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

At the start of yoga class, I make it a point to check in with each student to see how they are feeling. Here’s a typical conversation:

Teacher: How are you today, Hiro?

Hiro: Tired.

Teacher: How did you sleep last night?

Hiro: Oh, okay.

Teacher: Did you get to bed late?

Hiro: Yeah, pretty late. And I had to get up at 5:30am to catch the bus to get here.

One of the most common complaints among teens is being overtired, which leads to whole host of other issues including lack of focus, inhibited learning and just plain grumpiness. One reason teens miss out on a good nights sleep is the shift in circadian rhythms they undergo during puberty. By nature, teens want to stay up later in the night and sleep later into the day based on the changing hormonal situation in their bodies and brains. Their biological clocks literally slow down. Some schools have even tried responding to this teen tendency by re-scheduling the high school day from 11am-6pm, or just starting the day slightly later.

Fortunately, yoga practice offers an effective way to restore energy: Savasana (Sanskrit), or as it’s commonly known in the West, Corpse Pose. Savasana can be a wonderful tool that teens will gravitate to once they buy into it. At first, there may be resistance to the idea of “just laying there,” as the pose appears to suggest from the outside. Other students might have the tendency to fall asleep during the practice. The following five tips are meant to help teens develop the practice of Savasana as a skill they can carry with them through their lifetime.

1.  Savasana Appetizer

In most yogic traditions practiced in America, Savasana is dessert; a well deserved rest to savor after an hour plus of hard work. However, there are some schools, like Sivananda Vedanta, that offer Savasana first and throughout the practice. This technique works very well with teens. Give them 5 minutes of rest to begin class and enjoy a much more refreshed group of young people practicing yoga. Short Savasana “palate cleansers” can also be offered between poses to bring teens back to balance as well. For instance, between standing poses and floor poses, give a 2 minute rest. This will also help to avoid distractions during transitions.

2.  Play Music They Love

Music can be an effective way to calm the mind for Savasana. However, teens may not respond well initially to the same music that is commonly heard in adult classes. If the instruments and tones are unfamiliar, the music can actually be distracting and have the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than playing music teens hear as “weird,” ask them what they want to hear. Have a conversation inquiring about music that helps them feel calm. This does not mean you will play raucous metal music or inappropriate tunes. But, many teens find popular love songs relaxing.  Playing a song they like to get Savasana started is meeting them half way. Then, once the song is over, students are more likely to follow suit with a few minutes of silent relaxation.

3. Enhance the Environment

Darken the lights, spray the room with aromatherapy mist and light a candle. Better yet, assign theses tasks to students, with the exception of the candle. Flameless candles work fine in schools that do not allow the real thing. There are also many products on the market for infant nurseries that project stars and other patterns on the ceiling. These can also help to set a relaxing mood for teens. (More later on the parallels between adolescence and early childhood!)

4. Guided Relaxation

Give clear verbal cues on relaxing the physical body. For teens, cues like “let everything go” may be too vague to begin. Start with the toes and work up to the crown of the head, relaxing each specific part of the body. Once this technique is established, guided visualizations can wok very well and teens love them. Try to always give atleast one minute of silent time for relaxing even when using guided techniques. Slowly build on these minutes until teens can rest in silence for 5-8 minutes.

5. Try an Alternative Pose

For some youth, Savasana feels too vulnerable in the beginning. Try other postures to start. A few options here:

~Laying on the belly making a pillow with the hands. (Turn head to other side half way through.)

~On back with knees bent, arms draped across chest. (Known as Constructive Rest Pose. See our DVD for full instructions.)

~Legs up wall or feet on chairs.

Once students have a deeply relaxing experience and trust the process of Savasana, they will be more likely to practice the traditional posture with less special effects. In fact, I’ve heard from many experienced teachers that teens come in to class requesting Savasana, which is a wonderful indication that they are learning to listen to their bodies needs. There is an attitude among some adults that teens are lazy and just need to get with the program. I couldn’t disagree more. Teens bodies and minds are working overtime to keep up with the incredible changes they are experiencing. They need rest as much as any of us, perhaps even more so.

The medical field has consistently identified self awareness as a hallmark of life long health. The growing Social and Emotional Learning movement has also touted the benefits of clarifying awareness of states of being as a first step toward cultivating higher emotional intelligence.

Try this simple exercise, either in the home or classroom, to boost self awareness and contribute to a healthy day of learning!

1. Take a moment with your child or students to “check in.” How are you feeling this morning? How is your body feeling? How about your self? Describe the feeling as best you can.

2. Now that you are aware of your feelings, decide if this is how you want to feel today. If so, enjoy 5 deep breaths into your feelings, helping them grow and spread throughout your whole being.

3. If you decide that you want to feel a different way today, then enjoy 5 breaths while thinking about the way you do want to feel. Send that feeling  to every corner of your body and fill yourself up with fresh breath and fresh feelings.

This is a simple and quick way to raise emotional awareness and begin to self care. Try this over a few weeks to increase effectiveness and build a healthy pattern of checking in.

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?

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