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Yoga: A Breath of Fresh Air

Tomorrow’s Child Magazine, Spring 2004

 by Wai Lana

“Breathe in … breathe out …” The open window lets in cool, fresh air as little arms rise and fall in time with the breath. If this is not yet a common sight in your Montessori school, it may be soon. As more and more schools include yoga in their curriculum, parents and teachers are realizing that yoga is a wonderful, healthful activity that underscores the Montessori philosophy of nurturing the whole child.

Children love movement, so they love doing yoga. Imaginative play is innate in kids, and yoga gives them ample opportunity to pretend. As they become dogs, cats, bridges, and trees, body and mind learn to work in harmony. Yoga is versatile too. It can be a quiet indoor activity, or it can be more vocal and fun when kids make sounds and gestures to accompany their poses. Try doing yoga to music, or take yoga outside when weather permits and let the children enjoy their connection to nature with Salute to the Sun or Tree Pose. Sometimes the focus is on holding a pose, on the breath, or on the animal they are imitating. Earnest faces reveal the concentration needed to hold balancing poses. This ability to focus stays with them and makes it easier for them to concentrate on schoolwork and other tasks. In fact, a yoga practice can easily be woven into other aspects of learning. For example, when studying the desert, kids can be introduced to Camel Pose with a discussion of how the camel stores fat in its hump to be used as fuel on long journeys. Yoga can be interwoven with geometry by looking at the different shapes the body makes in the various poses.

A yoga posture can also be a catalyst for a simple anatomy lesson or an explanation of the inner workings of the body. Yoga develops children physically by building strength, stamina, and flexibility. On a deeper physical level, yoga’s focus on good posture helps young spines grow straight and strong. The poses regulate and balance the production of hormones, which is especially important as children approach and pass through puberty. Yoga also improves digestion, nutrient absorption, and elimination while helping strengthen the immune system. When doing yoga postures, kids learn that they need to be patient; they must persevere and concentrate to get better at the poses. As they improve, they gain a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. Yoga also gives children valuable tools to help them cope with stress and with emotions like sadness or anger. Yoga postures, breathing, relaxation, and meditation techniques teach them how to calm the mind and release tension in the body.

You can teach yoga to the class as a group, but once the children experience how good it feels to stretch and twist, you may just find them doing it on their own, especially if you set up a special yoga area with a kid-size mat or two. All in all, yoga is a wonderful activity for children. It brings balance and harmony to both body and mind, and gives them tools that can keep them healthy, not just during childhood, but also throughout their adult lives. Here’s a yoga asana called the Bridge. It helps improve digestion, bronchial conditions like asthma, and poor posture. How to Do the Bridge: Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Bend your knees and place your heels close to your buttocks. Keep your feet and knees apart. Lift your hips up to make your body into a strong bridge. Lift up high so tall boats can sail under you. Hold for a few seconds, then lower your bridge. Repeat a few times.

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