Parents and children alike may have an idea of yoga as holding a series of arduous poses in a steamy room or people sitting cross legged for stretches of time, while meditating, neither of which may seem particularly child friendly. To dispel the myth of the first scenario, there are many types of yoga, most of which advocate practicing at a comfortable temperature, and one of these is yoga for children, which is vastly different from yoga for adults. In addition, although children can learn to practice stillness through yoga, silent meditation is not necessarily part of yoga practice for kids.
The translation of the Sanskrit word, yoga, is "yoke" or "union." The practice of yoga is intended to unify body and mind. It is for that reason that yoga can be beneficial to actors of all age. We actors strive for the ability to connect with our bodies—our instruments—in order to freely and authentically express emotions. But the path to making that connection is different for younger bodies with different neurological systems.
It's no secret that kids are full of energy. Try looking at a of a crowd of children sometime and squint your eyes. What you will see is a blur of rapid, constant movement. Kids need to move. To sit in a seat and take in information runs counter to their strongest inclination, much to the chagrin of many teachers and parents. Yoga for children accommodates that kinetic energy by introducing dynamic poses or “asanas” with rapid, speedy movements. It is necessary that children have an opportunity to burn off some of that excess energy so that they are able to relax enough to then focus and move on to asanas that enhance stillness and quiet the mind. This is especially important for today's children, who are constantly bombarded with a steady stream of sounds and images from TV, video games, and personal electronic devices. Their minds are racing while their bodies remain sedentary, often transforming that pent-up energy into lethargy. This disconnect from mind and body can inhibit the growth of young actors, keeping them “in their heads,” rather than acting and responding freely and spontaneously. Yoga for kids incorporates group games, many of which are also used for kids acting, that encourage play, cooperation, and concentration. This keeps them “in the moment,” aware, and excited to respond to any surprises that may come their way.
Yoga poses themselves develop poise, strength, self-discipline, and confidence, not to mention flexibility, all important elements in shaping the actor’s instrument. They also support the nervous system, reducing anxiety, the bane and reality of every actor as we prepare to perform in front of an audience. A consistent yoga practice also creates a sense of well-being. Back extensions, for example, open the heart and help to alleviate depression, a welcome sensation for the angst-ridden teenager. And by developing a healthy relationship with their own bodies, kids can begin to lessen obsessions with external expectations of themselves. Their confidence helps them to become more compassionate toward themselves, as well as with their classmates, which leaves them much more receptive to constructive criticism in acting class. Their innate tendency to compare themselves with others transforms from destructive judgment to a beneficial tool of learning from their own and others’ strengths and weaknesses.
The goal of a teaching artist is to guide participants through the balance and integration of focus and fun. Our aim is to give kids a structure within which to play. In the world of yoga for kids the objective is to give them “roots and wings.” The intention of both is to give kids a foundation, a place to feel grounded and safe, so that each one may feel free to explore and express the wonderment of his or her entire being as an artist and a whole person.
Yoga Angels Training Manual
A Practical Guide for Teaching Yoga to Kids, Tweens, and Teens
by: Subhadra Griffiths
Yoga Games for Children
by: Danielle Bersma & Marjoke Visscher
Publishers Group West
Storytime Yoga: Teaching Yoga to Children Through Story
by: Sydney Solis
The Mythic Yoga Studio