A toolbox to use in everyday life – that’s what Dublin-based Anna Walsh sees yoga doing for children. She teaches yoga on Zoom – predominantly primary but also pre-school – on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (See: Facebook Children’s Yoga Dublin)
“If you’re teaching children maths, you teach the times tables. If you’re teaching reading, you teach phonics. If you’re teaching yoga, you teach them how to take a big breath,” says the mum-of-two, who asks children at the outset when they find taking a breath hard.
“They say ‘when I get upset/when Mummy’s cross/when I fight with my brother’. I explain how if they stop, take a deep breath, it calms them down. I tell them to pretend their breathing’s like playing the accordion. On the inhale, they stick out their belly like a mum with a baby in her belly – and on the exhale they draw it all back in. I explain how this breathing calms down their nervous system.”
Walsh encourages children to become aware of their body, so they can recognise when they’re calm or stressed. “I ask them to squeeze themselves into a tight ball, to hold this for three seconds and then to relax slowly with their out-breath so everything drops. And I say ‘this is what your body is like when it’s relaxed’.”
Her mindful eating game is very popular with children. One of the people playing is blindfolded and then has to touch food in a bowl – e.g. strawberries, rice cakes, pasta – and describe what it feels like, for example, hot/cold/slimy. They then taste it – they’re asked not to say what it is but to describe how it feels – rubbery or juicy for example. And then they chew it five times.
Some children find it hard to relax. “It’s a work in progress. Movement breaks along with breathing works very well,” says Walsh, a qualified special needs assistant, who finds yoga can really benefit children with dyspraxia. “It gives them awareness of their feet on the ground – they’re lifting their toes, pushing their feet into the ground.”
Children naturally live in their imaginations, but some over-think things and feel shy and anxious. “It’s good for them to become aware of their feet on the ground, their bum on the chair. Yoga takes them out of their head – it’s very grounding.”
More than 300 Irish yoga teachers & business owners recently formed The Irish Federation of Yoga Teachers, see https://ifyt.org/.
- Improves emotional regulation – they learn to be in the present moment while relaxing and gaining peaceful state of mind.
- Boosts self-esteem – perfecting a pose or improving their balance/flexibility can give sense of personal empowerment.
- Increases body awareness and mindfulness – going through variety of yoga poses helps children learn about their bodies and movements they’re capable of doing.
- Enhances concentration and memory – different moves require children to focus and work on memorisation.