From the second I set foot in my first yoga class six years ago, it was love at first sight. The gleaming hardwood floors, the zen-like music, and most importantly, the amazing instructor. She could teach to a class ranging in age from 18 to 80, and manage to modify or challenge everyone in the room with every pose. She was so adept at this, I attended well into the third trimester of my first pregnancy, and the breathing skills I learned in class carried me through labor and delivery! Yoga helped me, a high-strung Type A, learn to relax, quiet my mind to sleep better, and it strengthened my core and toned my body. If it could be this beneficial for me, what about the benefits of yoga for toddlers, who are in a seemingly perpetual state of high energy and high emotion?
Yoga for Toddlers
I stumbled upon doing yoga with Big M almost by accident. While pregnant with Lil’ M, I started doing yoga at home since making it to classes was becoming a distant memory of the past. Big M thought it was great fun to mimic me, and climb me like a monkey climbs a tree. I got more serious about it when at 32 weeks pregnant, Lil’ M was still breech. At the recommendation of my midwife who referred me to Spinning Babies, I started doing a series of inversion poses every day to encourage her to turn (and it worked). To occupy Big M while I did my poses, I found a some great apps on the iPad specifically designed to do yoga with toddlers or young children. She was thrilled to get out the yoga mat and do some poses herself!
Getting Started with Apps
A great way to introduce yoga poses to kids is with an iPad app geared towards children. The first three teach yoga to kids through an interactive story, while also providing a pose glossary, which gives greater detail on how to form each pose. They also give poses fun names and add fun actions, like Big M’s favorite – royal squat, followed by swinging your ‘trunk’ like an elephant. C-Fit Yoga is a more traditional fitness-style video, led by an instructor, but directed at children. These were great introductions for Big M, and once she learned different poses, she started dragging out the mats to do yoga on her own or to ask me to do it with her.
Benefits of Yoga for Toddlers
There are many benefits of yoga for toddlers, just like for adults: exercise, flexibility, balance, concentration, breathing, and mental-physical body connection. Many of these work together in concert. There are two I have found to be most helpful with toddler development.
Balance and Concentration
Yoga poses, unlike many other sports of speed or agility, encourages you to focus on how you move and hold your body positioning. It reinforces good posture, and many poses require balance, which takes significant focus and concentration at any age. I found it was a great active activity, that still got my highly mobile toddler to slow down a bit and concentrate as the poses challenged her flexibility, strength and balance. She now understands the words focus and concentrate, and I can apply them in other settings, like when we are working on a craft activity or fine motor skill task.
Breathing and Mental-Physical Body Connection
Yoga puts significant emphasis of breathing. Breathing in concert with various motions, breathing through the challenge of poses, and some motions which are just about different breathing techniques. Often, breathing can help calm your body as it struggles with physical endurance, or as is common with toddlers, overwrought emotions. When Big M is carrying on for whatever reason, I can often get her to calm down by asking her to take a series of deep breaths – breathe in, count to 4, breathe out, repeat. This almost always calms her enough to get her to use her words to tell me what is wrong, and bring a quick end to what would otherwise be a long, drawn out fit of hysteria.
I keep two yoga mats rolled up in the corner behind our electronics cabinet, where they are easily accessible. I can pull them out on a wintery day when cabin fever is setting in and lead the girls in a few rounds of poses, or more commonly, they drag them out to play ‘ballego’ themselves. Since starting ballet at 2.5, Big M now performs some combination of ballet and yoga on her mat which she refers to as ‘ballego.’ She uses the couch arm or ottoman as her barre, and moves from tree pose to arabesque, from plies to mountain pose.
While we haven’t tried this one yet ourselves, it is currently on our Amazon Wish List: Yoga Magic Path – Soft Version. Big M is just getting into board games, but doesn’t quite have the patience to sit through a whole game, so this may be the perfect combination of action and board game to try!
If you haven’t tried yoga with your toddler or preschooler, hopefully this encourages you to at least give it a shot. It’s a great exercise activity you can enjoy together, requiring little to no equipment, and perfect for those indoor wintery or rainy days. Do you have any favorite yoga poses you do with your kids? We’d love to see your pics of you sharing yoga with your youngsters – tag us on Instragram with #PGPB or share them with us on Facebook!