Yoga can help kids learn to relax, improve self-esteem and bring about body awareness, according to Lisa Orkin, a certified Kripalu yoga instructor, yoga therapist and occupational therapist on Yoga Site, an online yoga resource center. “Grown up” yoga, however, is not always appropriate for children’s short attention spans and high energy levels. Allowing kids to be creative with poses can make yoga fun for them.
Marsha Wenig, the creator of the YogaKids video and educational curriculum, recommends creating yoga sequences that tell a story. For example, you can bring kids through the classic warm-up sequence of the sun salutation in a way that better captures their attention and imagination than simply calling out the poses. Tell them to stand in mountain pose and imagine themselves as tall and strong as a mountain. Then the sun—their arms—rise up over the mountain and as they forward bend, the sun spills over the valley below the mountain. Move them into a plank position and tell them the sun warms all the animals who live in the valley. This includes the snakes in the grass—perform cobra—and the dogs—move into downward facing dog. Have them rise into tree pose and as the sun warms them, their branches grow and their roots spread through the mat.
Play off children’s affinity for animals and develop an animal-based sequence. Start them on all fours, alternating between cow and cat. Allow them to move into downward dog and then hop forward to fly like an eagle. Bring them back to their knees to hiss in lion pose. Encourage kids to bark when in down dog or meow and moo in cat and cow. Wenig points out that sound helps children release energy and emotion during practice.
Move children through a quick sequence of postures inspired by the alphabet. You do not have to stick to the “official” names of poses when doing this sequence. Allow kids to guess what pose might match each letter. For example, begin with an “alligator” pose, which could be your basic chataranga—or yoga push-up. Move on to bear pose—a down dog that involves “walking” with your hands and feet. “C” might be represented by cobra and “D” by down dog. Try a forward fold with long extended arms intertwined like an elephant’s trunk for your “E.” Continue through the alphabet, and if the kids come up with their own pose to represent a specific letter, let them explore it.