I've been practicing yoga seriously since my daughter was a few weeks old. She's watched me go from a wobbly, anxious new parent to a (sometimes) centered, seasoned yogi. And now, as a preschooler, she regularly enjoys yoga, too.
Yoga for children
Yoga poses for kids
Learning about yoga early and developing a practice is a wonderful habit for young children. It gets kids moving and engaged in a fun physical activity, and it also helps children feel more focused, calm and less stressed.
Kimberly Lipson, who recently completed an intensive yoga-teacher training program at Urban Yoga in Phoenix, shares her expert opinion on nine yoga poses that are great for beginning yogis.
Bridge: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
Kimberly notes, "Any inversion that reverses the blood flow is beneficial for reoxygenating the body. This is important for full-body circulation and energy levels."
To accomplish this position, have your child lie on her back and bend both knees so that her feet are flat on the ground. Have her bring her heels as close to her bottom as she comfortably can and then lift her hips high to the sky. Most kids have a very flexible spine, so they can press their hips up very high. This pose is also great for leg strength, ankle stability and energy.
Doggy: Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward-facing dog)
Kimberly says, "This pose is not only great for oxygenating the body (again due to reverse blood flow), but it becomes a resting pose for stability. It also serves as a "home base" for yoga. When positioned properly — with heels reaching for the ground, shoulders relaxed and elbows spiraling outward while pressing through all fingers and through the palms — this is a strengthening stability pose. The yogi is fully grounded through both hands and feet. The more effort put into the physical position, the more the mind is free from wandering."
Instruct your child to begin on hands and knees and then tuck her toes and lift her bottom high so her body and the mat create a triangle, pressing her chest forward with her head hanging down. Instead of allowing kids to stand on their tiptoes, which may happen naturally, have them focus on keeping their feet firmly on the ground, bending their knees if needed.
Crescent moon: Ardha Chandrasana
Kimberly notes that this pose benefits the flexibility of the sides of the body.
She says, "Most injuries are caused by overextending the body because the side of the body is typically very tight."
She advises that you should help your child extend her arms into the air and stretch her fingertips off to both sides, which will cause her to balance the weight of the torso while at the same time strengthening obliques and adding the necessary flexibility.
"The most important reminder to give yogis is to remember to breathe while doing this pose to allow the full stretch to occur," she says.
"This is a pose to quiet the mind and work on balance. Holding the tree takes concentration and tightening of the core," says Kimberly. She adds, "Stability comes from within the bandhas. Most children find difficulty quieting the mind and drawing focus within. This is the perfect pose to quiet the mouth, quiet the mind, pull everything in and hold the tree while breathing in and out through the nose."
Standing steady on two feet, have your child press one foot firmly into the mat while lifting the opposite heel. When she feels stable in this position, she can turn out the knee with the heel lifted and bring the heel to the inner ankle. If the child feels steady here, she can experiment with lifting the toes completely off the mat and setting the foot on the opposite leg.*
Most kids will set their lifted foot on their mid-calf. If they are very steady, they can place their foot a bit higher, as long as they don't press it directly into the knee joint.
Kimberly says, "This is excellent for posture, peace, lengthening and strengthening. It is so simple yet so powerful.
"Have children plant their feet strongly into the ground, reach through the tip-top crown of their head and relax their shoulders. This will bring the maximum length and strength. Equal weight in both feet is very important in this pose."
Rag doll: Uttanasana
This is one of Kimberly's favorite poses!
She says, "Hamstrings are typically tight, but the longer you stay in rag doll, the looser they become. This is wonderful for preventing injury because it builds flexibility. In addition, it is fabulous for reversing the blood flow, once again.
"To accomplish this pose, have your child bend forward, letting her knees bend slightly and her head and arms release and gently sway from side to side."
Happy baby: Ananda Balasana
Have your child lie on her back, pull her knees toward her belly and then grab on to the outsides of her feet. Then tell her to open her knees as wide as the torso and press her feet into her hands. Kimberly notes that this pose is great for the spine, so it is important to instruct your child to keep her tailbone on the ground during this pose.
She adds, "The more the tailbone is planted on the ground, the more the spine will get the full massage/alignment that is necessary. This also is hip-opening, which is great for the body."
Butterfly pose: Baddha Konasana
Kimberly notes that this pose is great for opening the hips and a good stretch for the ankles.
She says, "It is very important to remind the yogis to sit up straight. The more the crown reaches for the sky, the more of a spinal stretch and hip stretch the body receives."
Pushing down on the knees or thighs with her elbows as she keeps her feet pressed together allows the hips to open up more.
Kim advises, "Tell the kids to open their feet like a book."
Child's pose: Balasana
This list wouldn't be complete without the pose of the child, which Kimberly refers to as "the place of safety." From all fours, tell your child to sit back on her heels, resting her head on the mat. Then let her "walk" her fingers away from her body to stretch the hips, thighs and ankles.
Kimberly adds, "This is a grounding pose that is a mind soother and a fabulous resting pose. Remain quiet and calm when getting kids into this pose so they reference it as just that. It is where you go in a yoga class when you need to regroup and collect yourself."
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Image credit: Kristin Bustamante