I was recently talking to a colleague at a community yoga event where we were guiding a kids yoga class alongside the adult class. She mentioned to me after the event that one of the parents she met that just moved to town said, “You are not just babysitting, it’s really yoga for kids?”
Since that conversation I have been thinking about what parents, teachers, and others think of when they think of kids yoga. Do most people really think kids yoga is another form of “babysitting”? I am curiously wondering if that is the common perception. I know for as many varieties of yoga there are, there are equally that many more perceptions about what that kind of yoga is or is not. This is also true for yoga for kids.
So what are we doing when we are teaching the now proverbial “kids yoga”? We are teaching our kiddos exactly what the adults are learning, but in a format and context that kids can connect to, understand, and retain some of the information they are learning in the class so they can practice yoga in all parts of their lives.
There are many different training programs for kids yoga and each have their own techniques. Fundamentally, all the training programs for kids yoga are teaching the foundations of mindful breath and movement to our youth, but beyond this basic foundation, there are many varieties in which to teach these precepts.
I am a Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher, certified through, and Team Member of Yogiños: Yoga for Youth® (“Yogiños”). It is a top notch training program (also tri-lingual weaving English, Spanish, and Sanskrit) headed by my mentor and colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Reese. It is a program that fosters independent self-worth, synergy, and integration – the ultimate values we are reaching for as adults that are key in any healthy growth process whether it is an internal growth in our bodies or minds, or an external growth in our relationships, families, and communities.
My perception of kids yoga and practice of kids yoga as a youth, family, and adult yoga instructor will be seen through my specific training lens. In addition to my professional legal background and training in yoga for youth, I am also an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 200) in process of another credential for advanced teacher training called E-RYT 500, so I teach adults as well. That just means that I have some additional training from other highly seasoned teachers and that training provides me with more tools to go deeper into the practice as a professional teacher and practitioner on all levels – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And, that experience, that practice, the new tools and insights, make me a better teacher for you, your kids, and your families. I also have somewhere close to 2000 teaching hours thus far.
I also have the great opportunity to work with the Sonima Foundation in the Houston Independent School District (“HISD”) implementing health and wellness programs in 12 HISD schools as part of a 3-year research project studying the effects of mindfulness on third and fifth graders. I work with K-5th grade at one of those 12 schools. As part of the curriculum we are teaching, we integrate mindful breathing and movement, character development skills, and the science of movement and mindfulness.
I tell you this not to enliven my own accolades, but so you can understand my unique perspective on yoga for youth. And frankly, if you don’t know me (and hopefully I have some new eyes reading this), it’s important to know my background and the platform in which I write this piece on yoga for youth and the offerings I bring with me to each class experience.
I am also a mom to a 9-year-old soon to be a fourth grader next school term. I do not just teach as a profession, but I also have a very personal understanding and experience of the practice of yoga and kids yoga as a practitioner and parent who uses the tools I teach in my parenting and teach to my son so he is better prepared to meet success in all aspects of life. I have a personal expertise that integrates with my professional expertise. I understand not only the intellectual application, but the practical side of this process as well. I use these tools on a daily basis as a mom guiding my own kiddo to be the vest version of him that he was created to experience.
We can find a lot of different terms to describe kids yoga, but at the foundation of what kids yoga is or should be is this – kids yoga is about growing healthy habits and building character in a sustainable life-long way using mindful breath and healthy movement as the avenues to reach those ultimate goals. We are teaching our kids to be the best version of themselves that they were created to be. Our classes may look different from an adult class, but this is essentially what we are doing.
As a Yogiños trained teacher, I integrate movement, books, music, art, dance, and games all that are designed to help guide our kids to reach those ultimate life goals not only while practicing in a yoga class, but most importantly how to attain those goals outside of class and to practice what we call “OHMazing®” choices off the mat. I do not expect kids to sit down quietly practicing meditation, but I do expect them and teach them little-by-little what it’s like to calm the mind and body by using mindful breathing techniques and movement and to get them thinking about what it feels like to be in a calm state of awareness.
A typical class (the truncated version is here for simplicity in reading) is similar to an adult class where we center, warm-up, have a peak moment whether in a pose or learning several poses, and then we cool down. I get the kids moving, we do some calming practices, and integrate an overarching theme through each part of the class. The theme is the premise for teaching and then building the class from that premise adding appropriate poses, music, art, games, etc. Creating a class for youth is an artful practice.
So if you walk into a kids yoga class and see your kids meowing or jumping or laughing hysterically, on face value, it may seem that they are not practicing mindfulness or anything similar to yoga, but what is happening is they are in fact learning yoga, mindfulness, and ultimately how to grow healthy habits and build character and think critically, which are pivotal tools to meet their successes, all within a context that they can relate and connect to, and ultimately understand. It is developmentally appropriate yoga that takes into consideration all the unique gifts all of our kids give to our world and us.
When I teach adults, I must adapt to the community of students in class. I must meet their needs, not my needs or my idea of what is right for them. I adapt to them and adapt my plan to those needs. Similarly, as adults we must adapt to our kids’ needs. When do you see kids most engaged? When they are laughing, playing games, and participating in music and art. Yogiños teachers build upon this developmental appropriate and accessible format for children using established educational theory and practice with the tools of yoga and mindfulness.
In the end, your kiddo may come home meowing on their palms and knees and arching their back like a Halloween cat or they may start picking imaginary flowers and taking “flower power” breaths or for the too cool for school kiddos, we say “rock star” breaths. You may find your kids in play forming themselves into a shape of a pose they learned in class. If you have an older kid, she may come home talking about the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and telling you not to take things personally or showing you her own kind of empowering pictures that defy distorted women’s body image in modern media, and your brows might go up and say, “I want some of what they have.”
Over the course of kids being involved in a yoga program, they learn a new language and that language is brought home and the conversation tenor at home changes, little by little. As parents, I trust you will welcome these changes because as kids progress in a yoga program or actively attend classes, they start slowly building healthier habits and building their character in healthy ways and healthy characters are contagious.
As one mom indicated to me after I taught her daughter in a yoga class using the book Moody Cow Meditates, her daughter said to her in her moment of anger, “Mom, I think you are being a moody cow, maybe take a deep breath.” And another mom and two of her daughters (tween/tween age) in a different class, but same book was used, came up after class and said, “We were all being such moody cows today and this class and that book really helped us come away from our anger in a light-hearted way to see how silly we were reacting to each other.” They left smiling and hugging each other.
Family yoga classes are similar to my youth classes that I teach, but I incorporate more interactive play and poses with the families. If you are coming as a family to just sweat it out together, then this really is not the right place for you. But if you are coming to a family yoga class to spend some quality time, connect, have fun and laugh, and learn life-long tools to take back into your own home, then a family yoga class is right for you. I have not taught a family yet that did not leave class laughing or smiling or both.
So, kids yoga is the real yoga. It is the real deal folks. It takes a lot of time, practice and planning to make a successful kids class happen. And, by successful, I mean happy kids moving their bodies in healthy ways, learning about a new language of how the body communicates to us, learning some things about mindful breathing, and inquiring into the deepest parts of themselves to ask “How can I be OHMazing® at home, school, my community, and with my friends today and everyday?”
We are teaching them healthy independence and self-worth, critical thinking, compassion and gratitude, self-confidence, healthy movement, appreciation and interest in art, different languages, and music, and with enough weaving of all of the above the ultimate values of synergy and integration.
So what you are waiting for? Let us be OHMazing® together, because we ARE better together. Get you and your kids to one of my family yoga classes (or any family yoga class) and classes for kids, and tweens/teens. I am teaching several of these over the summer at Suntouch Yoga in the month of June.
Take a look at my classes tab https://www.solsenseyoga.com/classes/, you can find Sol Sense Yoga by Athea on the Yogiños website http://www.yoginos.com/locations/texas/houston-texas/sol-sense-yoga, or go directly to Suntouch Yoga’s website www.suntouchyoga.com for more information on these upcoming kids, tween/teen, and family classes.
Om Shanti Om ~ Athea