Elisa Monette and her husband weren’t familiar with yoga before they enrolled their son, Leffe, in a yoga preschool in Toronto. But they were willing to try anything that would be a good fit for Leffe.
“The yoga preschool is actually his third preschool. We tried a traditional one and he just didn’t like it. Then we tried a Montessori but it was too structured. So we searched the Internet for different options and the yoga preschool stuck out in my mind. I loved the philosophy,” says Elisa.
The benefits of yoga for adults are well documented: it helps with stress relief, as well as physical and mental flexibility. Now, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies has found that a mindfulness-based yoga practice helped children in the preschool years regulate their emotions. The children’s ability to stay attentive, as well as delay gratification were noted as increased after doing yoga.
One of the challenges for educators working with younger kids is that their emotions play such an important role in their ability to socialize, as well as their ability to learn academically, says Julia Bickram, owner and teacher at Blissful Heart Yoga Preschool, where Leffe attends.
“One of the things that I love about yoga is that it empowers children to be in charge of their emotions. It gives children ways that they can calm themselves if they want to be calm, or focus their awareness through breath work. We ask the kids, ‘How does it feel when you get upset?’ so that they have the vocabulary to discuss their emotions,” says Julia.
Exposing your kids to yoga practice at a young age also helps them to learn about themselves, says Julia. “We teach children that happiness comes from inside; this is a very important rule. They feel confident that they can access that inner happiness.”
Leffe takes his yoga time seriously, which surprised Elisa at first.
“He’s the type of kid who likes doing his own thing. I didn’t think he would focus for yoga, but he brings it home. He knows the poses.”
Now, Elisa is following Leffe’s lead and is becoming more interested in yoga herself. “We’ll do a yoga session and he’ll be the teacher. He shows us the poses. This is all new to us. But now, seeing him enjoy it so much, I’m interested in yoga, too. I see the calming effect it has. It’s been a blessing for us.”
Practising yoga at home
You may not have access to a yoga preschool in your area, but there are still ways you can practise yoga with your child. Julia Bickram offers this advice:
Set an example: The most important thing is for parents to engage in yoga practices while their children are present. Just doing yoga in the room beside your kids, who may be reading or playing blocks, can help. Children are curious so they’re definitely going to ask, “What are you doing?” and that’s an opportunity for you to share. You could even say, “Would you like to join me?” If they say no, try not to get discouraged. They’ll probably try what you were doing when you’re not looking.
Find a yoga class for kids: It’s certainly a wonderful thing if you have access to a yoga class. For effectiveness, reinforce what’s learned in yoga class at home.
Make yoga fun: Parents could pick a favourite yoga practice that they have and then turn that into a game to do with the whole family. For example: we do breathing practice where we send love to people we care about. We give each child a ball and they hold the ball to their chest and they take three deep breaths, focusing on feelings of love. Then, they call out the name of someone they want to send that love to. Then everyone gets to throw the ball onto this heart target made out of basic construction paper.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2014.