Looking for a fun family exercise to share with your kids in the dark, cold days of winter? How about yoga? Yoga is a great way to gain strength and flexibility while relieving stress and improving your balance and concentration. And there are lots of variations for kids — and adults — of all ages and sizes.
So how can you get the kids hooked on yoga? If you're lucky, your child's school or day care might offer yoga as an option. Amity Hook-Sopko's two boys love the yoga classes they get at their Montessori school. The editor of Green Child Magazine, Hook-Sopko even credits yoga balance poses such as Tree and Standing Bull Pulling with helping her oldest son improve his baseball swing. And yoga can do more than just improve balance. Studies have shown that yoga can enhance kids' mental, emotional, and physical health, reducing stress and improving their concentration at school. For more on the benefits of yoga for kids, check out this article in Green Child Magazine.
No yoga at your child's school? Another option is to look for a yoga studio that offers family classes. Danielle Richardet of It Starts With Me says that her youngest two children do yoga at the yoga studio she attends. "My favorite part is seeing my 6-year-old son sit in sukhasana and close his eyes and take a deep breath," said Richardet.
Unfortunately, in-school programs and family yoga studios aren't available to most of us, but that doesn't leave you on the sidelines. The key to doing yoga with kids is to guide kids through poses in a language that speaks to them. Kris Whelan, yoga instructor and founder of Blue Buddha Beverages advises, “As a yoga instructor, I guide my adult students through poses and meditative moments to help them get centered and balance their mind, body and spirit. Working with my kids is no different, but I do focus on poses that are quickly learned, easily mastered and deeply restorative. For the very young, I take them on a tour of my yoga 'zoo' as I guide them from Monkey to Lion to Camel and the animal cracker assortment. Make it fun, keep it easy and tell the little ones they did great.”
Here are some of the poses that Whelan recommends for kids:
1. Hanuman, Monkey: A side split with hips square
2. Matsyasana, Fish: Laying on your back on the mat ... Come up on your elbows and arch your back so your heart reaches the sky and tilt your head back
3. Bakasana, Crow: squatting down with knees to the outside of the upper arms and place your hands shoulder width apart, rock your hips forward with tailbone high... Take one foot off the floor then the other with big toes touching ... Flying like a crow!
4. Garudasana, Eagle: Standing at the front of the mat..bend one leg and wrap the other over it along the thigh then wrap the same side arm under the other and bring palms together ... Arms are bent at the elbows which are at shoulder height and finger tips brightly reaching up with forearms pressing away from the face
5. Simhasana, Lion: Open you mouth, stick out your tongue and take your gaze high ... Now roar!
6. Ustrasana, Camel: Kneeling down with knees directly under hips, press the hips forward, sweep your arms behind you to support the low back or reach down to the feet
7. Vrksasana, Tree: Standing tall take on leg and bed the knee, turn the knee out to the side while placing the sole of your foot on the inner thigh above the knee or below the knee on the inside of the calf.
Looking for more guidance? Try one of these yoga videos designed specifically for families:
For babies: Holistic family physician and yogi Kay Corpus has been practicing yoga for 15 years and teaching for five. She recommends "Yoga Ma, Baby Ga," a video that she used after her daughter was born. "It is a mommy-baby video great for newborns and recovering moms. The best thing I learned from that video was that if I had to stop and feed my baby or change her, then that was just 'my yoga'. It couldn't be quiet and serene all the time. It was just a different way of relating and accepting things I couldn't change, said Corpus.
For toddlers. My girls loved "Yoga for the Kid in All of Us," from Yogamazing. I got it when my oldest was two and still use it now that she is ten. 'Tot Yoga:,' is another good video for parents and toddlers from 10 months to 3 years old as is 'Storyland Yoga,' from Playful Planet where kids imitate yoga poses while learning about endangered species.
For school-aged kids. 'Kids Teach Yoga,' is a very cute kid-led yoga video that is perfect for kids who learn better from their peers than from adults. It's short — lasting only about 20 minutes — which is just right for kids who want to give it a try. Tiffany Belzer, aka YogaTiffany, recently sent me a copy of her 'Family Yoga' DVD and I have to say that my whole family loved it — even my husband who is not generally the yoga type.
Start slowly and focus on the fun and before long you and your family will be getting your Zen on all winter long.
Do your kids practice yoga?