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Bring Yoga to Schools

By Sarah Stevenson

At school children have a lot of time to take care of their "yang" energy, but what about the structured aspect to physical fitness, the “yin” energy you get from an actual class? That's where yoga can pay off. Our children need space in their school day to stretch out, relax and to calm their mind and body.
If you are a certified yoga or pilates teacher and would like to start teaching children here are some suggestions for you about how to structure a yoga class that will be fun and beneficial for school children.

•    Get started: Approach the school officials and talk to the teacher to find out if yoga for children is something they would like to offer for their class. Make sure you have all the necessary certificates, insurances and records but also that this is covered under the schools liability insurance.

•    Time of day: You want to make sure that the time of day you choose to teach the children is suitable for a yoga practice. I find that the most ideal time to teach a yoga class is in the morning before official classes, just before lunch or in the afternoon before a test or long stretch of education. That way, you calm the children down and get them focused for learning. Children sometimes have a hard time self-regulating – something that yoga teaches oh-so well.

•    Make it fun: The time these children spend with you should be not only calming but also cheerful and fun. I like to make up silly names for the yoga poses and even get them involved in naming them. We have a froggy pose, a palm tree pose, and a squatting sumo wrestler pose. I also like to create situations where the children can partner up with a friend to create a pose. For example, have the kids sit facing each other and extend their legs, allowing their feet to touch their partner’s feet. Next, the children grab each other's hands and gently pull their partner back and forth. What's this called? Have the kids decide!

•    Teach them how to breathe: Teach the children the proper yogic Ujjayi breath. You're never too young to learn to breathe properly. Have them inhale completely through their nose, filling up their tummies so it looks like they ate a full meal. Then instruct them to exhale through their nose, emptying out their tummies until it sinks in. Instruct them to make their breath sound like waves in the ocean. The wave pulls into the ocean on the inhale and presses out to the sand on the exhale. This will slow them down, decrease their blood pressure and help quiet their busy little minds.

•    Seated stretches: Once the children are breathing properly, begin the seated stretches. Get them to twist and turn, touch their toes to stretch their legs, and do some movements that will relax their neck and shoulders, such as simple head or shoulder rolls.

•    Sun Salutations: Now that the children are a bit looser, they're ready for movement paired with breath. Start with sun salutation. It warms the body up while also quieting and focusing the mind. You can make up any sequence you like as long as you make sure that each inhale initiates one movement (typically moving upward- reaching arms up) and the exhale transitions them into the next movement (typically moving downward- folding forward).

•    Standing poses: These should be fun but challenging. Warrior poses, balancing poses, and chair poses seem to be the most popular for children. Keep it structured but allow them to get involved in what poses come next and what names you should call them. This part of the practice will strengthen their bodies and also create a connection for body awareness, which is usually lacking with the little ones.

•    Back to seated stretches: Take them back down to the floor for more seated stretches to ground them before they go back into class. This is calming and creates a full circle structure for you and the children. You can do the same stretches that you started with, allowing them to see the progress they made in the class.
•    Just breathe: Speak them through a few focused breaths with their eyes closed again. You may even walk them through a meditation that will help them visualize a fun, peaceful remainder of the day.

•    Shavasana: Ask them all to lie down on their backs like they're taking a nap for about 3 minutes, so the benefits of their yoga class sink in. It gets them into a calm, relaxed state before you send them back to the teacher. Trust me, the teachers will be so grateful.
George Benson said it best when he sang, "I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside." Taking time out of your busy life to impact a child's world will make everyone's world a better place. Be a hero today and get involved. Our schools need you, our teachers need you, and – most importantly – our children need you.

Sarah Stevenson, a.k.a., The Tini Yogini, is a Certified Yoga Instructor in Southern California. She has a degree in Behavioral Psychology and teaches not only yoga classes but also life affirming workshops. She also writes for www.beachbody.com, which provides effective weight loss fitness programs for all fitness levels.

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