Why yoga for children

Yoga can provide children with a whole tool box of techniques to help them manage themselves and their lives. It introduces them to their own being, helping them develop physical strength and flexibility, mental clarity and emotional stability. It can help build a strong sense of self and help them to develop into the best possible version of themselves. It helps them to become aware of their own bodies and understand what’s going on in their heads when big emotions and feelings seek to overwhelm them. In short, yoga can provide them with life skills, maybe even life-saving skills.

I have come to learn that, however chaotic and crazy a children’s yoga class may be, there are always moments where, as a teacher, you can see on their face that a child has just got something, something has just made sense to them and they can feel it. Because even if that child only takes one thing home with them, it’s one more thing that can help them manage themselves. It’s empowering.

The physical benefits of yoga for children are many and maybe even inexhaustible. Stronger muscles, more flexible joints, improved posture, sense of balance and coordination, healthier lungs and circulatory system, improved digestion and defence against illnesses. Arguably, all of this can be got from any form of exercise but, in my opinion, there is no other practice that is as inclusive and accessible to all as yoga. There is no other “discipline” that can provide as complete a toolbox of techniques to get you through childhood and adolescence.

As children head towards their teenage years their bodies start to tighten up, even more so in this age of mobile media devices, computers and televisions with endless channels of 24/7 entertainment. As I walk my nearly 5 year old daughter to school we are passed by teenagers on their way to school, and I worry. At what point in a child’s development do they lose that glowing skin, the skip in their step, that innate curiosity to look up towards the sky and see the world around them? At what point do they become unable to swing from monkey bars or become so engrossed in their phones or the big stress of the day that they would trip over their own feet if they didn’t bump into you first? I see two boys in particular, both early teens, and already they’re walking with the posture of an old man.

All of this yoga can help fix but where I believe yoga can really make a difference is in the mind. Because in order to fix the body you have to get them out of their heads and you can’t get them out of their heads if they’re stuck in the endless cycle of past regrets and future worries. A regular yoga practice, even for younger children, can improve their awareness of their own bodies. With this awareness comes the ability to focus on the present and once here, concentration spans can be worked on and with this comes a greater sense of clarity and serenity. It is from here that a better sense of connection with oneself and others can really begin to manifest. Getting children to this point will undoubtedly take time but once here, the confidence it can give them may be life changing.

The ability to connect to the self and others is perhaps the greatest benefit of yoga because it brings with it the ability to be more patient, more tolerant and more compassionate towards both ourselves and to those around us. This in turn brings huge emotional benefits. If children can learn to be kind and more accepting of themselves they can become more confident, more emotionally balanced, less reactive to and more active in their own lives. They may be more able to look at a situation or a thought from a wider perspective and respond with an understanding rather than a knee-jerk.

I believe yoga can have a significant impact on a child’s growth and development. Having a better awareness of the body cultivates a healthy attitude towards food and other substances. The ability to connect with and to control the breath brings balance to the mind and perspective to fluctuating emotions. It can help children deal with the highs and lows of hormonal changes at a time in their lives when so much is going on and changing around them. By nurturing a more positive attitude and the ability to stay present, yoga can help children to cope with the stress and unpredictable nature of life in general. Above all, I think one of the biggest benefits of yoga for children is that it can help them develop their emotional intelligence, making them less judgmental, more empathetic and more compassionate towards themselves and others.

Physically stronger, more emotionally intelligent human beings with the ability to connect to themselves and to others and to the world around them with compassion. This is why yoga for children is important, because knowing how to move and breathe and be in your own body and how to deal with your own emotional chaos is a life skill just as much as learning to swim.

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Connecting

At Yoga Club this week the theme was “Connecting”.  The focus of this session was how do we connect with our selves and how do we connect with those around us?
How often do we really look into the eyes of another person? I mean really look, not just make eye contact but linger? Into the eyes of a loved one? Into the eyes of a stranger? How often do we put on a mask and show the people around us who we think they think we should be or act?  Our mouths can smile and say what we think we should but if that smile does not come from the heart then the eyes will always betray it.
Take a moment every day to really look into the eyes of those you interact with. Be present in that moment. See past their mask and remove yours in the process.
To truly connect with others you need to be connected to your self. In Yoga Club this week we connected to our bodies and our breath with the help of a wall and a breathing buddy –
Legs up the wall pose
Begin by sitting as close to the wall as you can.
Lay back and swing your legs up so they are resting up the wall (shuffle your bottom in a little until it touches the wall).
Place a breathing buddy (this can be a beany toy or a bean bag or a sock full of rice!) onto your belly and rock the breathing buddy with your breath (feel the belly rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out).
Being against the wall and the floor, and being upside down helps you to connect with your physical body. Feeling your belly rise and fall helps you to connect with and focus on your breath.
This pose relaxes the body, regulates the breath and focusses the mind. It calms the nervous system and can help with issues around sleeping, eating, behaviour, concentration and stress levels.
Yoga Song
Another way to achieve all of the above is singing! Relax your jaw, open your mouth wide and sing a yoga song –
“Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm”.

 

Find your feet

Some people love their feet, some people hate their feet while others are indifferent, they don’t really think about their feet at all.  Have you even looked at your toes today?  When was the last time you looked at your soles?  When did you last walk outside in bare feet, discovering daisies feet first?  Our feet are quite literally our foundation and yet most of us are so much in our heads that our feet are forgotten once summer is done and we pack them away until next spring when we pumice the life out of them and then hide them away anyway because our toes are too wonky or we’ve had a corn for so long it looks like we’ve got a permanent bit of gum stuck to our foot.

So, go see a Podiatrist, get rid of the corn, accept what you cannot change and show your feet the appreciation and respect they deserve.  Feet are awesome, your feet are awesome, my feet are awesome.  They bear our weight and propel us along with their arches and phalanges and cuneiforms (rhymes with unicorns, how cool is that!).  Okay, I’m getting a bit carried away now but you get my point right?

I’ve learnt a lot about feet recently.  I am astounded how quickly children’s feet grow.  I never realised that they don’t really stop growing until around the age of 18 and I took it for granted how lucky I was to still fit in my shoes after two pregnancies.  But what really interests me about feet is how they can completely change the way you stand, the way you sit and the way you walk.  I am fascinated by how different a yoga pose can feel just by changing the position of the foot or grounding down or shifting your weight onto a different part of the foot.

Try it.  However you are sitting or standing now.  Get out of your head and into your feet.  Now, however you were standing or sitting, place both feet on the floor.  Notice how your whole body shifts.  Notice which part of your foot you’re naturally rolling your weight onto.  Now, without changing the position of your feet, shift your weight and ground down across the broadest part of the feet (base of big toe to base of little toe) and down through the centre of the heels.  Notice how your whole body shifts, ankles, knees, hips, pelvis, spine, shoulders.  Breathe in, and as you breathe out imagine little roots growing down into the earth from these three points on your foot.  Notice how your mind begins to shift.  You are physically and mentally grounded.  Aligned in your body through your soles.

Feel the difference, when you’re standing in Mountain Pose.  Shift your weight around your feet.  How do your knees, hips, pelvis feel when your toes are turned out, when your toes are turned in, when your feet are together or when they’re hip distance apart?  How does it feel throughout your whole body when your toes are facing forward, you’re broadening through the front of the foot and grounding down across the base of your toes and through the centre of your heels?

Feel the difference in a lunge or triangle pose.  Shift your front knee to the left or the right or past the tips of your toes.  How do your hips and your pelvis feel in a lunge when you roll onto the outside or the inside of the top of your back foot?  Now how does it feel when you line your front knee up with your foot and pull it back in line with your heel?  What happens to your pelvis and your hips and indeed the whole lunge when you bring the back heel and toes in line with the back knee?

Think about them, the next time you do yoga, even if you’re upside down, think about your feet.  Make it the first thing you do when you move into a pose or when you get out of bed in the morning.  Think about the position of your feet, think about where your weight is grounding down through your feet, use them as alignment markers and feel the difference.  Get out of your head and into your feet.  Find your foundation and begin your journey.

Changes

My husband often comments on my dislike of change and it never really bothered me that he noticed this until the other day when I really thought about just how right he is. 

I’m not talking about, as he was, how I hate it when my local Boots store moves complete aisles so when I go in to get something it’s not where it used to be and I have to walk around the shop to find it and then get so frustrated that although I need the item I come home without it because I hate the fact that they’ve moved it for no reason apart from to make people walk around the shop to find it so they have to look at more stuff and end up buying things they never went in to buy and probably don’t even need. 

I’m talking about real life changing changes like birth, death, falling in love, having children.  Things that change your life so much that you wander so far from a once certain path that you don’t even know who you are any more let alone where you’re going.

I have a tattoo on my ankle, a permanent reminder of the impermanence of life.  It’s faded a little as all tattoos inevitably do but it’s still there.  Even if I seek to get it removed there’ll still be some scarring and you’ll probably still be able to just about make out what it once was.  Some things are permanent, impermeable, unchangeable, everlasting.  Even after death I will still have been.  I am and therefore I will always be.

Now let’s be clear, I don’t believe in God or gods but I do believe that there is a higher power in each of us that when we connect to it we can become the best version of ourselves.  Some people never make that connection, either they don’t seek it out or they can never quite reach it.  Others are so connected they glow.  Most people, myself included, have fleeting moments but just can’t seem to hold on long enough for others to see them.

So I’m going on a journey.  A journey to the heart and from the heart.  A humble journey home to my Self, the best version of me I can be, the part of me that is unchangeable.  The vehicle I am using is the one thing that I have held onto since the biggest life changing event in my life.  The study and discipline of yoga has helped me through grief, loneliness, happiness and both physical and emotional pain.  Yoga is what brings me home to my Self, it restores my rhythm and helps me deal with changes I can’t control.

So come with me, let’s discover together who we are and how great we can be.  Let’s yoga!

New Sessions for beginners

Yoga and relaxation sessions for beginners

Monday evening sessions

6pm to 7pm and 7:30pm to 8:30pm

Anne Knight Room

Quaker Meeting House

Chelmsford CM1 2QL

£9 per session or block book 8 sessions for £63

Booking is essential as spaces are limited

Parking is available but limited (access off Rainsford Road or via Cedar Avenue West). Mats and other equipment will be provided.

For more information or to book sessions contact caroline@yogabyheart.co.uk

New Beginnings Sessions

Yoga and relaxation sessions for beginners

Mondays from 1st June 2015

6pm to 7pm

Anne Knight Room

Quaker Meeting House

Chelmsford CM1 2QL

£8 per session or block book 8 sessions for £60

Booking is essential as spaces are limited

Parking is available but limited (access off Rainsford Road or via Cedar Avenue West). Mats and other equipment will be provided.

For more information or to book sessions contact caroline@yogabyheart.co.uk