Little Ones find their Inner Peace
Yoga is being increasingly used in schools and early years settings with the hope of bringing a time for calm and focus. Phoebe Doyle speaks to the founder of The Special Yoga Centre who believes passionately that Yoga can make a huge difference.
If you’re the owner of a small child you may have noticed an increasing amount of Yoga aimed at small children. One such class is Yoga Bugs – a now fairly huge franchise founded Fenella Lindsell who tells us; “Parents are enthusiastic about their children doing yoga as they enjoy knowing that they are exercising whilst being made aware of the importance of a healthy diet, and taking part in fun, creative story style adventures”. Fenella’s business really took off following an appearance on Dragon’s Den in 2006 and her techniques now reach a much wider audience than ever before as she has been appointed as the yoga consultant on the fabulous Waybuloo on cBeebies. Fenella explains; “Waybuloo has really encouraged young children to enjoy basic yoga poses and has increased interest from the pre-school market”.
Yoga is also finding it’s way into early years settings. A growing number of schools have recently made the decision to include yoga in their curriculum. “Schools, nurseries and councils have been really enthusiastic about the benefits of yoga for children as an activity for them to enjoy during and after the school day, and as part of the Family Learning Programmes” says Fenella. “We teach YogaBugs for 2 ½ to 7 year olds through creative adventures which weave yoga postures, breathing and relaxation techniques into stories where the children are always the hero”.
Yoga in Special Education
The Special Yoga Centre (SYC) is a registered charity supporting children with special needs through one-to-one yoga therapy; they do outreach work in schools, group classes and parent support groups. Founder and CEO Jo Manuel says; “We are also a Centre of Excellence for children's yoga teacher trainings, including courses specifically tailored for working with children with special needs.” Her attitude on special education and inclusivity? "We believe that all children are special, and that no label can define or limit a child's potential for positive change."
At the Special Yoga Centre they are passionate about helping each and every child to reach their fullest potential in relation to their physical, mental and emotional well-being. “At the heart of the Special Yoga Centre is the work that we do through our yoga therapy programmes in support of children, teens and families living with special needs”, says Jo. It’s the holistic nature of Yoga which Jo believes makes it so powerful; “The practice of yoga strengthens the body, balances the mind and nurtures the spirit - improving the whole being, the whole child.”
In one-to-one and group classes they teach the children basic breathing & eye exercises, they go through traditional and adapted Yoga poses and postures and encourage and teach deep relaxation.
A time for Parents and Carers
The children’s carers/parents can accompany them and enjoy the peaceful and nurturing environment that the centre provides and the support that the staff offer; “furthermore”, says Jo, “they have a place to meet other carers/parents who are in similar situations, which can be hugely theraputic. When they take part in sessions, they will learn techniques to support their children's development and can experience the positive effects of yoga for themselves.”
At the Yoga centre they help children with many varied, and sometimes complex, special needs. Jo says; “physically the children benefit from exercises (postures) which help them to become stronger, more aligned, balanced and flexible. Practising the yoga postures on a regular basis helps children to develop a good relationship with their bodies, something which is very important for all children and especially those who may have physical/developmental challenges”. We also see improvements in motor planning, motor coordination, and one of the best things of all for the families, the children sleep better. The breathing exercises help children to improve their breathing patterns and supports their respiratory system (thereby supporting all the physical systems in their bodies). The deep relaxation is hugely important for reducing stress and anxiety and allowing the whole body to rest and recoup.
“In addition to all of this,they benefit from working in a group in a non-competitive environment, exploring their bodies and breath with their peers and teachers rather than being isolated.”
To the future…
The charity is launching a new programme in special schools called Get Ready to Learn: Yoga therapy in the classroom. This consists of a daily yoga practice carried out by both staff and children in order to create a calm environment and prepare the children to learn. Jo explains; “The programme was launched 2 years ago in the USA and has had remarkable results including vast improvements in self-regulation, concentration, ability to transition, communication and level of assistance needed.”
In addition, the charity is planning to run more teacher trainings in order to enable more yoga therapists to facilitate their work. In conjunction with this, we are setting up a new Yoga Therapist CPD and mentoring programme for all those who have taken the training in order to support their progress. “We intend to grow our base of teachers/therapist nationwide in order to cover more areas throughout the UK”, says Jo.
Furthermore, the SYC is preparing a research document on benefits of yoga therapy to children with special needs in conjunction with Harvard, UCL and Great Ormond Street Hospital. The monitoring and evaluation necessary for such a study will be run on the Get Ready to Learn programme. It is our intention to launch this in approx. 10 schools over the next year. “Once this has been successfully delivered we will be creating a Get Ready to Learn programme for mainstream schools in support of children and school staff” enthuses Jo.
Yoga is wholly holistic and completely inclusive making it the perfect addition to any setting. Children can be given a time to stretch their bodies and calm their minds. Many children enter our settings in the morning with their little minds full of home-life, the walk to school, anxieties about all kinds of things. Yoga can offer a break for their body and their minds and help them get ready for learning.
Want to give Yoga a go in your setting?
Easy Yoga for kids By Yoga Teacher Mollie McClelland
Deep breathing is the most important aspect of yoga; it relaxes and helps concentration. Ask them to sit up straight, either cross legged on the floor, or on the edge of a chair. As they breathe in, the sides of the ribs expand. The breath expands the entire chest, under the collarbones and between the shoulder blades, without forcing. For posture, ask them to imagine they have a beautiful sparkly necklace that you want to show off.
This is a great practice to teach your kids, and they can practice it before carpet work or during PE.
Ask them to put their legs out in front of them, but then lean back and support their weight on their elbows or pillows. Bring the Right leg in towards them and then make 5 Circles to the outside (knee up, out, down), 5 circles to the inside (out to side, up, to the middle and down). Then they can repeat other leg.
On hands and knees, they INHALE and look up towards the ceiling, letting their belly stretch towards the floor. EXHALE curve the spine (“like someone is poking you in the tummy and look towards belly button”). Ask them to repeat 2-3 minutes at a comfortable pace.
NB: cat/cow is a very adaptable form, which you can explore. Focus on initiating from different parts of the body – shoulders, tailbone, mid-back. Also interesting is to play with pace and intensity. Start slow and steady and as you feel comfortable, experiment with speeding up to get blood moving or slowing down to deeply stretch into tight places.
CAT/COW with Balance
From the neutral position on hands and knees, with the back flat like a table, ask them to extend the right leg behind them so that the leg is parallel to the floor and the knee is facing the floor. Hold 5-10 slow counts (or breaths). Try for 2 times each leg.
On the hands and knees, they are to walk the hands further in front of them. The hips go up in the air, so the back is arching, making a ski slope shape with the spine, neck and arms..
DOWNWARD FACING DOG VARIATION
Get them to stand up and put their hands on a shelf or table (preferably waist height). Ask them to put their hands flat on the edge of the shelf, pushing down. Arms should be straight, get them to bend down at a 90 degree angle. Open the chest towards the floor making the back as flat as possible. All the time breathing deeply.
DOWNWARD FACING DOG
Ask them to come on to hands and knees, back flat; wrists under shoulders, knees under hips. Shoulders should be taken down away from the ears. Keep the tummy in the whole time so as not to sag. Tuck the toes and then straighten both legs. Hips go up in the air to make a triangle shape. Make sure their heads and necks are relaxed; tell them to look towards their knees. Hold downward facing dog for 5 breaths at a time.
Kids can find Downward Dog both challenging and fun. You can practice this together just as the pose, or use the position for a game of “London Bridge is Falling Down.”
Written for www.practicalpreschool.com
Written for www.practicalpreschool.com