When I first started doing a lot of yoga, my family in Idaho was kind of in shock. I discovered it in the early '90s, and back then it wasn’t anywhere near as popular as it is today. But I kept on my path and started showing my parents gentle yoga postures and breathing exercises, and slowly, things changed for them: My mom started to notice less strain in her neck and shoulders, and my dad loved how much more range of motion he was getting in his golf swing. My sisters-in-law started doing my yoga DVDs regularly, and most of my family members have come to my yoga retreats. Even my older brother has started doing yoga regularly. I have my whole family on a path to wellness, and it feels so good!
I was set up on a blind date with my now-husband through one of my yoga students. I make sure he does yoga with me, and I am a huge advocate of doing yoga with my children. Yoga saved me during my pregnancies, and I know my babies felt comforted from within when I sat and connected to my breathing and moved my body gently in restorative yoga while they were inside my tummy.
My older son has been doing tree pose since he came out of my womb, and I did a lot of baby yoga stretches with him when he was an infant. He was always on my mat near me when I practiced. I would hold him and use my ujayii breathing to calm him down when he was crying. He’s now 4 years old, and he does down dog, warriors, tree, eagle, and even tries to stand on his head with my guidance. Timothy definitely has a yoga body, and I want to nurture that.
My twins are 8 months old, and I do similar breathing and baby yoga stretches with them. It’s incredible to watch children naturally breathe deeply through their diaphragm and sit up nice and tall in a cross-legged seat. I want to take advantage of keeping their limbs supple and their spines long since this is their body for life. I love to see them stretch their arms up after a nap and grab their feet in happy baby pose while lying on their backs.
If you, too, want to make yoga a fun, mindful, healthy experience for your whole family, here are some tips.
1. Make it fun.
Sometimes people start doing yoga and they take themselves too seriously. Yes, yoga can help us concentrate and focus, and that's great, but yoga is about being present. When you're having fun, you're soaking in the present moment and finding joy in what you are doing. I remember teaching in Taormina in Puglia on a yoga retreat, and I brought my older brother and his wife. My older brother has the best sense of humor, and as he was struggling in my classes, he made light of his tight hamstrings or stiff shoulders. He did what he could and had done only a few classes up until that point. When we did a partner pose at the end of class, he made "jazz hands" and kept the entire group giggling and having fun.
2. Remember it's a process.
Sometimes we get too caught up in judging ourselves or how we look or are doing in a pose, instead of being in our body and enjoying the process. We want to nail a crow or do a handstand, and when we can’t, we get down on ourselves. I love watching my 4-year-old; he is a great reminder to me to keep trying and not get discouraged about doing a pose "right." His tree is his own variation, and he even makes up poses sometimes. He never gets upset when he falls out of a yoga posture; he just does the pose again.
3. Connect with the breath.
When we tap into our breath, we connect to our life force. When we feel alive, we are more connected with the ones we love. I often start class with my husband, sitting back-to-back and syncing our breath. With my babies, I sit them in my lap and let them feel my breathing to calm them down. I notice immediately when I tell my 4-year-old to stop and take a deep breath, his mood shifts immediately. So many of us take shallow breaths a majority of the day, yoga slows us down and forces us to breathe deeply and fully. As a family it also allows us to stop all of our distractions and be fully alive together.
4. Play a game.
Timothy and I have a super-fun Yoga Spinner game. We play it all of the time, and he loves it. He learns yoga postures, and he gets stronger as he works on holding them. There are also partner poses we try together. It’s not a competition, and that’s what I love about yoga. You can also have a tree holding contest to see who can hold a pose the longest just for fun.
You can play leapfrog, you can sing songs, you can build things with yoga blocks, and you can have a tug of war with a yoga strap. You can play follow the yoga leader, have a freeze dance and stop in a yoga pose, or do stop and strike a pose, where you turn your back, and when you turn around everyone has to stop and hold a pose. Babies love foam yoga blocks! Learning yoga postures while having fun is one of my favorite things in the world.
5. Get awesome gear.
Kids feel special when they have their own gear. Timothy has a Coz yellow yoga mat, and it really brightens his mood when he gets on it. The babies wear proprioception socks and wristbands with little bells on them. My husband is much more apt to do yoga when he feels comfortable. He gets super sweaty, so I make sure to have a yogi toes grippy towel for him.
My parents feel better when they have straps and blocks to support themselves in postures that are difficult. When someone has the right comfy yoga clothes on, has a good supportive nonslip mat, and has props that help them get deeper into a posture, it’s much easier to keep them coming back to practice with you.
6. Pick a great environment.
When you have a special place to practice, it makes it so much more appealing. I went on a two-week rafting trip down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with my father nine years ago. My dad is probably the least likely to do yoga with me, but waking up on the river and doing a few sun salutations in the canyon was pretty amazing. He couldn’t help but take in some deep breaths and forward folds while we saluted the sun rising on the red river rock wall. I know it’s not every day you can be in the Grand Canyon, but you can go outside to a park, practice in your favorite room of your home, or find a center that you love. I often take Timothy and the twins to Central Park Sheep’s Meadow to do yoga.
7. Weave it into your daily life.
Take a moment to meditate for five minutes in the morning with everyone to set the tone for the day. Strike a standing balance pose when you need to regain focus. Do a partner pose to reconnect if you find yourself in an argument with each other. Say an "om" before a meal to eat with more presence. Stretch your arms overhead; do a down dog or some sun salutations first thing when you wake up. Lie on the floor and stretch or do some restorative, calming postures before bed at night. Remind your family members it doesn’t have to be a formal practice. You can sneak yoga into your life all day long.
Need some ideas for family postures? Here are my favorites.
Sit back-to-back in a cross-legged seat and sync your breath together. Feel each other taking deep breaths in and deep breaths out. This is a great way to connect with your partner or children. You can also have your kids do it together if they are of similar age. I can’t wait to teach my twins this when they are old enough.
Lizard on a rock.
This one is super fun and feels great. Someone comes into child’s pose while the other person lies back on top of them, with both heads in similar place. Lie your sacrum on your partner’s lower back and recline over, reaching your arms long and stretching out your legs. It’s a great backbend for the top person and an awesome stretch and assist for the lower person. Make sure to switch positions so each person has a turn. This really doesn’t matter if one person is bigger than the other.
Stand tall and wrap your arms around each other’s waist. Take tree with the outside foot. Use each other for balance and support. Hold and breathe for five to eight breaths, then switch sides.
Sit facing each other with both knees bent. Place your feet together and hold each other’s hands. Extend both legs straight at the same time, coming into boats.
Sit facing each other with both legs in straddle with one person’s feet on the inside of the other person’s ankles. As you hold each other's wrists, the person with the feet on the inside of the other’s can pull back to give a gentle stretch. Come back to center, switch feet, and have the other person pull. I love this inner-thigh stretch, and it’s fun to seesaw back and forth.
Sit with your family members and lift your arms up overhead in a V-shape position with your fingers pressed to your palms and your thumbs pointing to each other. Imagine a rainbow arching from thumb to thumb. Close your eyes and breathe in and out rapidly for 50 breaths.
After your last exhale, inhale a big breath and hold it for as long as you can. When you can no longer hold, press your thumbs together and pop a golden water balloon above your head and let all of the gifts rain down upon you. This is a really great exercise to do to keep everyone thinking positively and staying open to letting good things into their lives.
Want more advice from Kristin? Here's the outdoor workout that healed her postpartum depression.
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