Teaching kids yoga is not what you first imagine. Far from it, actually.
BY LORAINE RUSHTON
(PHOTO: EVGENY ATAMANENKO/ISTOCKPHOTO.COM)
IF YOU LOVE YOGA, kids and want to impact lives, you could become a kids’ yoga teacher. After doing it for years, I can promise you it will be one of the most fulfilling, rewarding and fun journeys you take. But in order to have the best experience, teach an impactful class and have the students want to come back for more, it’s important you have all the skills and knowledge required.
As you think of teaching yoga to kids what comes to mind? Is it a vision of a group of children in a circle sitting peacefully in Lotus position? Is it a nightmare image of a class out of control? My first vision of what it would be like teaching children and my first experience teaching yoga to a full class of teens over 25 years ago were as far apart as could possibly be.
I’d spent the week in preparation, reading a book on yoga education for children from cover to cover. I scanned through the pictures of flexible children sitting in lotus position, looking blissful in meditation. I memorised breathing techniques, watched videos of well-behaved children quietly and intently following the teacher. Feeling excited and nervous, I walked into my very first class and began. Let’s just say that the teens in my class looked and behaved nothing like the quiet, serene and well-behaved images I’d seen in the books.
As you look at teaching yoga to children and teens, it’s important to get a clear understanding of what it is and what it is not.
To set a context, let’s say the starting point and our intention is that the children receive all the benefits that yoga has to offer. That it provides a positive impact physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Not that we just play some random games using asanas and call it children’s yoga.
Children’s yoga is a combination of movement, asana, breathing exercises and relaxation that is done in such a way that engages and manages the group. It can fulfil a variety of intentions, such as building physical strength, fixing digestive systems, calming minds, teaching tools to deal with negative emotions or how to self-calm, or even building self-esteem and self-confidence.
It’s about working with the whole child and skilfully being able to lead the group, while introducing tools that can help with their lives. A good yoga class is one that engages, is fun, maintains control, whilst keeping the essence of yoga.
The key is to tailor each class to each specific age group. Yes, there will be fun moments in the class to engage or disperse energy, but everything is done for a purpose, which is to gift the impact of yoga – the same gift you get from your classes.
What children’s yoga is not is all game-based, which leads to hyped-up and over-stimulated kids. Those are the classes that are disruptive with little control. No parent sends their child to yoga to play games and schools are looking for outcome-focused classes that align with the curriculum. The numerous conversations with schools about yoga not working for them, is saddening because it has meant the teacher taught a class of ‘yoga’ games’ and didn’t teach the children ‘yoga’.
Children’s yoga is also not adult’s yoga. Many adult’s yoga teachers aspire to take the benefits to children and adapt the poses, call them a fun name, make a noise and zoom around the room and call it children’s yoga. Again, because of the lack of structure, the children will lose focus quickly and not only will you run into disruptive behaviour, but there will be lots of wiggling and talking during relaxation time.
Lastly, children’s yoga is not the same for every age group. This may seem obvious, but how you teach four-year-olds is not how you teach nine-year-olds. How you teach nine-year-olds is not how you teach 13-year-olds and teens are not adults. How poses look, how you teach them, how long they are held, how you engage and manage and the content and structure will vary for each age group.
If you want to be the best children’s yoga teacher you can be, confidently teach a well-structured and engaging class and positively impact children’s lives, then join a training course. The easiest way to be confident knowing you have a great class plan, the skills to control your class and the teaching skills to engage short-attention spans is by being trained by someone who has years of experience knowing what works and doesn’t work. You can spend years working it out yourself or train with someone over a few days who can give you everything you need to be successful straight away.
We all know the number of children with stress and anxiety is exploding, that childhood depression, self-harming, eating disorders, asthma, diabetes, ADHD and behavioural issues are prevalent in every school throughout the whole of Australia. If you are a yoga teacher or aspire to be one and you want to impact children’s lives, then teaching one class well, that has the essence and benefits of yoga and is taught in an age-appropriate way, can make all the difference to a child’s life. I believe it is our duty to pass on all the benefits we have found from our yoga practice to those in need and there are children in nearly every household and classroom that would love your help. ■