Not just about physical balance, yoga helps kids centre their focus and makes them more connected and self-aware. The result: A happier, healthier child.
A hyperactive or anxious child can drive even the most patient parent batty and feel less than equipped to handle tantrums or sullen behaviour. Cut yourself some slack. It’s human to get exasperated but there’s an effective way to help your child settle down. Here’s where yoga comes in. Just like how it can give inner calm to adults and help them achieve better balance and self-awareness, it’s great for little ones too.
Kids need a way to manage stress and anxiety. “Yoga helps them cope with the challenges they face, especially in today’s test-driven world”, says Jolie Michelle Ow, founder and programme director at CANVASS. There’s the actual physical activity that keeps young bodies strong, limber and graceful; and there’s the calming effect on children because the practise makes them more connected and aware overall. “The physical poses and sequences teach balance, and balance is about focus and concentration. Thus the grounding lesson stretches beyond the body, and extends to the mind and emotions,” she explains.
The goal is to “develop wellness through self-awareness”, she says. Practising yoga helps to “increase a child’s attention span. It helps them focus their thoughts. It enables them to connect deeper with their emotions and with that better understanding, they become more articulate in their expressions. More importantly, they learn a stress-management tool they can use for life,” she adds.
Children of course have a better learning curve when lessons are taught through play, and that’s key in the teaching process at CANVASS. “We want kids to have loads of fun even when they are learning life-long skills. We encourage play, but it is a purposeful play that embraces reflection and practise,” she shares.
She believes that it’s never too early to start your little ones on yoga as it benefits kids of all ages, sizes and temperaments. In fact the Children’s Yoga class at CANVASS are geared for kids from age five to 13. The age variance is actually advantageous and helps to develop the children’s social skills. Jolie Michelle explains: “It teaches acceptance and appreciation of different body shapes and sizes; and that both young and old can learn from one another.”
While classical yoga is still the preferred teaching at CANVASS, the poses in Children’s Yoga are geared for kids, the sequences taught through creative games. The fun begins the minute class starts. For example, children learn to use their bodies to express their state of emotions. Putting their hands on the ears says “I am focused”; hands-to-heart says “I am peaceful”; and hands-on-knees while sitting cross-legged says “I am calm”.
Another example: They learn about connection and courage through partner poses. “You need to trust that your partner won’t let go and let you fall. You surrender in good faith and learn team skills in a safe, nurturing environment,” explains Jolie Michelle. The children also get to explore shapes and spaces, again through their bodies. By bending down and leaning forward, the body forms a triangle; stand tall with your hands raised and outstretched, another shape is formed.
Visualisation has a two-fold benefit. It helps kids to improve on their poses. More importantly though it helps them focus inward on their self and takes away the judgements (from others) about how you look. Instead you become more attuned to your strengths and what the body is capable of doing, regardless of size. “We teach them to be happier inside their bodies, and at the same time they learn the CANVASS values of compassion, forgiveness and empathy,” she adds.
The kids have most fun however doing improvised poses. “We encourage children to use the poses they’ve learnt and come up with their own sequence – usually exploring three or four poses that make them feel good about themselves. Like lyrical dance, it’s a creative flow of personal expression through yoga poses.
“But it’s not just all movement and games. We also explore stillness and silence to deepen their awareness and slow them down so they can focus their minds. This promotes better clarity and peace,” says Jolie Michelle. A game of monkey-see-monkey-do for example, does away with words and focuses on actions instead, to get them comfortable with silence. Breathing techniques, relaxation exercises and simple meditation are taught, so the children have more energy to perform and have better concentration. “They learn: I am here, and I am present,” she adds.
There are indeed many pull factors for kids to pick up yoga. Fitness, flexibility, strength-training, better motor skills – these just only just scratch the surface. As every parent knows and desires, the end objective is really to have a happier, healthier and less stressed child. Ultimately, a good children’s yoga class, says Jolie Michelle, should make the little ones feel more connected and loved; their bodies and minds more at ease and in equilibrium. She puts it across succinctly: “In play we find balance; and with balance, we rise with grace. “