The key to being successful when introducing Yoga to young children is in the way it is presented to them. The approach needs to be fun, dynamic, creative, spontaneous and stimulating to the child's imagination.

This can be done by threading the many beautiful Yoga postures of animals and nature based objects together into different stories and games. For younger children, sound effects, songs, dance or some simple props can also be used.

I adjust the length of my classes to the age groups I am teaching. My sessions are 45 minutes to 1 hour long for 4 to 8 year olds, and 1 to 11/4 hours long for 9 to 12 years old. This may seem quite long, however the reason it works is the rhythm of the class.

Rhythm and flow of the class is an important aspect. I start with a brief resting pose (Childs pose or Face down Relaxation Pose) to focus the children, followed by 30 minutes of active Yoga poses, incorporating music, games, and movement. After this I usually lead the children through a Yoga story of 8 to 10 minutes, which threads all the poses together that we have just practised.

Remember to keep in mind the holistic nature of Yoga, which nurtures the body, mind, emotions and spirit of the child. For a session to be balanced it is important to introduce relaxation, calming, and focusing techniques to the children. The last one third of my class programme deals with this aspect.

After the Yoga story is a wind down time and it's good to create an atmosphere for the quiet time: I often light a candle or some incense or play some peaceful ambient music. We do some breath awareness exercise for 3-5 minutes which helps calm and focus the children.

Flowing on from the breath awareness is an ideal time for building meditation skills and techniques that help develop concentration and focus, which can be used with children from 4 years old. The focus may be a candle flame, an attractive picture, or beautiful objects from nature such as a shell, flower or crystal. I often choose an object that is related to the story that we just did. With young children it is best to firstly explore the object with all of the senses, and then to see it behind the closed eyes.

Relaxation and Visualization are beautiful ways to complete a Yoga session and lasts from 5 to 12 minutes. I find eye pillows are essential for young children, as they are calming, eliminate distractions and encourage a child to go within. Initially I guide the children through a brief Yoga Nidra, relaxing all parts of the body. This is followed by a creative visualization. I have found it important to include a section on releasing worries or problems such as a cleansing waterfall, a worry tree or dropping our troubles into a burning volcano. I use this time to encourage visual imagery and help foster an attitude of caring for ourselves and the diversity of life.

© Joanna Gardner 3/2005