Breathing exercises for young children focus on building awareness rather than actually manipulating or regulating the breath to the degree adult yoga may teach. Here a few ideas and pointers to make yoga breathing safe, fun and calming for little yogi’s.

  1. Little Lungs: Remember that little folk have a much shorter lung capacity than adults. When modeling breathing techniques for young children, modify the length of your inhales and exhales to account for this.
  1. Hiss, Hum, Buzz: Make breathing a fun activity by offering a playful way for children to interact with their own breath. Invite them to inhale deeply, then hiss like a snake on the exhale. End your hissing sound sharply to cue the children to stop. Then start again with a fresh inhale. Repeat, using a humming sound for the exhale and then a buzzing sound. Encourage children to feel the vibrations in their lips and cheeks. Always check to be sure children are inhaling between the sounds and stop the exhale in an appropriate amount of time.
  1. Feeling Breath Move: A wonderful way to introduce young children to the wonders of breathing is to let them feel the movement of breath in a partner’s back. Be sure to instruct them to use the lightest, most gentle touch, like they would use for a baby. Let them lay hands on the back of a friend in child’s pose and feel how the breath expands in the back of the body. Instruct the friends in child’s pose to breathe into the place they feel hands touching. Play soft music, perhaps harp or piano, to encourage slow calm, slow breathing.

Remind children often to use their breathing to relax in situations where they may feel angry or scared. I’ve had countless parents share adorable stories of their children using their “yoga breath” in all sorts of situations to cope with stress. Make breathing fun now, so children can utilize their awareness for a lifetime.

Tiny Yogi’s Playlist

June 15, 2011

One of my greatest joys these days is rocking my 9 month old son to sleep in his room while listening to music. I’ve been using the playlists I’ve made over the years teaching yoga at pre-schools. Recently, one of my old favorites came on and a flood of beautiful memories filled my heart. I thought I’d share these musical gems with the community. These songs were chosen especially for young children, but can be enjoyed by all. All of these songs have been collected from special sources including my teachers, friends and musicians I’ve met along the way. Hopefully you’ll find something new and off the beaten path to enliven your teaching and/or practice.

For Yoga Play

Balinese Fantasy by Zakir Hussain

Maracatu  by Kodo

Daidi 4-4  by Solace

Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488 – I. Allegro

For Calm Yoga

Satie_ Gymnopedie #1 For Solo Harp  by  Sjur Bjerke, Ellen Sejersted Bodtker

Rag Pahadi  by Shivkumar Sharma, Brijbushan Kabra, Hariprasad Chaurasia

For Resting in Sea Star (Savasana)

White Sandy Beach Of Hawai’i by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole

Peaceful Valley  by Peter Kater & Nawang Khechog

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

Sitting with the soles of the feet together, holding the ankles, is a classic yoga pose called Baddha Konasana. For young children, many yoga teachers forego the literal translation of “bound angle” pose for the more child-friendly Butterfly Pose. This a wonderful pose for young children to aid in hip opening and pelvic alignment. In the following playful approach, children are guided to focus more on the upward extension of the spine and uplifting of chest, rather than the forward folding.

For classes of 10 or less students

Everyone takes Butterfly Pose.

Teacher asks one student at a time, “What color is your butterfly?”

Student answers, “Purple with silver sparkles.”

Teacher: “Let’s all breath in a big purple breath and stretch our wings high into the sky.”

With the exhale, release arms and hold the ankles again

This continues until everyone has had a turn. Take short breaks, hugging knees together to release the stretch when needed.

For larger groups

Ask 3-5 children at a time to add one color to a big butterfly we are all creating together, then breath in all of those colors at once, stretching arms out and up like wings.

Repeat until all have had a turn.

Besides being fun for students, this approach encourages students to hold  Butterfly Pose a little longer and repeat more frequently than they may want to without the imagination involved. Imaginations are wildly alive in many young children! As yoga teachers, we can utilize this developmental milestone to guide them deeper  into the practice.

By the way, what color is your butterfly?

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