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Yoga for children

Stephanie works as an independent yoga teacher as well as teaching Tatty Bumpkin children's yoga classes. Here, Stephanie tells us about the benefits of children's yoga and how it can help to balance out a busy schedule. 

At what age can children start yoga?

Children can start doing yoga at any age - they don't have to be able to stretch and balance perfectly; it's about building those skills gradually, developing body awareness and starting a lifelong love of some form of exercise.

Yoga is non-competitive; there's no A Team and B Team. Yoga is accessible for everyone - boys, girls, men and women.

Can I do yoga with the children at home?

Yes! If you're teaching kids the basics - some simple stretches and balancing poses - there's no reason why you can't do these together at home. A lot of kids are natural yogis - they're naturally flexible - and you don't need to be an expert to say, 'Why don't you see if you can touch your toes?' or 'Let's stretch our arms up to the sky'. A lot of kids will already have heard of the Tree Pose, Downward Facing Dog and Warrior Pose. Try starting with some of these popular and simple poses - there are lots of books and websites that will demonstrate how to do them.

If you have older children who play sports, yoga can be really beneficial as it strengthens and lengthens your muscles, helping to prevent injuries and reduce recovery time. Lots of football and rugby teams now have yoga instructors too.

What if we already have busy schedules?

Kids don't have many opportunities to relax; they're constantly bombarded with activities, after school clubs, homework, SATs, social media, iPads, phones and TV. They're missing that time to stop for a while and think about now. When kids do yoga, they take the time to think about what their bodies are doing and how they feel. They start to discover what their bodies can do.

For parents, you could take a few minutes to do some stretches as a family before eating breakfast. Or turn any technology off a little early and try some relaxing yoga poses to start off the bedtime routine. For childcare settings, a 10-minute yoga routine is a fun activity for little ones, perhaps before their morning snack.

Is yoga just about stretching?

Many yoga poses do involve stretching and improve flexibility, but there are also lots of poses that build the strength in your arms, legs, back and shoulders, and many that improve balance and coordination. Practising yoga helps to increase confidence, reduce stress and to build a positive self-image too.

Once children start to practise yoga, they're much more aware of whether their backs are straight or their shoulders are hunched. They also become used to concentrating on breathing, which brings an element of mindfulness. With more and more screen time available, children's posture and body awareness are not what they used to be, so yoga is an ideal way to support children with this. The children in our classes often say that they feel good and their bodies feel stronger after doing yoga.

The Tatty Bumpkin yoga classes for schools and nurseries are also designed to get children using their imaginations through storytelling combined with yoga. A lady called Sam Petter, the founder of Tatty Bumpkin, developed a series of stories with physiotherapists and musicians. We follow each storyline with a yoga pose of the week and within that story, the kids often come up with their own imaginative ideas. We start each class at 'Wobble Farm' where the Tatty Bumpkin character lives. We get ourselves ready, have our porridge and go to the musical giggle tree. When you do a magical giggle, it takes you wherever you want. Tatty Bumpkin is 'bendy, giggly, clever and strong' and she likes to teach the children about all those things.

Can yoga help children to prepare for school?

When children transition from childcare to school, they're required to sit at desks and concentrate for longer periods of time. That's were yoga can really help. I often teach yoga classes at nurseries and when we ask the children to stay, for example, in a warrior pose, we're asking them to hold the pose and focus on their breathing - this is perfect for improving the concentration they'll need for school as well as building strength and improving balance.

We also teach 'Savasana', also known as 'Dead Man's Pose' or 'Corpse' pose. It's all about lying still, concentrating on breathing and letting everything flop - it's about building that attention span. When children first start yoga classes, they constantly look around to see what everyone else is doing. They can probably lie still for around 20 seconds (we put a duck on their tummy that wobbles or falls if they move). But when children regularly practise yoga, they can relax and concentrate on breathing for around five minutes. They gradually learn not to worry about what's going on around them or what other people are doing; they learn to focus on their breathing and what their body is doing instead. These skills not only help children to prepare for school; they're lifelong skills that can help us reduce stress in adulthood too.

Further reading:

Tatty Bumpkin and Baby Bumpkin

Real Play Coalition

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