(Diane Utaski Notes: For the time being, this column will include stories in their own words of how yoga has changed people's lives.)
Teaching yoga to children between the ages of 5 and 12, I've seen how yoga helps them develop better body awareness, self-control, flexibility, coordination and self-esteem. Yoga has also been shown to help the hyperactive and attention-deficit child who craves movement and sensory/motor stimulus. It helps channel these impulses in a positive way.
Teaching yoga classes at the end of the school day, I quickly began to understand the children's need to expel excess energy. So to help release some of their energy, we'd begin by playing "Freeze Dance." I would play music from various cultures while the children danced freely. After a period, I'd pause the music and they would freeze in a silly position.
After a few minutes, we'd move on to something that required focus, such as "Pass the Bell Without Ringing" game, which taught the children not only concentration but patience. For example, Luis, one of my 5-year-old male students, wasn't quite as centered as some of the older children.
He typically would have some trouble passing the bell to a classmate sitting next to him without ringing it. Fortunately, he was never frustrated by the exercise. As a matter of fact, he really enjoyed it and on the last day of class even requested we play "Pass the Bell!"
When it comes to relaxation, some children have a difficult time closing their eyes, while others can't get enough. One technique that encourages relaxation is a guided visualization or story with a calming theme of some kind. For example, a child might choose to wear an eye pillow to block out light while lying in Savasana (Corpse Pose) or choose to color a Mandala design quietly while I read the visualization. I might ask them to imagine themselves riding on a magic carpet that passes through a rainbow and experience whatever sensations arise as they float through each color.
At the end of the relaxation exercise, I would encourage the children to share their own experiences. The idea is to instill a sense of peace and feeling of self-confidence to share without fear or embarrassment. It's such a thrill to see kids bond and become selfless while assisting each other perform partner poses.
My philosophy is to make each kids' yoga class fun yet educational by playing games that incorporate the basic yoga postures and breathing techniques. It's my wish that more and more parents will choose yoga classes for their children. There's such a wealth of knowledge we can offer our children with the practice of yoga — the simple chanting of "om" makes their faces light up and smile.
My 10-year-old son is an example. He's been practicing with me for more than three years and sometimes leads my classes. The other students look up to him as a mentor and a fellow yogi.
MONICA STAMPER is in her fourth season teaching yoga to children at a variety of locations; she'll be teaching kids yoga at the Cincinnati Yoga School this summer. Contact Monica at [email protected] or 513-235-6734. DIANE UTASKI can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected].