by: Giselle Shardlow
When I signed up for Yoga Teacher Training in 2005, I wanted to deepen my practice and gain an understanding of the history and culture of yoga. Learning about the ancient yoga principles transformed my life on and off the mat. For me, yoga is about being human and about living in happiness, health and harmony.
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Teaching Kids about Yoga
With such a deep message, it made me wonder how to share this with children. Here is what I learned about yoga and how I hope to share with kids:
Yoga means “union.” The aim is to create a balance between my mind, body, and spirit. I believe that children can begin to grasp this concept through activities that bring together their intellect, physical body, and relationships with those around them. My goal through my children’s books is to have children reading, acting out the story, and having fun together – helping them balance their mind, body, and spirit.
Yoga is a way of life. The yogic principles guide us in being productive, responsible, and engaged human beings. Yoga happens in everyday life, not just on my yoga mat. Children can learn about happiness, kindness, honesty, gratitude, passion, and self-esteem in their homes, classrooms, or yoga studios.
Yoga first began thousands of years ago in India. It’s hard to imagine that the ancient principles are relevant in today’s world. Perhaps, more than ever…
An Indian sage named Patanjali put together a book called “The Yoga Sutras.” Translated into English, this book contains the source of how to live a happy, healthy, and honest life. A book full of wisdom. We can absolutely share the translations of the sutras with children, through stories and situations they can relate to. For example, one of the sutras, “If you want to be happy, then you must be happy for others around you” is the theme in one of my books, Anna and her Rainbow-Colored Yoga Mats.
The physical postures (asanas in sanskrit) were inspired by the environment. People lived in mountains and created postures by watching and listening to their surroundings. Thus, we have Mountain Pose, Tree Pose, Downward Facing Dog Pose, and Child’s Pose to name a few. Children can invent their own poses based on what they experience in the outdoors.
Yoga is also about sitting still. The first yogis sat for long periods of time listening to their breath and the sounds of the forest. Meditation helps me to bring calm, focus, and relaxation to my life. It is as simple as 1) choosing a comfortable upright position, 2) committing to silence, and 3) focusing on our breath, positive affirmation, or chakra. While I wished that I meditated every day, the moments in the week that I do take to sit quietly are a real treat, especially being a new mom. Show your students or children how to sit quietly for a few moments. Try it, and see what happens.
Yoga challenges me to focus on my breath. Practicing yoga helps me to breathe more deeply, not just the short breaths in my chest. The full yogic breath helps me to reduce stress and live in the present moment. You can teach children to focus on their breath by blowing feathers or cotton balls. They can place their hands on their belly to feel their bellies rise. This is a simple first step in helping children develop a healthy, life-long strategy for managing stress.
Yoga reminds me to acknowledge my teachers. I am reminded by the yoga principles to acknowledge the lineage in whatever I’m learning – that my knowledge is a compilation of my teachers’ thoughts and wisdom. I feel blessed to have extraordinary mentors in my areas of passion – yoga (Katie Manitsas’ books pictured below), motherhood, children’s author, teaching, and traveling. It’s a great practice for children to also learn to thank their life’s teachers, to develop respect for the people in their life.
Yoga helps me to develop acceptance. It’s not about practicing the perfect yoga pose, or about never saying the wrong thing, or about meditating every single day. I must celebrate my “human-ness”, be creative, and live the best way that I can. As a teacher or parent, we can also encourage children to accept themselves and others around them.
Yoga is not just about the Downward Dog. The eight limbs of yoga offer us a pathway to happiness (or enlightenment) – ways to interact with ourselves, ways to interact with others, physical postures, breathing techniques, mindfulness, meditation, and ultimately offer a spiritual journey. As children get more comfortable in their bodies, they feel more confident in themselves and their relationship with the world.
This ancient way of living called yoga is a practice, so there is always more to learn. I feel that I have just begun my journey. It brings me hope that this is one positive pathway for children in the future. Imagine a classroom of students taking 10 minutes to meditate before an exam. Imagine a family holiday event that is calm and relaxed, instead of chaotic. Imagine a class acting out their studies of the jungle in a series of fun yoga-inspired poses …
Thank you so much Giselle- I learned so much!! You can find out more at Kids Yoga Stories, or follow Giselle on facebook and twitter! I was thrilled to invite Giselle Shardlow, a “Kids Yoga Stories” children’s author to do this yoga series for us. She hopes to inspire children by drawing from her experiences as an international primary school teacher, world traveler, mother, and yogi. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter. Giselle’s first two children’s books, “Anna and her Rainbow-Colored Yoga Mats” and “Sophia’s Jungle Adventure” can be found at www.kidsyogastories.com, along with other creative resources for children ages three to seven. This is the first in a series of three about “Yoga for Kids.“