Beginners Mind: Practicing Yoga with Toddlers
At Wellan, Beginner students (age 15 months to 3 years) participate in yoga class once a week, gently exploring movement through various poses and activities.
The key benefits of yoga can be found in the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of its practice. Yoga promotes physical activity, which is fundamental for a healthy body and healthy mind. From baby yoga to adult yoga, movement activates our muscles and stimulates a wide variety of sensations. All of our movements create consequences and generate the desire to move more.
By exploring movement, babies start to understand the connection between movement and consequences. A simple, yet effective method for teaching our babies movement is to provide them with verbal cues that encourage them to reach with their arms by counting, “1, 2, 3, reach!” Through repetition of this movement, babies become motivated to reach and explore their environment with guidance from adults.
As children grow, so does their practice of yoga. Children can begin to attempt and experiment with different poses, which gives them a building block and a repertoire of useful movements that they can use throughout their life.
Children are naturally flexible, and practicing yoga encourages them to maintain their flexibility. Muscles depend on regular movement for optimal growth. All movement is essential to muscle growth and maintenance, but yoga poses, simple and complete, target all muscle groups throughout the body. Head, neck, and back muscles that are strengthened by yoga help to maintain good posture. Core muscle strength is essential to the overall health of our spine and back muscles, promoting correct alignment.
Physical health and well-being are essential to the quality of our lives, and physical health is directly related to our mental and emotional health. Numerous studies by experts in the field of yoga have identified a vital relationship between mind and body. The mind/body connection is evident from the first breath to the last breath we take.
Breath is the foundation of life, and yoga is a practice of connecting the breath to movement. While many of us think that complicated and difficult poses are the foundation of yoga, the simple, uncomplicated poses are actually the foundation of the practice. All yoga movements are building blocks for others.
What are the benefits of teaching yoga in the school setting?
Children spend much of their day in the school setting, and because of this, we as educators are well positioned to incorporate the practice of yoga with the hopes that all children can bring their knowledge and love of yoga into their daily lives.
School readiness is important for the success of all children—and without that readiness, school can be very challenging. One of the most important aspects of a child’s readiness is emotional preparedness. Yoga has been proven to help children self-regulate and navigate the challenges of difficult emotions. Yoga is a mindful and deliberate practice which can change the brain chemistry of all who participate. Slow, steady breathing—which is the fundamental component of yoga—has the ability to release “feel good” hormones, which has a calming effect. Our breath connects us to our bodies, reinforcing the mind/body connection.
Children learn from each other and with each other by sharing ideas. Simple, gentle guidance, from all who love and support our children, can provide an environment that encourages experimentation, imagination, and interpretation of different yoga poses—teaching them that there is no one “right way” to practice yoga. All yoga postures can be adapted to meet each child’s needs, teaching them that we are all unique and that they can create their own individual expression and experience with their practice.
Children are not the only ones in the school setting that benefit from a daily practice of yoga. Research shows that educators who practice yoga as a form of meditation are more likely to create a calming classroom; the same can apply to parents and caregivers in the home environment.
One way children can extend their practice beyond yoga class is to engage with Yoga Cards: print-outs of different poses they have already learned. This activity engages Montessori principles including hands-on learning, freedom of choice, and independence, as children can use the materials at any time and in the order they choose. Children can also collaborate on this activity and practice social-emotional skills such as sharing, communicating, and taking turns: above, one student holds up a card to cue a friend with the next pose. Download a sample of printable cards here (by YoGalore), or take photos with your child or students to make your own!