As a faculty member of Youth Yoga School, which trains adults to teach yoga to children, I'm always on the lookout for great resources on yoga for kids. I was excited when I came across Yoga for Children: 200+ Yoga Poses, Breathing Exercises, and Meditations for Healthier, Happier, More Resilient Children, by Lisa Flynn. Lisa Flynn is founder of ChildLight Yoga and Yoga 4 Classrooms, two incredible organizations which are bringing yoga and meditations to kids in their schools and communities. (Make sure you check out the blogs for both pages for great information about the benefits of yoga for kids and tips for kids yoga teachers.)
When my copy of Yoga for Children arrived, I was so impressed with the content that I recommended it become one of our primary texts for Youth Yoga School training. Stacey and Carrie, the other faculty, quickly agreed.
Here's a look at the Contents with my notes on what I found especially useful.
Introduction: An Invitation
Flynn makes it clear in her introduction that this is a book written to parents who wish to connect with their kids and help them become ¨successful, creative learners and compassionate, respectful, and self-aware human beings.¨ The book truly is inviting to parents and provides many activities for the whole family. Flynn assures the reader that there is no need to be an expert to share yoga and mindfulness with children.
Part I: Yoga with Your Child
Chapter 1: An Introduction to Yoga
Gives some basic information about what yoga is and debunks some common myths (including ¨Yoga is a religion¨ and ¨You need to be super flexible and in great shape to practice yoga.¨)
Chapter 2: Benefits of Yoga for Children and Families
This was one of my favorite chapters as a yoga teacher. It provides some research-based benefits of yoga for children's bodies, minds and spirits. It's often difficult to list specific benefits that are supported by research when talking to parents and administrators about how kids can benefit from yoga. Flynn includes information on how families benefit as well.
Chapter 3: Sharing Yoga with Children: What to Know
Flynn gives some guidance on how kids in different age groups respond to yoga and how to craft the most engaging session for them. She also lists some favorite props for kids yoga classes and even instructions for a few (realistic) DIY projects. She ends the chapter with 10 Tips for success and nine principles of yoga which are based on the yamas and niyamas, the ethical principles described in the eight-limbed path of yoga.
Part II: Building Blocks of Yoga for Children
Chapter 4: Mindfulness Meditations for Children
Guiding children through mindfulness practice has always been such a challenge for me as a kids yoga teacher. Persuading kids to rest quietly for any span of time is usually a struggle. Flynn provides so many mindfulness exercises that are more engaging for kids than sitting or lying down in silence. There are interactive practices, such as Back-Writing, which the kids in my classes have loved, and some more introspective practices like Nature Walk, Reflection Journaling, and Feelings Share.
Chapter 5: Breath Work
I was already familiar with most of the breathing exercises Flynn presents, but this chapter is a nice catalog of breathing techniques that kids enjoy. I love to use Back-to-Back Breathing with kids and families--it really helps them focus on their partner without the awkwardness that sometimes occurs in face-to-face partner poses.
Chapter 6: Poses and Partner Poses
Flynn provides over 100 pages of poses with great pictures of kids and families doing to poses, a quick list of 3-4 benefits, ideas for modification and fun variations, and even some guidance on how to teach the pose with the ¨What to say¨ section. Here is an example of What to Say for Mountain Pose:
Stand up tall and strong with your arms at your sides and your feet about hip-distance apart. Look straight ahead to find a focus point on front of you. Take a deep breath in and draw your shoulders up to your ears. Now exhale to round them back and down. As you exhale, imagine your feet are the base of the mountain, pushing into the ground with all the weight of the mountain above it. Relax and breathe in and out normally 3 to 5 times.
There is so much inspiration here for the seasoned yoga teacher and the newcomer to yoga. The chapter ends with a section dedicated to partner poses. Most kids love partner poses, especially if they get to partner with a friend or parent, and they are an excellent opportunity for kids to learn how to work together, and to experience trusting and supporting each other.
Chapter 7: Family Yoga Games
What a fun chapter! These games are great for families or for groups of kids in a yoga class, and include things like Yoga Obstacle Course and Musical Mats. We call them Fun Breaks at Youth Yoga School, and they can be a wonderful way to inject a bit of fun into your practice.
Chapter 8: Songs and Chants
Music is a wonderful way for kids to be creative and express themselves during a yoga class, and song and chant require little to no props and equipment, which makes them more accessible to the yoga teacher. For the teacher who fears offending parents with chanting in class, the ones presented in the book are relatively harmless: Chanting Om and Name Chanting.
Flynn includes several song suggestions for yoga classes in this chapter. If you feel a little uncertain about making up your own tune for these songs and would like to hear them, check out the CD I Grow with Yoga, by Sammie Haynes (I've linked to the MP3 on Amazon on the right). It includes all the songs from the Yoga for Children book and some additional tunes.
Here's an example of one of the sweet little songs from the CD, the ¨Welcome Song¨:
Welcome Nathan, welcome Nathan,
It's yoga time. It's yoga time.
We're very glad to see you. We're very glad to see you,
Ring the chime. Ring the chime.
Chapter 9: Relaxation and Visualization
One of the most challenging parts of getting kids to relax is transitioning from movement and activity into relaxation, and Flynn provides some helpful tips for transition and preparation for relaxation time. There are several ideas for relaxing positions (my favorite that I have yet to try is Ball Smoosh) and also some beautiful visualization exercises for guided relaxation.
Part III: Putting It All Together
Chapter 10: Sequences
Flynn provides some sample sequences for various purposes (like Family Bonding or Stress/Anxiety Reduction). These sequences can be really helpful to the parent or teacher who needs some help putting all the various pieces into a cohesive yoga session. There are also some tips for creating your own safe and effective yoga sequences for kids.
Flynn ends her book by talking a bit about the importance of play for children and by sharing how her own background and personal challenges during her youth have made her passionate about sharing the benefits of yoga with children.
I highly recommend Yoga for Children to anybody who is interested in teaching yoga to kids. A kids yoga class is so different than an adult's, and if you are expecting to teach a class of yoga poses breathing and relaxation to kids the way you might to a group of adults, it can be truly exasperating! Flynn's book provides practical information, tips and techniques, and encouragement to yoga teachers, parents and educators interested in sharing yoga with the kids in their lives.
You can win a copy of your own!
Bliss Yoga is giving away a copy of Yoga for Children to one lucky reader. To enter the giveaway, comment below on how you would use this book--whether you are already teaching kids yoga or are interested in doing so in the future. You can earn a bonus entry by sharing the facebook post about this giveaway with your friends. Contest ends at 5 pm CST, Tuesday, March 25th. Good luck!
If you're interested in teaching kids yoga, check out the training and certification paths offered by Youth Yoga School. Although it is fun and fulfilling to share benefits of yoga with kids, sometimes it can be tough to create yoga classes that appeal to different ages. Youth Yoga School helps yoga teachers, educators and parents figure out how to craft age-appropriate kids yoga classes, manage the classroom and cultivate their teaching.