Yoga for the Children

Author:  Ali Balz-Howard

In recent years, our country has seen a large increase in the popularity of yoga as a way to improve physical strength, flexibility and mental clarity, and to practice mindfulness. Today, meditation and mindful breathing are encouraged activities for children as well as adults.

I lead a Yoga program for students at Wesley Preschool which embraces mindfulness and helps its young participants develop better concentration skills, stress management techniques, self-confidence, and body awareness.  It is a joy to share with my students the goal of healthy practices in a non-competitive environment.

Before I became a certified Yoga instructor for children, I thought the sport was simply about laying on a mat, assuming different poses, and practicing deep breathing. It is so much more than that! Yoga students learn self-control tactics, ways to channel negative and positive emotions, and strategies for living in the present moment. While validating all feelings and reactions, my class focuses on how to manage them properly and respectfully. Calm and mindful breathing exercises enhance concentration. Yoga provides children with a multitude of skills which they can use at home and school and, as they get older, in the workplace. In class, we teach how to be aware, to know, to feel, and to connect. Honing our senses, we shut our eyes to listen for the chimes, identify smells, and feel our muscles as we stretch and move. The class also encourages creativity, free movement, and fun, which I know you will agree, we need more of these days!

My daughter dislikes when I tell her to “breathe” when she’s upset. She’s right that it seems like a senseless activity. Breathing is the first thing we do on our own, it is absolutely innate, we don’t even have to think about it. But what if we did think about it? What if we did control it? How can changing our breathing pattern effect our brains? The scientific answer is that conscious breathing stimulates a different part of the brain than unconscious breathing does. As a parent, I employ partner breathing at home. While holding my child close, I take slow, deep breaths and eventually our breathing rhythm will match. When the rate has slowed, it’s much easier for the two of us to talk and gather thoughts.

At Wesley, I tell my preschool students that when we slow our breathing and think about how the air fills our belly, we feel calmer. We use props to give the class visual aids such as bubbles, pom poms, and paper straws for good breathing techniques.

In our current era of modern technology, we sometimes mindlessly walk, eat, or watch a screen as we focus on our “devices.” It is great that there is a new interest in having young minds focus a little less on technology and a little more on their immediate surroundings. Wesley UMC Preschool is committed to the success of each and every student and their ability to commune with the beautiful world around them, to care for and respect their friends and family, and to have a solid and loving relationship with God. It is my hope that children stop and smell the roses, feel the warm sun, and hear the birds. And in return, maybe we adults will also slow down, listen intently, and respond to our children’s observations and questions, and feel that precious little hand holding ours.