This post is part of an on-going series sharing time-tested and true Early Childhood Yoga Experiences.

Respected educational theorists, including Lev Vygotsky, Maria Montessori and Rudolph Steiner,  teach the importance of play in a child’s development. The same holds true in yoga education for early childhood. Imagine asking a group of 3-4 year olds to stand in Mountain Pose for 10 breaths. Without a well balanced structure of play to facilitate the task, the children will likely not comply. Play gives children motivation to engage in new experiences. The Jellyfish-Mountain Play draws on young children’s boundless energy to playfully guide them to a place of sweet stillness.

This game works similar to “freeze dance.” Explain to students that while to music is on, we are jellyfish playing in the ocean. Use billowy music that evokes fluid, free movements. (I like DeBussy: Arabesque #1 for Solo Harp). Allow the children to become their own style of jellyfish: slow, fast, tiny, enormous. Give them 30-45 seconds to explore their jellyfish moves. Then, pause the music and ask students to find their strong Mountain Poses. Demonstrate how still and quiet a mountain can be. For this game, ask children to hold Mountain Pose with the arms overhead and palms together in a “peak.”

Let them hold the pose for 20-30 seconds before starting the music again. While they are in Mountain Pose, ask students to look inside for strength and stability. This is a wonderful teaching moment to introduce the concept of stability, as you will have their attention. You can travel around the room helping students to find more extension and grounding where necessary.

Repeat the Jellyfish-Mountain Play 5-7 times.

“Play is the work of the child.” ~Montessori


Cobra Pose: Bhujangasana (Sanskrit)

Type of Pose: Backbend

Level: Beginner-Intermediate

Appropriate for Ages: 4 & up

Cobra Pose is a completely natural posture for the body. Think about the pictures you’ve seen of infants pushing themselves up from laying on the belly. There are multiple ways of practicing Cobra, depending on age and physical condition.

Basic Cobra Instructions

1. Begin lying on the belly with forehead on the floor. Place hands, palms down and fingers spread, underneath shoulders. Align fingers a few inches below collarbone. Draw elbows up toward ceiling and in towards each other, engaging the upper arms muscles. Simultaneously press fingertips into floor.

2. Press tops of feet into floor. Extend feet, reach through the big toes and spread all toes. Work to press each toe nail into the floor. While extending and pressing feet into floor, lengthen leg bones and engage leg muscles.

Hands, arms, legs and feet will be working fully by now!

3. Roll thighs in toward the midline of body so the inner thighs gently uplift toward sky. Press into 5th toes.

4. Engage abdominal strength to help lengthen the lower back such that the tailbone extends toward heels. Tilt the pelvis to create more length in lower spine.

5. Breath and check in with all of these points once more.

6. Gently press forehead into floor, lengthening back of neck. Reach through the crown of head. Back of neck is long and throat is open and relaxed. Avoid smooshing chin into neck.

7. In final preparation for lift off, draw upper arm bones toward the back of the body. Engage shoulderblades onto the upper back. Stretch across the collarbones.

8. With an inhale, press feet and hands into floor while extending the chest out and upward. Keep the head and neck aligned. Move from the core of body through to the crown of head.

9. Draw upper arm bones and muscles in toward midline. Keep shoulderblades alive on the upper back. Be sure the shoulders don’t rise toward the ears. Upper back and chest spread and expand as a Cobra’s neck.

10. Hold for 3-5 breaths. Inhale and exhale fully through the nose. Release slowly on an exhale while maintaining all alignment points.

For Young Children

Obviously, above are way many instructions for young folks. For ages 4-7, set up the pose as best as possible. Focus on hand and foot alignment. Then, lift up into Cobra for a breath or two and release. Repeat 3-5 times. Remind them that Cobra’s don’t have arms, so they need to use their back and belly strength. The legs become like the tail of the snake.

For Older Children and Teens

Practice holding pose for 3-5 breaths. Repeat 3-5 times. Integrate instructions over each repetition, rather than giving them all at once.

For Everyone

Be sure to do a counterpose after practicing Cobra. Child’s Pose is a good one.

Benefits of Cobra Pose from Yoga Journal

  • Strengthens the spine
  • Stretches chest and lungs, shoulders, and abdomen
  • Firms the buttocks
  • Stimulates abdominal organs
  • Helps relieve stress and fatigue
  • Opens the heart and lungs
  • Soothes sciatica
  • Therapeutic for asthma

Many years ago, I heard the call to create more opportunities for schools to engage in yoga programming.  The benefits to students and teachers alike were so clear in the schools I visited and worked with.  Knowing that school budgets are usually very tight and hiring yoga teachers is not always an option, I teamed up with a WSR Creative production company to make a youth yoga DVD fit for classrooms. It’s been a year since our DVD hit the market place and we are thrilled to have found a channel to offer this program to school teachers FREE!

National Yoga Month supports an initiative called Yoga Recess which raises funds to provide free yoga DVD programs to schools across America. To date, over 4,000 teachers have requested free DVD’s for their classrooms. That’s 4,000 teachers waiting, ready to bring yoga to their students!

The next step is to fill these orders through the generosity of folks who know yoga can make a difference in the lives of students.

To join this movement, visit:

http://www.firstgiving.com/shantigeneration

If you can, please make a donation. Every $15.00 brings yoga to 25 students!

If funds are tight, please share this opportunity with others in your community who may be supportive.

We’ll take care of mailing the DVD’s to teachers, all you have to do is donate. How easy is that! Just a few minutes to make a difference in the lives of youth.

Our goal is to fill all orders by the start of the 2010-2011 school year!