Think about the goals you have for your children. Chances are you want them to develop self-esteem and accept their unique strengths. You want them to become successful and feel fulfilled by sharing their gifts with the world. You want them to love themselves and have supportive relationships.
We spend so much time unlearning the self-doubt, fears and limiting beliefs we absorb as children. Children are now faced with more stress, anxiety and lack of focus at a younger age.
But how do you raise a child in a culture that hasn't yet made teaching children self-love, cultivating inner peace and becoming whole a mainstream practice? Sign them up for kids yoga!
In my Yoga Birdies, Yoga for Youth classes, I go beyond the yoga poses to teach children the essential life-skills that aren’t yet taught in school. These tools encourage children to cultivate inner peace, self-esteem and personal empowerment to calmly deal with life’s challenges and stressful experiences.
The following are four yogic principles children learn from yoga class.
1. Mindful breathing
Children express their unfiltered emotions as they arise. Children can be taught to feel relaxed and alert at any moment by conscious breathing. Children are encouraged to freely express emotions in order to understand the connection between their feelings and how to use the breath to gain control and calmness. By reinforcing deep breathing, through yoga games and catchy songs, we give kids a lifelong tool for managing stress and cultivating inner peace.
2. Connecting to intuition
Many children are in tune with their “inner voice,” but, like a muscle, it must be exercised for the connection to grow. We play intuition activities to get kids comfortable with trusting their gut instinct. Nurturing children’s intuition and keeping it alive helps them maintain a clear connection to this inner compass, which allows them to confidently make important life decisions without being dependent on pleasing others.
3. Cultivating self-love
Most kids see themselves negatively, especially at school, where it’s a breeding ground of comparison and teasing. I’ve seen this lack of self-esteem begin as young as age 3. Yoga creates a safe environment where focus is on each child’s unique strengths and personalities. Kids have an opportunity to be heard and share what they love about themselves, what they like about others, and practice self-affirmations to build positive self-image. By reinforcing that we all have limitations, and they don't make us less likable or worthy, children learn how to praise themselves, appreciate their own individuality and embrace others' differences.
4. Learning in a noncompetitive environment
Yoga is a collaborative environment. The goal is to feel good about yourself by doing your best and having the patience to keep trying. Kids track their progress by measuring their own personal growth.
Children who are constantly praised for being the best have trouble adjusting to collaborative yoga classes. They break down when they aren’t rewarded for competing or aren’t better than others. Feelings of shame and anger arise when self-worth becomes dependent on seeking recognition from external sources. This unhealthy association with self-esteem, unless nurtured in a cooperative environment, will carry on into adulthood as a perfectionist habit.
Certain kids who are perceived as “losers” in competitive environments shy away from trying anything new for fear of being imperfect. When they believe they are competing with others, they're anxious, lose focus and give up.
In yoga, kids don’t worry about coming in first. We cheer on our friend’s success and appreciate when they cheer us on. Group activities allow all kids to participate, without exclusion, and help kids look at each other as a united team rather than individuals competing for one prize.
Raising happy, calm and confident children goes along with creating a better society. There is a better way for our children, and for us, to manage stress, live, play and serve the world. Empowering children, by teaching these life enhancing tools, has the profound implications of creating a peaceful world.