Seek the wisdom of the ages, but look at the world through the eyes of a child.
Sharing yoga with my children proved to be a task harder than I ever imagined. But it was once I let go of my own pre-conceived ideas of how yoga was supposed to be, and let my children guide me as to their needs and desires, that we all began to see the benefits of what a family yoga practice could bring.
Words to describe children: playful, energetic, spontaneous, imaginative and spirited. It makes perfect sense that children are not interested in the solemn and contemplative approach to yoga which adults practice.
The ancient yogis looked at the natural world around them and used this as their inspiration of yoga poses. For children they take this concept literally and with each yoga pose transform themselves into something new, mimicking the world around them.
When children practice yoga, they play yoga. When they come into downward dog they want to bark and move like a dog, and almost by instinct they will lift their leg pretending to pee.
Children become interested in things when they are presented in a fun and playful way.
Yoga with our children should be a joyful time, it shouldn’t be about correcting our children’s alignment, making sure the poses are done perfectly or getting into details of each pose. It’s about getting on the mats with our children and having a good time.
Kids delight in having their parents letting go of their seriousness and inhibitions and being a little silly with them. Laughing and playing together as a family is a wonderful way to connect with each other and it can help relieve the pressures of the day, not only for our children, but also for ourselves.
Practicing together as a family will also teach co-operation and respect for each other. When doing partner and group poses you need to all work together to achieve the final outcome and you are learning to become aware of others limits. By taking turns to lead the practice, parents can show great trust in their children, who in turn respond to the challenge by becoming more deeply involved in the family activity.
During ‘yoga play’ with our children they will still receive the same benefits as the traditional meditative practice. They will develop flexibility, strength, body awareness, concentration and mindfulness. But it is also a wonderful form of self-expression where they can broaden their creativity and imaginations.
It is important as a parent to let go of your expectations during a family yoga practice. Be totally in the moment with your children. Be prepared to alter what you had in mind at any given moment and accept whatever happens.
Family yoga doesn’t need to be a formal practice, even a few minutes of regular practice will bring tremendous benefits. If the children are having a good time then the length of the practice will naturally extend. Remember never to force your child to practice. The focus is on having a positive experience for the children, and to make them curious and interested about yoga, which when they get older, can explore further if they so wish.
It is important to keep the yoga postures simple and gentle so the practice is always safe for children’s growing bones and limbs. Never compare children against each other. Family yoga may be the only non-competitive game you play together.
When people think about yoga they think about flexibility and they think of difficult asanas. Family yoga requires a different kind of flexibility. It requires flexibility of expectation and an ability to just see where the practice leads you. In the end it’s about time together. Yoga with your family today, just may be one of the happy memories your children take into the future!