In these uncertain times, kids are not immune to stress and anxiety. There are a number of yoga postures (asana) and breathing techniques (pranayama) that can benefit children’s mental health and well-being and are easy to do with kids of all ages.
Here are six of my favourite ways to use yoga to help reduce stress and enhance well-being for children.
1. Belly breathing
About the author
Emily Gold is a yoga therapist and teacher, doula, and public health specialist. She is currently living abroad, in Brussels, Belgium.
There are many physiological benefits to breathing into the belly, including slowing the heart rate and getting more oxygen to the lower lungs, the blood, and effectively the whole body.
Children often naturally breathe into their belly but you can help them enhance and retain this skill in a few ways. One of the best ways to do this is to ask them to breathe into their belly like a balloon:
- Ask them to close their eyes and put their hands on their belly.
- Say: Imagine your belly is a balloon. You can think of the colour. Name it if you like. (This is especially good for small children.)
- Breathe in and imagine you are filling up the balloon. Breathe out and let the balloon empty. Inhale to fill the balloon again. Exhale to let it empty.
- Repeat this (with or without additional verbal cuing) for one minute.
Related read: A beginner’s guide to meditation
2. Standing forward fold (elephant pose)
Folding forward is a great way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (which helps us “rest and digest”), and making it playful is a great way to keep kids engaged.
Here’s how to do this pose:
- Ask your child to stand up with feet hip-width apart and fold forward, bending their knees if they like.
- Clasp hands near their feet to come to “elephant pose.”
- Your little elephant can sway their trunk side to side, or just be still and rest.
Related read: Is YouTube yoga as good for kids as the real thing?
3. Child’s pose (rock pose)
This is a great way to “turn inward.”
- Have your child sit on their heels and fold forward with their forehead on the ground. Arms can reach forward or they can hold on to their feet.
- Ask your child to “be still like a rock” for three to 10 breaths, depending on their age.
- If they like, they can rock their head from side to side, which will massage the cranial nerves in the forehead.
4. Lion’s pose
This two-for-one yoga pose and breathing technique is often a favourite for kids.
- From a kneeling position, have your child inhale through their nose.
- Exhale, sticking the tongue out, and fold forward, roaring out the breath. Kids can put up their “lion paws” if they like.
- Repeat three to six times. This can also be done standing up with bent knees.
5. Chair pose (lighting bolt)
This is an extremely grounding pose and useful to try when things are feeling topsy-turvy.
- Standing up, ask your child to bend their knees and send their hips back like they are sitting into an uncomfortable chair.
- Reaching arms overhead, ask them to keep reaching up and sitting back.
- See if they can hold this for 30 seconds.
Shaking practices are common in many yoga lineages. It can help us release feelings of anger and let go of our need for control.
Kids can try to shake out any big feelings, such as anger, worry, or sadness to allow a safe way to let go of emotions without having to hide them or pretend they don’t exist. This can be a fun practice to do with music, so let your child pick their favourite song if they like! Just hit play, start shaking your arms, bend your knees, and let everything bounce and shake.
This is a great way to start a yoga practice if your child is feeling very anxious, as it will help burn off some of the stress hormones and help your child become more comfortable moving into stillness.
Remember: Go with the flow
Stories and games make yoga more fun for kids. Feel free to improvise to make it more playful if you like! And remember that moods and opinions change quickly, so feel free to change things up day by day.