Teaching Yoga to Children

Swami Yogabhakti Saraswati, France

It is very important for a teacher to practise yoga himself, before introducing yoga postures into his classes. Nowadays, teachers from many government schools are sent to yoga schools. In fact, large numbers of teachers and educators practise yoga because their profession is so draining. If you have children at home, you can imagine what it is like to have twenty five or thirty in a classroom. When a teacher comes out of his class, he really needs relaxation. Hence, yoga is an essential aid to both teacher and student.

Adapting yoga to children

Teaching yoga to children can be considered as a separate branch of yoga, for it requires a lot of training and thought to find out the adaptations of yoga techniques for children. One must be aware of the fact that children of different ages have different attention spans and react in different ways. For instance, some seem to be sleeping all the time and have no interest in anything you ask them. On the other hand, there are those who are very excitable and hyperactive. Then there are the children who are sattwic, that is, well balanced.

So, the foremost responsibility of the educator is to find out which type of exercises correspond to particular children. Some training in this field and a certain knowledge of child psychology is necessary, while a thorough background of philosophy and understanding of human development will also prove useful.

Children should not just be trained to be professionals. It is necessary to be able to obtain a job, but this is not the ultimate end. Children are becoming too intellectual. Yoga creates a new outlook on child development, incorporating not only the intellect, but the body, mind and complex of emotions. Then follows the spiritual side of the child's nature. The practices of yoga benefit the child at all levels. However, a yoga minded educator must not take the child up to the stage of higher meditation. This will create a sensation beyond the educator's control.

If a schoolteacher learns yoga himself with a qualified teacher, he can begin to apply the techniques in less than two years. Of course, you should not wait until you can study with other yoga teachers. If you know some asanas thoroughly which are adaptable to the children in your classes, apply them. However, you must be sure that you have first experienced them fully yourself.

Influence of home life on the child

Children benefit greatly if their parents practise yoga. It is certain that a child imbibes the atmosphere of the family and of the classroom as well as the lessons. In our classrooms in France, we have children of practically every nationality: Portuguese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and even Tibetan. We also have Spanish children whose parents have emigrated to France.

It is very interesting to compare the different temperaments of these children. The Asians are competent pupils. Not only do they keep their copy books clean and learn their lessons well, but they are generally very calm and smiling, and are well loved by their teachers and friends.

The Tibetans were exiled from their country in 1959. They left their mountains and, arriving in Europe, encountered a completely different culture and language. Their children were educated in Swiss, French, or Italian schools, which was a strange and new means of learning for them. However, after one year, not only were they fluent in the language, but better than the French, Swiss or Italian children.

Educators tried to understand this phenomenon and concluded that their aptitude for learning was greatly influenced by the kind of early home life they had led in their own country. For instance, all the symbols in Tibetan culture, the mantra repetition and quiet, pure living, are deeply embedded impressions or samskaras in them. Without a doubt, the type of fife parents live at home, creates a positive or negative atmosphere around the child. Therefore, allow your children to practise with you if they wish, and keep a selection of mandalas or yogic symbols in your home.

Yoga games

There are plenty of yoga games which can be introduced into the classroom. One such, with reference to science, is the atom game. (You know what atoms do, they flock together.) Tell the children to walk around and then call 'Stop!'. When they stop whatever they are doing, call, for example, 'Atom ten!', which means that ten children will have to gather together in a circle, depending on the size of the group. Then they make a circle holding hands and someone will tell the group to imitate a certain yoga posture referring to the animals in the jungle. Some imitate eagles, lions, cats, sphinx, cobras, crocodiles, ostriches and some big trees that go 'Hmmmmmmmmm.' Again the children will walk around until you say 'Stop'.

After the yoga games, they will be ready for a short session of yoga nidra. About five minutes will be enough, for children often go deep very quickly and it is difficult for them to come out of this state. Pranayama and asana can also be included in the relaxation.