Anyone who read my article, 10 Reasons Why We Need at Least 8 Hugs a Day, knows I have a little girl. I am a devoted Dad, and I have a close relationship with my daughter. Her name is India. And when her Mamma was pregnant with her, I taught Lauren prenatal yoga every day. It was a bonding experience. And, for the two years since India's been out of the womb, we have continued our family yoga practice together. As a yoga teacher of fourteen years, I can tell you that they are my greatest teachers.
Here are 7 Reasons to Practice Yoga with Children:
1. You'll Remember to Play
Children have an innate sense of fun. It hasn't yet been conditioned out of them by society's need to make people conform. Your purest intention for your yoga practice is this desire to simply enjoy yourself. Many times when my partner and I have been doing downward dog, our little girl has been giggling and crawling underneath us, and it made us laugh and remember how to be light. In Yoga, this is called laghima, a feeling of levity or weightlessness.
In each cell of our body lies the memory of our childhood and beyond, when you felt light and unburdened. Letting go and sharing your yoga with a child allows you to reawaken, even for an hour, the spirit of when you were free from artificial beliefs and when you made feeling good in each moment easy and simple.
2. Self Expression
When you have a joy in your heart, you express it through movement. Children's bodies naturally move, because their hearts feel good. Creative movement is the outward expression of positive emotion. Yoga with a little person reconnects you to the practice as a form of articulating the joy inside.
Many times, India has shown me that yoga is a dance. In a flowing sequence, she glides her arms through the air, and folds forward into a bend, then kicks up into a headstand, then comes down and presses up into upward dog pose. And I think, “Wow! Yoga is beautiful!”
3. Correct Biomechanics
What many Yoga teachers miss in classes, a two year old child will teach you properly if you observe them carefully. They can teach you that you should always move from your spine. As a senior teacher mentor and teacher trainer, I teach how to move from the spine to Yoga teachers actually. But, my daughter knows it instinctively.
Moving from the lower spine is considered an advanced principle of yoga. It is often referred to as a “natural body” instead of what most people have, which is a “normal body.” Young children do it from birth and gradually lose it over time.
Adults generally lock up their spine and overcompensate by overextending their hips and their shoulders. This causes all kinds of problems, including torn hamstrings, tight lower back, neck pain, and injuries to the rotator cuff. But, if we learn from a child to move from the spine and keep long and open in each vertebra, then we will move efficiently.
Click here for an example of me teaching moving from the spine.
When we are in a class full of other students, we may become self-conscious or worried we'll fail or look foolish in front of others. But, children don't see failure as an option; they simply do it. And, if they don't get it the first time, they do it again and again until they succeed. A toddler doesn't see any harm in giving something a go. And practicing yoga with them teaches us that -- the letting go of inhibitions and fears.
Many times I've been practicing AcroYoga with India, balancing her on my feet, and people comment, “Geez, she brave isn't she! She's got no fear!” That's because young children trust their bodies. This is called the “reflex mind” or “reflex body.” My Guru taught about it, but I didn't truly grasp what it meant till I had a baby.
There are many people practicing yoga who insist on breathing like Darth Vader in yoga classes. They do ujjayi breathing so loudly that one may wonder if they get the point at all. The breath of a child on the other hand is relaxed and gentle and smooth and long. It's the simplest yogic pranayama.
The competitive idea to breathe deepest or loudest would never occur to a child. Their breathing comes from the autonomic nervous system, which makes their breath very easy and relaxed.
In the mornings when we practice yoga together with our baby, I often observe her belly rising and falling with her breath in the postures. Her abdomen always remains relaxed. Some people will no doubt disagree, but I have come to realize that in our fitness culture all this tightening of the abdominal muscles is unnecessary and harmful. In Pilates, they teach people to tighten their “core” to perform the exercise. This makes no sense to me, because it restricts blood flow to the organs and the free movement of the diaphragm. This makes the breath shallower.
There is a lot of hokey phony baloney in the fitness industry. And this obsession with tightening the “core” is a prime example. The fact that our babies can teach us the truth is a thunderbolt of lightning that shows us how off the mark society can be. The organic truth of babes when listened to naturally undoes our BS.
A child is deeply connected and grounded in their body. Therefore, they have the awareness to know how far to go into the posture. This is called proprioception. Because children feel into their bodies and listen, they never injure themselves by over stretching. For this reason, practicing Yoga with children reminds people to let go of unnecessary caution and fear of injury and instead feel into the pose.
As a teacher trainer I say, “Allow your students to completely leap and burst out of their typical movement patterns. Don’t be afraid to go deeper, and further, and stay a little longer than you have before. Make the class a challenge. But challenge without awareness, that is dangerous.” Therefore, I reiterate, children have intelligent bodies. For them, it is impossible for yoga to be anything but an awareness practice. They are constantly in tune and listening to their bodies. And each time we practice together as a family, I am reminded of that.
7. They Take It Off the Mat
By being completely authentic and true to themselves, they remain very intimately connected to God. That is the essence of Yoga. They are practicing their spirituality ALL THE TIME! Last night when I was sitting at the computer working, I could hear her singing to herself in bed. It made me smile. She got up and stood in the corridor and looked at me tentatively. I said very gently, “Go back to bed.” And, she did. But, then I felt bad, because I thought she might have wanted a cuddle from her Dad. And to my relief, a few minutes later she poked her head around the corner. I smiled and opened up my arms, and she came running with those little footsteps to be scooped up and embraced. I held her to my heart, “My precious love.” And then I said, “Just relax, go to sleep. Dad will rock you to sleep.” She lay there for a moment and then got down and walked back to her bed.
As a parent and a yoga teacher, I get a feeling that I belong to a long line of people who contributed to the creation of humankind. You cannot describe what it is to be a parent. It's magical. And to practice yoga together with my child is a great gift for yoga teacher like myself. They are our greatest teachers.
Special thanks to India Violet, Lauren Ross, Rico Damelian and Anick Patry for giving me the inspiration to write this article.