People often ask me for a list of the potential benefits of yoga practice for children and teens. Here I’ve provided a starting place for creating a comprehensive list. Please fill in with any additional benefits. I will compile them all into one list and repost for communal use. Please invite friends to participate!

Physical

  • Overall muscular strength and tone are increased
  • Increased muscular strength contributes to joint health
  • Aids in digestion and elimination
  • Boosts metabolism and weight loss
  • Improves flexibility
  • Strengthens immune system
  • Builds balance and coordination
  • Improves overall body awareness

Mental

  • Develops concentration and focus
  • Teaches students how to work with their minds
  • Releases tension
  • Improves quality of attention
  • Develops mind/body connection

Emotional

  • Promotes emotional awareness and ability to manage emotions
  • Encourages calmness
  • Teaches students to respond, rather than react
  • Promotes self control

Social

  • Boosts confidence
  • Teaches self respect and respect of others
  • Encourages altruism
  • Develops empathy

Spiritual

  • Encourages connection to inner self and innate wisdom
  • Enhances understanding and experience of interconnectedness

Academic

  • Enhances learning readiness
  • Encourages self-discipline

Teach kids about the health benefits of practicing yoga. Kids are more likely to be dedicated to their practice when they understand the immediate and lasting positive effects of yoga.

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Type of Pose: Seated Hip Opener

Level: Beginner-Intermediate

Appropriate for: All

The literal translation of Baddha Konasana is Bound Angle Pose, sometimes referred to as Cobbler’s Pose. When teaching this pose the kids and youth, I like to use a more playful and familiar moniker; Butterfly Pose.

For Youth

1. Sit on floor or mat with soles of feet together. Hold ankles or feet. Draw knees apart.

2. Press sitting bones into floor while lifting chest to sky.

3. Draw shoulder blades onto back while spreading across collarbones.

4. Continue to open hips and allow knees to descend towards floor without pushing. Stay in the pose and breath for 1-3 minutes.

5. Once the hips feel open and spine is fully extended, a slow forward fold can be added. Maintain the spinal extension while folding. Keep sitting bones connected to floor at all times.

Benefits:

  • Increases flexibility in hips, legs and back.
  • Builds strength in back muscles.
  • Teaches spinal extension.

For Young Children

See previous post: What Color is Your Butterfly?

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?

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!

Image by Ilyah Duzhina

Reprinted from Kids on the Mat column, Yogi Times, October 2005

For all ages

What you will need:

  • Space to move
  • Music
  • Your family, friends or classmates

Step One: Choose the music. Pick 3 or more songs that you love.

Step Two: Create a space. Find an area that has some open space. Carefully move away any delicate or breakable items. Ask for help if you need to move anything heavy. Set up a cd, tape, record player or radio. Collect a few items that remind you of a forest such as leaves, pictures of trees in books, toy trees or live plants.  Place them in the center of the space.

Step Three: Gather your family and/or friends. Pretend that each person is a tree in the same forest. Everyone shares what kind of tree he or she would like to be.

Step Four: Play! Take turns being in charge of the music. While the music is ON, everyone gets to dance or do any yoga poses they wish. When the music STOPS,everyone stands tall and still with feet together in mountain pose. Next, take a deep breath in and out. Then, slowly begin to grow into a tree.

  1. Grow millions of roots into the Earth. Spread your toes apart. Feel your roots reaching down and drawing in nutrients from the soil of the forest.
  2. Make your center as strong as the trunk of a tree.
  3. Place the sole of one foot on the inside of the other leg, either below or above the knee. Find your balance by keeping your roots spread wide and your center steady.
  4. Use the forest objects in the middle of the space to focus on. Try to look at one item the whole time. When our eyes get still it is much easier to balance.
  5. Grow branches up and out in all directions.

After a few moments of tree pose, start the music again and begin be a dancing tree. Repeat as many times as you wish. BE SURE to change legs each time you practice tree pose. Remind each other when the music stops to switch sides.

FUN TIPS:

  • Try lots of different kinds of music. All kinds of music can work; slow and peaceful or fast and rhythmic.
  • One variation is to keep the feet rooted to floor while the music is on and move the rest of the body like a tree bending in the wind.
  • If tree pose is easy, try closing your eyes!
  • Name your forest.  Imagine what kinds of creatures and plants will live there.
  • Try this game at birthday parties, sleepovers and even at school.
  • You can also play this game in a real forest making your own music with instruments and voices.

To  learn lots more games and meaningful ways to share yoga with children, join our teachers training course in May in Los Angeles or June in New Orleans. Email abby@shantigeneration.com for more info, or visit www.shantigeneration.com

In recent weeks, I’ve received multiple requests for yoga games appropriate for middle school age youth. Year after year, the following game is a favorite of my students. This game helps youth develop strategies for coping with distracting and challenging situations.

*Disclaimer! This game works well with a group of students you know very well and trust to be kind to one another. Not recommended for a brand new group or a group experiencing unusual conflict. Students need to display enough maturity to understand the term “mean-spirited” and be able to show a strong degree of self control.

Step One: Ask students to name all of the different balance poses they know. Guide students to practice each  pose as they name them. List the poses on a poster or white board that is visible to all. As a pre-step, be sure to teach students a variety of balance poses in advance of playing this game. (i.e. Tree, Dancer, Half Moon, Crow, Eagle, Warrior 3)

Step Two: Ask for a few volunteers willing to try and keep their balance through a challenge. Explain that they are allowed to change poses and/or change feet, but that they are to be in balancing yoga poses through the whole challenge.

Step Three: Have the rest of the class develop a strategy to try and test “the balancers.” Be very clear that touching, screaming or any other act that could violate their classmates are completely off limits. Let them know the game will stop immediately if anyone behaves in a way that presents any danger at all, be it physical or emotional in nature.

Encourage the class to develop subtle, nuanced strategies like whispering funny words as they walk through the room or clapping in unison. They can also “tip-toe” through the classroom, or make wild animal sounds. Let them develop strategies and make sure they get your approval before playing. Let them know that you will ring a bell when the game is done.

Step Four: Position “the balancers” in the center of the room and ask the rest of the class to apply their strategies for distraction.

Step Five: After a few minutes, ring the bell and have everyone settle. Now, the best part, allow each “balancer” to talk about how they held their balance through the challenge and write them on a white board or poster. Some replies I remember from the past include:

“Hopping and Hoping:” A student said he would hop on one foot for a moment and then hope he didn’t fall!

“Keeping My Eye on the Prize:” Focusing on one spot.

“Staying with My Breath”

“Being Invisible”

“Staying Rooted”

“Just Being Strong”

and, finally, one students reply when asked how she kept her balance through the challenge was, “I didn’t. I fell a bunch of times, but I just got back up and kept playing and tried not to worry about it too much.”

And so, through this lively and age-appropriate yoga game, students developed a short list of coping skills and strategies that apply to many situations “off the mat.” We briefly discussed some of those situations and then students were invited to journal about specific times in their lives they can use their skills.

Depending on the length of your class time, the game can either be repeated to give additional students the chance to “balance,” or it can be played again another day. Be forewarned, your students may request to play this game over and over again! It taps into their need to let go and be silly on one hand, and also harnesses and hones their ability to focus on the other.

If you try it out, let me know how it goes!