Many people view yoga as a physical practice only, and while they know that there’s a philosophical side, many feel that they’re not “spiritual,” so they can only relate to the physical aspect of the practice.
The fact is that many of the central principles of yoga are very basic, relatable thoughts and can be appreciated and utilized even if you never step foot on a yoga mat. Additionally, most of these concepts can be appreciated by both adults and children and can provide kids with an understanding of how the practice of mindfulness can help them scholastically as well as physically and emotionally. Here are a few you can share with children during this stressful and exciting time of a new school year:
Feel better fast: take 10 deep breaths. In my teaching yoga to children, I’ve noticed that kids as young as 4 years old know what stress is and can point out situations that make them feel stress. Teach children to take “deep breathing breaks” throughout their day, before a test, before presenting to the class or before walking into social situations that make them feel anxious.
Increase your focus: set your eyes at one point. On the yoga mat, we call it “drishti,” which means “set your eyes at one point.” It’s a great way to increase focus, decrease distraction and improve performance. I tell kids it’s what athletes use to focus during games and they can use this technique too. I share that when you look around, you waste your energy and the more you focus, the better you’ll perform.
How you take care of yourself is a reflection of how you feel about yourself. Self-care is a central tenet of yogic philosophy and it’s expressed through things like caring for your body, your props, keeping the studio clean and caring for what you put in your body as fuel. This in no way means you need to have expensive clothes in order to express this self-caring attitude. It’s more a reflection of being clean, wearing clean clothes, keeping your desk and workbooks clean and reflective of your positive attitude.
The company you keep can make you or break you. Want to do great things? Spend time with positive people. Want to hang around and do nothing? Spend time with people that do that and you’ll get sucked into the same thing. People enjoy practicing yoga with others because it’s a positive feeling to be in a room with a bunch of people working towards better health. In school, it’s the same thing. Teach kids to be aware of whom they spend time with and notice their influence on attitude, speech, behavior and actions. Encourage them to break the ties that don’t serve them.
It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday; today is a new day. Every day we step on the yoga mat is a chance to start over. We notice our body feels differently, performs differently and our focus has changed. But the point is, we step up and do our best. Teach kids that regardless of what they experienced yesterday, how they performed and what challenges they faced, today is a fresh start and with it, there are new opportunities. As long as they are aware, they won’t miss them. But if they are caught up in thoughts of yesterday, they might.
If you want to have balance in your life, learn how to balance in your body. There are a series of yoga poses that require you stand on one leg. I often tell people that if you want to live a balanced life, you need to know how it feels to be balanced in your body. Share with kids that to have excellent athletic performance, you need strong ankles and a stable core. These are two things that any balancing pose will teach you. Poses like Tree pose and Airplane pose are very basic and share these qualities.
The one that barks the loudest is often the one with the least bite. In yoga, we learn to lead with compassion. This can be hard when the person that’s pushing our buttons is acting in a cruel or insensitive way. Teach kids that in school, it’s often the loudest, brashest, cruelest kid that actually may be struggling the most and in reality, needs compassion more than a fight. When it comes right down to it, this person would rather cry than fight anyway, but he or she has just learned to fight instead.
Lead with kindness. In yoga, we learn to move our bodies in a way that is heart-opening. We learn to lead with our heart and not our head. If we always lead with our head, we just end up with neck pain. Teach kids to be kind not only to one another but to their own bodies and minds, first and foremost. In reality, being kind will get you further in the long run.
Approach things with a beginner’s mind. As we get older, it gets harder to maintain our curiosity about things and we like to think we know what to expect. We see this on the mat when we get caught jumping ahead of the teacher, on autopilot, because we’ve been to that class for months and think we can anticipate what the teacher will suggest next. As kids get older, they can experience this too and it can be a block to learning. Teach kids that there is always room to learn and even something we think we know can be reviewed again and new insights learned if we stay open to it.
Begin each day with a vision of how you’d like it to end. In meditation, we can use our stillness to visualize how we’d like something to be in our life. It could be related to an attitude we’d like to change, something we’d like to do from a performance standpoint, such as taking a test or running a race. We can use the same idea to relate to each day. Before getting out of bed, teach kids to set an intention for the day and before they go to bed, return to that vision. If they found that things did not end as they wished, have them express what was missing and use it as information to help them as they move forward to the next day.