and ‘kids time,’ try to be flexible.
4. Promote participation, not perfection.
Kids are unlikely to perform yoga movements perfectly, and that’s OK!
They’ll interpret what they see and hear as they see fit, as long as they end up in the rough shape of the pose, that’s a good thing.
A typical 3 or 4 year old isn’t into knowing they have the correct alignment of their hips in triangle pose, they’d much rather imagine their hand is blasting stars up into the night time sky!
5. Take care of you.
Working with littlies, or parenting them – and keeping up with their energy – can be exhausting. So don’t forget to take care of yourself.
This is a great lesson for kids to see as well. While tools like belly breathing are great for preschoolers, they are equally important for us as adults.
Over and over again, I hear parents and educators say how just taking 5 minutes of silence and focus on breathing helps them to feel grounded, shake off a hectic day and connect with the present moment – ready to keep up with that boundless energy of a preschooler once more!
Don’t forget, click here to get a bunch of yoga poses for preschoolers to get your kids started with yoga.
About Our Guest Bloggers- Nancy Lawford-Miles and Rebecca Schafer from GOYOkids.
GOYOkids inspires kids to move their bodies and learn to be in control of their minds, with premium quality audio yoga stories, written especially for mini-yogis. Based on popular children’s tales and nursery rhymes, GOYOkids yoga stories offer parents and early childhood educators (usually with no yoga experience) the opportunity to give their children time each day to relax and refocus. GOYOkids was founded by Nancy Lawford-Miles; a facilitator of sensory play classes for early childhood and Rebecca Schafer; qualified kids yoga instructor. With an army of small children amongst them, Nancy and Rebecca understand the importance of ‘brain breaks’ in a child’s daily routine. GOYOkids audio yoga stories incorporate elements of yoga, pilates and tai chi, with plenty of giggles along the way. The yoga stories are available online at www.goyokids.com Follow facebook.com/goyokids