If you’ve experienced the benefits of yoga firsthand, you may be inspired to share it with the children in your life. After all, research suggests that yoga may help increase a child’s self-worth and sense of well-being, reduce symptoms of mild depression among young adults, and relieve ADHD. Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, uncle, or mentor, you can encourage kids and teens to try yoga by following these eight tips from some of Omega’s yoga and meditation teachers.
1. Practice Near Your Child
Have you ever noticed that when you tell a child to do something, she resists, but if you do it quietly by yourself, she may join you of her own accord? According to registered yoga therapist and former kindergarten teacher Jennifer Cohen Harper, author of Little Flower Yoga for Kids, one of the best ways to encourage your child to do yoga is by doing your own practice in a place where she can see you, such as the living room.
“If she sees you practicing, she’s absorbing what you’re doing—and you’re reinforcing the idea that yoga is an important part of your routine,” Harper says. If your child asks to join you, welcome her—even if she simply imitates a few poses before moving on to other activities. Although it may change the nature of your practice, doing yoga with your child can be a fun way to bond. Take the time to answer any questions she might have—and explain how your practice makes you feel, so she can begin to understand the benefits.
2. Point Out Pop Culture Role Models
If you’re a yoga teacher or a relative who’s trying to inspire a child to try yoga or a related practice such as meditation, it may help to identify a famous “yogi” they look up to, says yoga teacher Andres Gonzalez. Cofounder of Holistic Life Foundation, a nonprofit that brings yoga to children and teens in underserved communities in Baltimore, Maryland, Gonzalez says, “When I work with elementary school students, I point out that some of their favorite movie characters, like the Incredible Hulk, Batman, and Ang from The Last Airbender, meditate.” When he works with male teens, Gonzalez points out that basketball players like Miami Heat’s LeBron James do yoga and Seattle Seahawks football players, including quarterback Russell Wilson, practice both yoga poses and meditation.
“I tell them, ‘These people you look up to? They do yoga and meditate so they can concentrate better and be more powerful in positive ways. Why don’t we do it together now, so we can experience those benefits, too?'” Once they realize their heroes practice, he says, they’re often more open to learning.
3. Don’t Worry About Doing Everything “Right”
If you’re not a yoga teacher, the idea of introducing a child in your life to the practice may feel intimidating. But the same “yoga safety” rules apply to everyone, writes Harper in her book: Don’t go beyond your capacity. If something doesn’t feel right, stop or back off. It’s more important to be present in the pose than to perfect it.
After you explain those tenets to your child, just explore some poses, a breathing practice, or a meditation that feel goods to both of you. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be a perfect teacher and your child doesn’t have to be a perfect student—and that the younger your child is, the shorter their attention span will be. And that’s okay.
4. Have Fun Together
Don’t be afraid to laugh, joke around, and have fun with your child when you’re practicing together, says Gonzales. “A lot of times, people think yoga has to be strict,” but that doesn’t work for kids, he says. “We do follow certain rules in my class, but I try to make it as fun and free-flowing as possible, so the kids are fully engaged.”
Need some ideas? There are a lot of children’s yoga books and DVDs that make the poses, breathing exercises, and meditation practices more accessible to different age groups. You may also want to consider inviting your child to take a kids’ Aerial Yoga, AcroYoga, or Circus Yoga class at a nearby studio.
5. Make It Special
If your child is interested in doing yoga with you, choose a quiet place to practice—one that’s relatively uncluttered and free of distractions, Cohen suggests. Then ask him to help you turn the space into a peaceful sanctuary. Let your child pick out his own yoga mat and/or meditation cushion. Ask him to bring a few special items in to the room, such as a candle, a stone, a houseplant, or even a musical instrument to play at the beginning of your practice. And explain that your “yoga time” is an opportunity to leave your worries outside of the door, slow down, and enjoy the present moment, says Gonzalez.
6. Make Yoga (and Meditation) Part of Your Routine
“If you’re ready to share yoga with your child on a regular basis, pick a time and stick to it,” Harper says. Whether you’re a parent, or a relative or mentor who lives nearby, it’s better to commit to a shorter session that feels sustainable—say, 15 minutes once a week—than to schedule two one-hour weekly sessions and be cancelling them at the last minute, she says.
“When you adhere to your commitment, it tells your child, ‘Our yoga practice is more important than anything else right now.’ You can always increase the length of your short session if you’re having fun. That gives it even more value.”
If you’d like to introduce your child to meditation, consider alternative medicine pioneer and meditation expert Deepak Chopra’s advice: “When they’re five years old, you can start playing a game of silence that lasts for one minute every day. When they’re six, increase it to two minutes. When they’re seven, three minutes. And so on. When they’re 10 or so, I think you can start the formal practice with them.”
7. Find a Yoga Class You Can Take Together
If you’re tempted to correct or micromanage your child when you practice together, go to a class instead, so you can both focus on the teacher’s instructions while doing your practice side-by-side. “When you let someone else be the teacher, you and your child are on the same team, and that makes yoga more fun,” says Kripalu Yoga instructor Jamine Ackert, who leads mother-daughter yoga weekends at Omega with her daughter, Remmy Ackert-Fraser, and teaches classes during Family Week.
Depending on the age of your child and your role in her life, consider signing up for a Mommy and Me, Family Yoga, or Parent-Child yoga class. If “family” classes don’t apply to you or if your child is older, consider taking him with you to a regular yoga class, says Ackert. Avoid power yoga and hot yoga classes and instead choose something that will be accessible to both of you, such as a hatha yoga class or a partner yoga class.
8. Focus on Experiential Learning
Sometimes the most effective way to draw a child into a yoga practice is to give them a taste of the benefits firsthand, says Gonzalez.
“I tell my students, ‘Be a scientist. If I tell you that by doing a specific breathing practice for so many days in a row, you’ll experience a specific benefit, use your body like a laboratory and conduct an experiment. Follow the instructions and see if you get the benefits. If you don’t, no big deal. But if you do, then you’ve got a tool that you can use for the rest of your life.'”
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies