What comes to mind when you think of yoga?
I hope you think of feeling calm, strong and empowered, but often adults tell me the first thing that springs to mind is of someone very bendy they saw on Instagram. Yoga is SO much more than this. Yoga, often translated to mean "union", is a perfect activity to enjoy as a family. That's why I've shared some simple poses to enjoy together and a fun breathing technique which is a great way to quickly calm your mind and sharpen your focus.
As parents, we often want our children to feel confident, resilient and in control. Yoga is a great way to develop these feelings, while you practise with your family, encourage everyone to really focus on how their bodies feel, and how their minds feel too. When you deeply focus on a pose your mind doesn't have time to race and worry about anything else. When you realise that breathing with a slower exhale than inhale calms your body, you can use this trick in your everyday life to stay calm and focused. Don't worry about what to wear (pyjamas are great or anything you can move easily in) or having a special mat/equipment, start with what you have and just get going.
Children are generally more flexible than adults and so flexibility isn't my main goal when working with young yogis - instead I focus on strength and balance which not only helps their physical development, but also their minds. That's why the poses below mostly focus on strengthening and balance rather than increasing flexibility. Yoga increases children's confidence as they test what their bodies can achieve and see improvements with practice. You'd be forgiven for thinking yoga is about getting your body into impressive poses to photograph and put on social media but actually it's not about how the pose looks, but how it feels, so encourage your young yogis to practise with their eyes closed if they feel comfortable to.
After the exercises showed below (or any other yoga poses you try out) take some time to sit or lay in silence and feel the benefits of your practice. The physical movement helps our minds to settle, children often enjoy sitting silently and counting their breaths, you can start small with three or five breaths and then increase as they practise. I've shared some ideas for turning these poses into partner poses too so that you can enjoy them with your family. Try not to make it competitive but instead focus on support and connection.
As well as benefiting our kids, yoga is great for us as parents too. Do you have any pinch points in your day where you know you’re most likely to lose your temper? I have two, getting my toddler into his car seat - why does the buckle never quite clip in - and getting him dressed into his pyjamas after his bath. I find slowing my exhale before these points of the day helps me combat my stress response and keep my temper. This in turn, sets a good example to him too. The practice of asanas (yoga poses such as those listed in this article) have also helped me strengthen my body after the c-section I needed to deliver my second son. I am able to carry the change bag, pick up my boys, and keep up with them in the park. Finding a few times a week for some yoga practice has changed my life and it could change yours too. I know how hard it can be to make time for yourself but even 10 minutes can make a huge difference - give it a try!
Breath work is a fundamental part of yoga which brings benefits to everyone - after all, we all breathe all the time. Working with our breath can help us focus and relax or even energise and wake up. What's really great about these techniques is that once you know them, they're hard to forget, and practising them regularly can really transform how you feel about the world around you. Simple breathing techniques can help adults, teens and children alike stay calm in stressful situations, combat anxiety or give you a boost of caffeine free energy to get you through an afternoon slump.
The Hot Chocolate Breath
I love this hot chocolate breath and it's a great one for children to enjoy too.
Imagine you are holding a warm mug of hot chocolate in your hands
Take a deep breath in through your nose and smell the delicious chocolatey drink. Feeling its warmth, take a slow breath out of your mouth as if you're blowing on the drink to cool it down.
Take another inhale slowly, once again smelling the chocolate and imagining taking your first sip. As you exhale this time make a "mmmm" sound to show your gratitude for the drink.
You can repeat this breath as many times as feels right for you.
Holding the breath (either on exhale or inhale) is unnecessary for children and shouldn't be encouraged in this breath. Simply let one breath roll into the next.
Wide Legged Forward Fold
The wide legged forward fold can help calm the brain, energise the body and mind and helps stretch the back of the legs while lengthening the spine. Enjoy this pose together by trying it back to back.
Stand with legs spread wide and feet parallel to each other. On an exhale, hinge forward at the hips and place your hands on the ground between your legs or on your shins depending on what feels comfortable. Stay in this pose for four deep breaths.
Chair pose is a physical challenge and a great way to build strength in the body. It is a grounding pose and helps to focus the mind. You and your child could challenge each other to hold the pose for the longest or better yet work on your own goals trying to beat your previous time.
Stand with feet together and then bend deeply, taking the thighs as close to parallel with the floor as possible, without the heels lifting. Either lift your arms above your head or allow hands to meet in a prayer position.
This popular pose is a great way to improve your balance and can be surprisingly tricky to hold. Try standing either next to each other and putting your palms together to help each other balance - are you stronger together?
Start standing straight with knees relaxed. Plant your left foot firmly on the ground and move your body weight to this side. With control, lift your right leg in front of you so that your thigh is parallel to the ground and then turn it out to the side bringing you foot to either your shin or thigh (avoid pressing your foot into your knee as this could cause injury). push your foot into your leg and your leg into your foot to improve balance and focus on a fixed point. To release first move the knee back in front of the body then lower. Repeat on the other side.
This challenging pose is great for engaging and strengthening the core muscles. It can improve digestion, stimulates the organs of the abdomen (think kidneys and intestines) and strengthens the abdomen, hip flexors and spine. You can enjoy this pose together by meeting your feet and holding hands.
Begin by sitting with your spine straight and your legs stretched in front of you. On an exhale lean backwards and lift the legs to a 60 degree angle. Keep arms parallel to the ground. To end the pose, lower the hands and rest legs back to the floor. I love to then lay back and rest after this challenging pose.
Seated Spinal Twist
Twists are very powerful and come with a long list of benefits for your body. This twist massages your internal organs, improving their function just generally feels amazing. Try starting facing away from your partner and then seeing if you can see each other as you twist.
Sitting with legs crossed. Twist the entire torso and spine toward the right side. Place the left arm onto the right knee and the left hand behind yourself for support.
Finally twist the head as much as possible to the right side. Carefully release the position of the arms and the twist of the spine. Repeat on the other side for the same duration, twisting towards the left.
Happy Baby Pose
Happy baby pose is a fun way to finish this sequence. It is great for opening the hips and you can rock gently giving yourself a back massage.
Laying on your back bring your legs into your chest and take hold of your big toes. Bring your arms out to the sides as far as feels comfortable. Enjoy this happy and fun feeling pose. Let go of your toes and bring your legs back gently to the ground to leave the pose.
Has your child enjoyed these poses or shown an interest in yoga? Children's yoga classes are lots of fun and very different to adult sessions. They often include music, dance, craft, journalling, stories and meditations.
Victoria Tso is the founder of The Inner child yoga school
After teaching in primary schools for five years, and then having children herself, Victoria is acutely aware of the challenges youngsters face. She passionately believes that yoga can benefit everyone and that it should be accessible to all. She founded The Inner Child Yoga School in 2021 and hopes that it will help children across the U.K (and the rest of the world) access yoga. She loves to see families practising together so please find her on instagram at @innerchildyogaschool and say hello and let her know how you get on! Give her a follow for more yoga games, poses and both virtual and IRL classes.