Yoga Health Foundation

Creative Yoga for Children by Adrienne Rawlinson Author Q&A

Creative Yoga for Children by Adrienne Rawlinson Author Q&A

1. Your book is broken down into three age groups (4–6, 7–9, 10–12). What is
the significance of starting at age 4? Is there a benefit to starting earlier or is
this the earliest age for kids to become actively engaged with yoga?

The program offered in my book is quite structured and I have observed that
children under the age of four benefit more from a yoga routine that is more
playful, and they are developmentally often not ready for a structured one hour
class. However, they are not too young to be introduced to the world of yoga. I
have two and a half year olds in my Montessori class who love to do a few
minutes of yoga every day, choosing pose cards from a basket to do on a mat by
themselves or with a friend. Babies and toddlers can reap the benefits of yoga
and there are many age appropriate programs out there. Setting the stage for a
lifetime of yoga benefits really starts at birth.

2. Are there certain yoga styles (Vinyasa, Hatha, Bikram) that you find easier
or harder to teach to children? For instance, I would imagine that Bikram
would be slightly more challenging …

My yoga classes do not follow a particular style, but are designed to give the
children a taste of many yoga styles (Vinyasa flow, Iyengar, Ashtanga, etc.)
with a huge emphasis on fun and education and simple body awareness. We
aren’t teaching a style, we are just planting seeds of curiosity. The children
are simply there for an experience, from which we hope that they will go on
to engage in the world of yoga and will grow up to pursue styles of yoga that
appeal to them personally.

3. How is yoga beneficial to classroom learning? What do you tell parents who
might think it’s a distraction?

It is important for parents to see that yoga in school can only promote lifetime
wellness. It will give their children a tool that they can use to help them focus in
all academic subjects, so it can really be seen as a subject in and of itself. Yoga
will improve their capacity for retention of information and will give them the
capacity to later handle the stresses of life. The idea that it may be a distraction
is hard to imagine.

4. In Creative Yoga for Children you mention that part of your inspiration for
writing the book came from your own teaching experience at a Montessori
school. How does Montessori education complement yoga? What are the
challenges in bringing yoga into non-Montessori schools?

I observed so many similarities between yoga and Montessori that I
incorporated it into my classroom curriculum as soon as I had finished my
yoga training. Both are completely noncompetitive and concern themselves
with an ever evolving process, and not any end product. Both are personal, and
are there to further the development of the person, and not for “producing”
something for someone else. Also they are both philosophies that increase
self-esteem, concentration, and self-awareness. It is easy to add yoga to a
Montessori classroom, as it just becomes a piece of material that the child
can choose to do when they prefer, but adding it to the routine of a traditional
classroom does not have to be difficult. Yoga can simply be a three- or four-
minute activity added on to the day, practiced in between subjects, as a sort
of “warm down,” or “warm up” to the next activity. Guided meditations and
relaxations can be added into a class just before tests, in order to further focus
the children’s minds. Teachers can use yoga as a tool throughout their daily
routines.

5. What is the easiest way to start introducing kids to yoga? Is there a
particular time in the school day that’s best?

I think that would depend on the group of children that you have, but I have
found that the first thing to do is to let them choose poses and practice them on
their own, in order to build a bit of a repertoire for themselves. When they have
learned some poses then you can invite them to do some of the group activities
outlined in the book. I think observing the children and letting them see that
yoga is fun and nonthreatening is an easy way to begin. You can build from
there.

6. There has been a lot of hype recently about yoga-based injuries. How do you
keep children safe during practice? Are there certain poses that should be
avoided?

In every class it is paramount that the children remain totally safe. We
encourage them not to force or strain in poses and to just have fun while
practicing. We never talk about perfecting poses, and do not discuss
the “perfect” pose. There is a huge range of poses in this book, from
relaxations to full body poses, to simple facial movements, so all children
can participate. When doing more challenging poses such as handstands and
headstands we always spot the children carefully.

7. How do you explain concepts like karma or Namaste to children? Are there
concepts in yoga that might be easier to start with?

We begin introducing such yogic concepts as karma, Namaste, and mudra
in a simple, playful way with no emphasis on having the children memorize
these terms. For example, when explaining Namaste, I sit with my group at
the end of a class and have them bring their hands to their hearts and say to

them, “The light in me honors the light inside of you.… Namaste.” And that is
all, no further explanation is given or required. It is the repetition of this little
ceremony at the end of every class that solidifies the concept of Namaste in the
child’s mind.

8. How do you teach the spirituality of yoga (meditation, mantras) without
imposing on a child or family’s religious beliefs?

Our classes do not touch upon any specific religious concepts.… The spiritual
side of yoga is really for everyone, and is religion-free as we teach it. We do not
talk about gods or religion in class, but we do focus on getting the children to
honor and love themselves, their environment, and everyone on earth. We are
careful not to dictate beliefs other than self-love and love of others.

9. Are there certain poses that kids tend to grasp more easily? Poses that are
more challenging?

Interestingly, children are so open at this age to trying any and every pose that
they find their easy resting spot in all of the poses. They have not built up the
fears and inhibitions that adults have yet, so are keen and ready to try all poses,
and are so flexible that they are successful in achieving their expression of each
pose. They also do not feel like they have to perfect any poses, and simply do
them in a carefree manner.

10. How do you bring focus back when kids get distracted in class?

The children sometimes get very boisterous and silly when doing some of the
group activities and games, so it is important that I have an effective way of
bringing them back to center and calm them, so they are ready for the next part
of the class. I usually introduce chimes, a Tibetan singing bowl, or a special
gong of some sort at the beginning of class. I ring it to let them know that they
should come back to their mats, sit in their favorite sitting pose, and get ready to
listen. They are generally wonderful at responding to this.

11. What is your favorite way to close a class?

I enjoy leading the children through a guided meditation at the end of every
class, that enables them to close their eyes and regroup on their mats for five
minutes or more. I even give them an herbal eye pillow or stuffed toy to help
keep them centered. We then stretch and come up into a seated position with
eyes closed, and we listen to the chimes ring. We then say, “Namaste” and bow,
and that ends the class. It is a little ritual we do that the children look forward
to and often tell me is their favorite part of the class.

12. Are there any major differences in introducing kids to yoga, rather than
adults who are unfamiliar with it? Do you find that kids are more open to it,
or is there generally a lot of similarity across age groups?

It was common when I was teaching yoga to adults to observe the many layers
of inhibitions people build up throughout their lives that really deter them
from fully relaxing and letting go in their classes. They are often not there for
inner reflection, but feel they must pressure themselves to go deeper into poses,
sweat more, and they often feel exhausted at the end. Children, however, are
refreshingly uninhibited, curious, and open to anything new. They are not
there to be hard on themselves and I have always found teaching the children’s
classes much more rewarding than teaching adult ones. Children can embrace
the true spirit of yoga without even trying.

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