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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Best Practices in Teaching Yoga to Kids

with Sara Weis of Go Go Yoga for Kids

Sara J. Weis of Go Go Yoga for Kids is an elementary school teacher, kids’ yoga instructor, and yoga teacher trainer, as well as the mother of three kids (featured in the video above).

In this Mindful Teachers Q+A, Sara discusses what she's learned from the coronavirus crisis, as well as from her 20+ years teaching kids.

In an earlier post, you shared The Top Three Breathing Exercises for Anxious Kids. What are some additional ways parents and teachers can help kids handle uncertainty and anxiety?

We are in time of such uncertainty and change. It is important for kids and parents to recognize their feelings and understand that it is ok to not always be ok. Take a moment and recognize those undesirable feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and depression and then move on.

Here are some easy ways to do that with your family.

  • Establish and build a new routines and schedules as quickly as possible. Our schedules are so now different now and even though the days feel the same, they are not. This can cause additional anxiety. 
    • Have children go to bed and wake up at the same time.
    • Create established learning/school time; and
    • Build in time for physical activity. Include simple mindfulness times, for example through a mindfulness game
  • Finally practice and express gratitude daily. 
    • My family does this at every night at dinner. We share what we are thankful for and why. This is simple, but effective, and takes the focus off our ourselves and our uncertainties.

You’ve been teaching for over twenty years. Over the course of your career, how has the field of kids’ yoga changed?

The field of yoga for children has changed significantly. When I first began teaching yoga to children there were not a lot of resources available on how exactly to introduce yoga to children. 

I did know that kids yoga would look very different than adult yoga, and that children would not be able to or be interested in participating in a 60-minute Vinyasa yoga flow. It was important for children to still learn and practice the poses, but it would need to be in energetic and kid-friendly ways.

The teacher in me already knew how to create engaging and educational lessons for school, and I began to create themed lesson plans to help children learn yoga. 
  • We practiced taking deep breaths that sounded like the ocean waves. 
  • We then pretended to take our boat out into the ocean (Boat Pose), and
  •  We met dolphins (Dolphin Pose), sharks (Shark Pose), and fish (Fish Pose). 

Kids love learning through games so we played a yoga game adapted from my PE teaching days and ended in a relaxing Starfish Pose (Savasana).

The following weeks in my kids yoga classes, we went on a Jungle Adventure, became superheroes, sports stars, and more. Kids loved this and wanted more and more of these kinds of classes! 

I took the things that kids were interested in and created engaging and memorable lesson plans that would have the kids excited about learning yoga and wanting more! That was the beginning of Go Go Yoga for Kids.

Do you ever have children with physical or developmental disabilities in your yoga or mindfulness classes? What types of adaptations do you make for them?

Kids with physical or developmental disabilities thrive on routine and structure. The Go Go Yoga for Kids lesson plans each follow the same structure and format, but with a different kid-friendly theme. 
  • Kids know that we begin with breathing exercises and active movement to get the wiggles out. 
  • They know that we will end with a Building Community component that builds trust and teamwork; and 
  • Finally, we end with Stillness and Savasana, which they love.

When teaching kids with disabilities, I am particularly aware of the importance of giving a heads up with transitions such by saying, “after we learn these five poses, we are going to play a yoga game.” 

I also modify the poses such as demonstrating Tree Pose with my toes touching the ground or Bridge Pose instead of a full on Wheel Pose. 

That is one of the most wonderful things about yoga. All poses look different from person to person because we are all made differently. 

There are no winners or losers in yoga. We are all just trying to do the best that we can!

There’s been some controversy lately about use of the word ‘Namaste’ in yoga classes. Some Christians object because of the Hindu origin of the term, and some people of Indian descent are concerned about cultural appropriation by non-Hindu teachers. 

Has this issue come up in your local community? Do you use ‘Namaste’ and other Hindu phrasing in your classes? If so, have any parents expressed concern about this?

Yoga is exercise. It is stretching. Bending. Balancing. Breathing. Relaxing. This is what I would tell parents; yoga is about moving, making your body strong and feeling confident. Yoga makes you feel good inside and out and it is also fun! It is form of active movement and exercise that really works with kids.

A lot of time if I ask young children what they know about yoga, they will show me this cross-legged stance and hands in this mudra or at heart center like they see in the movies. Yoga is so much more than being quiet or still, and I enjoy disproving that.

I do not use any Sanskrit yoga terms in my kids yoga classes. We do end with Namaste, and  I simply tell kids that it means that I see the light and goodness in them. We talk about the importance of shining your light and doing the best that you can in all that you do.

As a busy elementary school teacher/yoga instructor/teacher trainer/author/mom, how do you practice mindfulness and self-care?

I know that I am a planner and routine-based person. Before the Coronavirus, this included me hustling and driving all over the place, shuttling my kids to activities, with my yoga clothes and mat in the passenger seat and hoping that I would be able to make it to a yoga class at my favorite studio. That was my self-care and although I felt amazing after the class, it was all hectic to get there. 

That all shifted with the virus and I needed to learn how to continue to make yoga a priority in my own home. I am more in tune with what my body actually needs as opposed to an instructor moving through a variety of poses. I have definitely paid more attention to my mental as well as my physical health, and it has been a sweet and insightful change. 

I am excited to have the time and opportunity to learn and try new things, and remember that life is about balance. I have definitely come to understand that balance needs to shift and flow with circumstances.

About the Author

Sara J. Weis is an elementary school teacher, kids’ yoga instructor, and teacher trainer. She is the author of Go Go Yoga for Kids: A Complete Guide to Using Yoga with KidsYoga Lessons for Children, and Yoga Games & Activities for Children. She is also the creator of the Kids Yoga Challenge Pose Cards and The Kids Yoga Challenge App. Additionally, Sara has taught thousands of adults how to successfully teach yoga and mindfulness to children in her online Kids Yoga and Mindfulness Teacher Training.


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