Animal Yoga Poses for Kids
In the midst of discussing her chicken nuggets (she eats only the dinosaur shaped ones in the green box), she rolled back onto the padded window seat, bent her four-year-old knees into her little armpits and grabbed her feet. Happy Babies Pose. Gigi kept right on talking, sticking her head between her feet to look up at me with big brown in her smiling face. I marveled at my niece’s intuition and ability to move into yoga poses. At any time. And although the practice of yoga is very much a part of my life, her mom, my sister Robin, doesn’t practice yoga at all. In fact, when I asked her, Robin said Gigi had not been exposed to yoga. And yet, at four years old, she knew exactly how to move her body into many of the traditional poses.
Yoga postures, referred to as asana in Sanskrit, the language of Yoga, emulate animal shapes, elements in nature, and aspects of our surrounding world. Kids naturally create many these types of shapes with their bodies, in playful and expressive ways. My first thought was, “oh no! You shouldn’t compress the abdomen like in Happy Baby pose, mid-meal. Nor is it ideal to combine yoga and eating.” But my second thought, “Of course she’d come into Happy Baby pose, as she’s happiest when she’s eating dinosaur nuggets, the kind from the green package,” reminded me of the power of connection through yoga. Happy feeling = Happy Baby Pose.
With tools to listen and deepen our intuition, the practice of yoga connects us with our internal landscapes: breath, sensation, body awareness, and mental & physical balance. Simultaneously, yoga poses join us with our external landscapes, with the natural world and with one another. For example, when kids are encouraged to take the yoga pose of Frog, squatting with feet and knees wide, they can’t help but want to make some ‘ribbit’ sounds and hop around!
In our technology-saturated world, connection with nature, each other, and ourselves becomes an even more vital practice.
There are numerous studies on the benefits of yoga poses for kids. One such study, conducted by Kristie Patten Koenig, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at New York University, focused on elementary school kids and yoga. She and her team of researchers and teachers had the kids follow a specific routine each morning, five days a week, for 17 minutes. The routine: mats out, breathe deep, assume yoga poses, tense and relax muscles, and, finally, sing. Koenig says that yoga was effective because it seems to play to the strengths of kids (particularly those with autism), while also reducing stress. The researchers surveyed teachers at a school in the Bronx who said a daily yoga program reduced the kids’ aggressive behavior, social withdrawal and hyperactivity. “We know that anxiety fuels a lot of negative behavior, so the yoga program gives them a strategy to cope with it,” Koenig reported. “And if it’s done every morning, it becomes an integral part of the day that sets the status of the classroom and allows the kids to become calm, focused and ready to learn.”
In addition to aiding connection, yoga poses and the practices of yoga (mindfulness and breath along with movement) cultivate kids’ abilities to focus and concentrate. Yoga is increasingly being used in classrooms across the U.S. to improve the behavior and performance of kids. Additional research suggests that yoga practices help kids concentrate and focus, and improves their strength, motor coordination and social skills. Teachers report that yoga poses for kids aid in decreasing problematic behaviors.
Eight Yoga Poses for Kids
Whether you’re a teacher, parent, relative, or babysitter, kids yoga poses can be utilized in either formal teaching practice or informal play. Here are eight yoga poses for kids that can be used to enhance connection with the animal kingdom, themselves and each other. Kids can learn to welcome the sun in the morning and say goodnight to the sun in the evening, in their own yogic way.
As you’re directing kids into these shapes, allow space for their creativity and intuition to be a part of the practice. To create a deeper sense of unity and interaction, yoga mats can be placed in a circle. Use the time setting up the poses and between poses to provide information about the animal(s), their behaviors, and what we have in common with them and with each other. Allow space for both learning and play, while encouraging interaction with one other when appropriate and also the ability for each kid to connect with their own breath and sensations.
- Come to hands and knees on the mat to create a table position
- Face soft to start
- Draw hips back towards heels in a pre-pounce
- Pounce forward on the mat, staying on hands and knees
- “ROAR!” sticking tongue out and looking up towards ceiling
Lion Pose is useful to teach kids to identify and manage their emotions. By linking sound and movement through the yogic practice, kids yoga poses such as Lion, create the teaching of healthy anger outlets and helps to limit emotional outbursts.
- Come to hands and knees on the mat in a table position
- Move hands forward one handprint
- Curl toes under
- Lift hips to the sky
- Breath work: Begin to pant with tongue hanging out, then close mouth keep the same ‘panting’ out the nose (Breath of Fire)
Down Dog Pose can be used to connect with others. Kids can take their Down Dog’s for a ‘walk’ moving off their mats and around the room, greeting other ‘Dogs’. Another option for Dog Pose in a group is to form a line of Down Dogs making a tunnel like opening beneath their bodies. One at a time, have a kid come onto their belly for Caterpillar and inch worm their way beneath the lifted Dog Poses.
- Come to hands and knees on the mat in a table position
- Walk hands forward until chest comes to the mat
- Keep arms outstretched
- Keep knees on the mat, lift ‘tail’ high
- Can make funny puppy faces, and ‘wag tails’
Puppy Dog Pose is a nice set up and/or release from Down Dog Pose. It can be used to initiate the strength to create Down Dog Pose as well as provide a softening release from it. Similarly, it can be helpful in revving up energy for Down Dog Pose (especially in a group line of Down Dogs) and bringing that same energy back down.
- Lay belly down on the mat
- Begin to wiggle through hips
- Either arms extended overhead or alongside hips
- Practice inching forward without using hands and feet
- Lay either belly down or on back on the mat
- If using progression from Caterpillar to Butterfly; easier to be belly down
- Be still; unmoving
- Deep breaths
- Breath work: begin to breathe in at toes, up through legs, belly, chest, arms, throat, face and up through top of the head. Breathe out starting at top of the head, all the way back down, completing breath out from the toes
- Lay belly down on the yoga mat
- Extend arms out to the sides
- Lift straight arms to sides of the room
- Lift straight legs to back of the room
- Can flutter arms like butterfly wings
Caterpillar, Butterfly and Cocoon/Corpse Poses linked together provide a wonderful opportunity to teach about the scientific transformation that occurs, as a caterpillar becomes an entirely different shape in the form of a butterfly. Depending on the ages of kids, you could incorporate information about how a caterpillar essentially turns to liquid in its cocoon, and then emerges as a completely different shape in butterfly.
Butterfly is another yogic shape that can be used as a pose of connection. Kids can make a circle with their mats, belly down, just less than arms distance apart. When they lift their arms, bellies connected to their mats, they can link arms with one another and fly together! Another option is to have kids emerge from Cocoon Pose onto their feet and explore ‘flying’ as butterflies to interact with one another around the room.
- Kneel on mat with knees wide
- Big toes touch
- Lay belly towards mat
- Arms extended overhead
- Rest forehead on mat
- Place feet wide on the mat
- Lower hips into a squat position
- Hands come to heart center
- Make ‘ribbit’ sounds
- Option to hop!
Frog Pose is another asana that can be used for interactive play. Invite kids in Frog pose to hop around and engage with one another for up to a minute. Then hop back to their mats and take Childs pose: wide knees lower on to the mat, hips back towards heels, forehead to the mat. These types of yoga poses for kids are a good practice in learning to extend energy through engagement outwards, followed immediately by pulling energy back in.
How would the world be different if our children are taught and encouraged to listen to their intuition?
If our children are supported to express their thoughts, ideas and emotions through yoga poses in a form of healthy play and self-expression? What if, rather than an alternative form of exercise that only occurred in studios, yoga became a way of communicating with ourselves, each other and the world around us?
4 Ways to Get More Exercise While Taking Care of Your Baby
Having a baby can completely change your priorities. During the first weeks, exercise (and getting more of it) is probably the last thing on your mind, as all you can think about is your perfect little newborn. However, as the new routines become familiar, you might start feeling like moving your body again as you remember how much more energy it gave you before.
Getting more exercise after pregnancy is vital not only for getting back your pre-pregnancy figure, but also for preventing and healing back, shoulder and neck aches that may have resulted from carrying your baby and bending down to stare at your little miracle–something that most new parents can’t get enough of.
There are a few steps that you can take to increase the amount of exercise you get, without tiring yourself more than being a new parent already does. The key is to make small changes so that you don’t feel overwhelmed, and so that you still have the energy to enjoy these few unique, precious months with your baby.
1. Sleep When Your Baby Sleeps
Although this may seem counter-intuitive when talking about getting more exercise, you should first make sure you’re getting enough rest. Straining yourself by working out while tired can actually lead to lower fitness levels, so make sure you’re getting all the sleep you need. Instead of squeezing in exercise during your baby’s nap, join them and wake up refreshed and happy to tend to their needs. There are ways to get strong during the waking hours too.
2. Carry Your Baby
Carrying your baby in a wrap, sling or baby carrier is one of the best ways to strengthen your legs, pelvic muscles and core. Keep your abs and pelvic muscles engaged when carrying your baby, and squat instead of bending down every time you need to pick something up. You can carry your baby indoors while you clean or do the laundry, or when going for a walk outside. If your baby weighs even one tenth of what you weigh, every step you take will be ten percent more effective.
Being carried is great for your baby too. Their balance improves, attachment to you strengthens, and any fussiness due to tummy aches or tiredness and overstimulation calms down. In order to protect their back and hips from unhealthy stress, make sure your method of carrying places them with their knees higher than their bum, and their back on a round C-curve.
3. Do What Your Baby Does
When my baby started turning from back to front, the time he spent on the floor started to look more and more like a yoga or Pilates class. In the last five minutes I’ve seen him go from pushups to downward facing dog to cobra to pigeon pose, and when he turns onto his back he does what seems like a very intense core workout with his legs kicking just above the floor. All I have to do is get down and dirty with him (copying all his movements), and I get a great whole-body workout–all the while giving my baby boy the attention and one on one parent time he loves.
4. Exercise On The Go
No matter how much fun you’re having napping and playing with your baby, eventually you’re going to have to leave the house for some fresh air. And when you do, you can make the most of it by incorporating your favorite yoga and Pilates moves into your pram walk. Walk a few minutes to warm up, then do some standing poses, stretches and moves to open your hips and shoulders and relax your back and neck (using your pram as support if you need to). Then continue walking and feel the difference in the way you move.
Lastly, be gentle with yourself. Instead of thinking about the exercise you don’t have the time or energy for anymore, concentrate on the little bits of healing, strengthening and fun movement you can incorporate into your daily life.