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Home life can be beautifully hectic, especially when there are children in the household. While we know that a personal yoga practice has myriad benefits for the individual, a family yoga practice has the potential to bring parents and kids closer together, while adding the further benefits of greater calm, sense of spiritual connectivity, and healthy fun to the daily routine. Below are five suggestions on how to transform your beloved yoga practice into a kid-friendly activity your entire family can enjoy.
First things first: the worst thing you can do is make yoga yet another activity that gets squeezed onto the to-do list. If your children offer any resistance to practicing with you, or if you are working with toddlers who have a shorter attention span, try not to force them into participating.
Instead, lead by example, and let your kids see you practicing with or without them. When children see their role models engaging in something that has tangible positive benefits (“Wow, I’ve noticed Mom is calmer on the days she does her yoga!”), their interest is likely to be piqued, and they are more likely to willingly jump in. Otherwise, if forced into the activity, your kids will more than likely react negatively (“I don’t wanna!”). Let them experience the benefits of yoga over time by being patient and allowing them to come into it naturally.
Kids (and adults) thrive on ritual and routine. For this reason, establish a predictable yoga practice, while remaining flexible about where and when it happens. Attach the activity to an event (when the sun rises) or an activity (before bed) so that your children can gain an appreciation of sacred ritual and find comfort in fulfilled expectations. Be sure everyone in the family has their own yoga mat (including the little ones), and incorporate the setting up of the mats and the cleaning up of the space as part of the mindfulness practice.
Routine is also highly valued with regard to the practice itself, so do the same poses in the same order every day. Perhaps you take turns leading the sequence from day to day or pose to pose, on some days adding a posture here or there. Overall, however, it’s helpful to stay consistent in your sequencing so everyone gains a sense of accomplishment, familiarity, and pride as the practice takes shape (pun intended) over time.
Drop any expectations of what a yoga practice looks like when you involve your family and children. Family yoga often (and should) include laughter, verbal and physical interaction, and creative play. Children love making the sounds of the animals after which some poses are named (like Horse, Cobra, Dog, Cow). Tell stories that link the poses together (“The Cobra slithered up the Tree, and then an Eagle flew out!”).
Even on the days when your children don’t participate with you, allow your body to become a jungle gym, and invite them to climb under, around, or even on you as you practice. Play allows for more positive emotions, and the more positivity you enjoy together, the closer your relationships become.
There are some great books out there from which you can draw inspiration. The colorful and creative books, Good Morning Yoga and Good Night Yoga, are perfect practice-along storybooks, and can easily become part of your wake-up and bedtime rituals.
The deck of cards Yoga Pretzels also is a rich resource, as it contains drawings and descriptions of many yoga poses, as well as stories and ideas for games and activities that include multiple children or larger groups. Depending on the attention span(s) you’re working with, the length of one children’s book might be just perfect. Again, strive for consistency of practice over time, as opposed to length of practice or depth of exploration.
Finally, if you find your kids really enjoy yoga, sign them up for a kids’ yoga class to accompany your family time together. Some studios even have family yoga classes where you can practice together in a more formal setting. After class, talk about what they learned, and have them teach you something they didn’t know before. By practicing being a leader in the family dynamic, their self-esteem will grow, and they will become even more comfortable in their skin.
In the moment, family yoga time is a worthwhile endeavor because it promotes balance, strength, flexibility, and fun; however, the long-term potential is perhaps even more meaningful. What our children learn on their mats will optimally help them in their daily lives, including to breathe in the face of a difficulty, to turn inward and listen to the quiet voice within, and to make themselves proud as they learn to mindfully accept challenges and grow on every level.
Try this sample family yoga sequence and start a new tradition: