written by Giselle Shardlow of Kids Yoga Stories
How do I practice yoga with my children if have no experience myself?
If you’re asking yourself this question, you’re not alone. Yoga seems to be sweeping the western world. Pictures of people in yoga postures are practically commonplace, in magazines, on commercials and billboards, and everywhere on the web. I even saw an image of a meditating yogi on a package of coffee at the grocery store. Despite all that, a study from 2012 shows that about 8.7 % of the US population practices yoga. Those twenty million adults doing yoga might seem like a ton of people, but they’re actually a small percentage of the population. That percentage might seem even smaller if it doesn’t include you. But that doesn’t have to stop you from sharing the benefits of yoga with your children.
Yoga was invented thousands of years ago in India. Yoga means “union,” and I think of yoga as a balance between mind, body, and spirit. It’s a lifestyle that combines physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation, character education, positive affirmations, and service to others. Practicing yoga includes doing physical postures, but yoga is more than just bending and stretching. Yoga is a mindset, a base upon which to build a healthy and happy life.
Yoga has proven benefits for children, such as reducing stress, improving flexibility and strength, helping them sleep better, developing body awareness, and inviting calm. This ancient practice is another great skill to add to their toolkit. Educators are beginning to discover that successful teaching goes beyond reading, writing, and mathematics. Learning to handle emotions and stress is an important part of learning to grow up, and yoga helps build that foundation.
Four ways to get started practicing yoga with your children:
1. Think of why you would like to practice yoga. Practice yoga with your children for similar reasons.
Have you become curious about yoga because of the health benefits? Or maybe you’re looking for a way to unwind after a stressful day. Your child might need the same.
Before starting with your children, consider the goals you have for that yoga lesson. Yoga has several benefits, but it’s okay to hope for only a few to take root. Ask yourself: Does my child need help regulating her emotions? Would he benefit from being more flexible? Do they need test-taking strategies? Are they too stressed out, even while relaxing?
Getting clear on your intention of introducing your child to yoga will help you figure out which aspects of yoga to emphasize in order to meet the goals you’ve set for your family.
2. Research various forms of yoga practice.
Explore different practices (ex. yoga class, meditation, mindful breathing, mantras, or karma yoga) and try out a few to find what feels comfortable for you. You need to be comfortable with whichever form of yoga you choose because your child will feed off your enthusiasm. You don’t have to be a master; you just have to be willing to try. You are their biggest role model, and they will imitate you. For example, I started a daily meditation practice a couple of years ago because I had a feeling that breathing techniques would help my daughter regulate her emotions as she grows up. She was a spirited toddler and scared herself with her screaming tantrums. I’ve found that my daughter benefits from my She sits on my lap and plays beside me while I meditate. After watching me meditate for the past six months, she has grown more curious about the practice. My passion for the yoga philosophy has rubbed off on my daughter, and we are on the journey together, adapting our practice to cater to both of our needs.
3. Start your own yoga routine.
Look at times during the day when it makes sense for you to practice yoga. Note the word “practice.” Yoga is a lifelong experience, not somewhere to get to or something to perfect. The purpose is to create a daily habit, just like brushing your teeth. And that can fit into almost any part of your day. Would five minutes of sun salutes in morning suit you? What about a calming yoga sequence at nighttime with your child? Or cuddles and breathing together several times throughout the day?
My daughter and I say a Sanskrit chant a few times together at lights-out time, and I treasure that time dearly. You could create a similar routine by sharing gratitude about everyday things at dinner. Or maybe you and your child could practice yoga poses, dance, and sing after school to energize and bond. Maybe your karma yoga practice is donating your birthday gifts to children in need or by volunteering for a local organization. Find a way to integrate yoga into your life that feels natural.
4. Lastly, the most important part – jump in and give it a go!
To start, keep your practice super simple and inspiring so that you and your child want more instead of getting burnt out. Enjoy yourselves, be creative and encouraging, and bring light-heartedness to each experience. You could set up a yoga corner with yoga mats, mala beads, cushions, and a bell if that inspires you. Or you could be spontaneous and try some yoga postures wherever you are, whenever the inspiration arises.
Pictures of yogis twisted up like pretzels might make yoga seem intimidating, but practicing yoga can be as simple as taking time to breathe or to say thank you. Start with easy poses and whatever comes naturally. You don’t need to buy a bunch of gear or spend money and time on expensive classes—but you can if the investment makes you feel more committed.
My recommendation is wearing comfortable clothing and practicing barefoot. Create a yoga lifestyle that works for your family. Check out some yoga books in your local library or talk to your friends and family about their experiences. Look for yoga or meditation classes in your community. Get your children involved in your yoga research. Make it a fun family affair.
Have you already dipped your toe in the pond or maybe jumped all the way in? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
About the Author: Giselle Shardlow is the author of Kids Yoga Stories. Her books for kids get children learning, moving, and having fun. Giselle draws from her experiences as a teacher, traveler, yogi, and mom to write the yoga stories found here or on Amazon (amazon.com/author/giselleshardlow) worldwide. The purpose of her yoga books is to foster happy, healthy, and globally educated children. Find Giselle on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter.