Yoga - Yoga and children
by Shameem Akthar
Children have a natural affinity to yoga, due to their bodies’ extreme flexibility and their natural fearlessnss towards physical challenges
The classic yogic treatise Hatha Yoga Pradipika observes that it is the punya or blessings from your last birth that makes you lucky enough to be initiated into yoga at some stage in your life. Surely, all of you reading this article wish such punya, if not on yourself then at least on your kids!
Earlier, yoga was part of the curriculum of Indian youth, mandatory in gurukuls—a tradition that has been wiped off the subcontinent. Today, children hardly have any concept of yoga or are taught it only desultorily by certain schools. In some parts of the country, it is taught by devoted individuals who prepare the children for yoga contests. Since the true message of yoga—of universal love and self that strides not just the world but the entire universe—cannot be taught within the framework of such competition, the outcome of such efforts become limited.
Also, for some reason, yoga is seen as an activity to be engaged by the effeminate or the elderly. One popular collegian magazine in Mumbai clubbed yoga with other effeminate activities like facial, manicure and make-up, practised by the ‘metrosexual’ male, who does not feel shy to flaunt his feminine side. Clearly, the young writer had no clue, like his contemporaries, that yoga is a tough discipline to master!
It is our collective tragedy that yoga is barely practised in the country of its origin. It is reported that there are more people practising yoga in California than all of India. Of these, the number of children practising here will be even more sadly negligible. However, instead of continuing in this vein of national recrimination, I will list the advantages of yoga for children so you can decide for yourself why it is crucial to introduce it to your child as well as campaign to have it introduced in schools.
Yoga, which needs to be done dynamically (since static poses stunts muscle and bone development), can add inches to a growing body. It postpones puberty so the child is allowed to match his mental development with his physical maturity. Increasingly today, successive generations of children are reaching puberty earlier, completely unprepared for the tensions of adulthood.
With yoga, the lungs’ respiratory capacity reaches its maximum, as does the immune system. These are two gifts (which money cannot buy!) that will prevent your child from suffering illness of the body and mind not just in their youth but throughout life. These include respiratory problems, spondylosis (which is an epidemic as jobs get increasingly sedentary), and degenerative diseases like cardiac problems, blood pressure and diabetes.
Yoga also alters the practitioner’s perception about pain and stress. This, too, I am sure, you wish to gift your child. As the world shrinks even as it accelerates its pace of growth, stress begins to be a companion one cannot shake off easily. Today, doctors are increasingly treating schoolchildren for psychosomatic illness, prescribing medicines that wreak havoc to the natural immunity system of the body. Kids are suffering from migraine, digestive disorders, emotional upsets like depression and image setbacks like anorexia and bulimia.
As adults, we too contribute to some measure by hiking our expectations from them. The least we can do to prepare them for such gruelling life ahead is by giving them an inexpensive weapon that protects them throughout life. Yoga not only armour-plates the body but also hones the mind to take on life’s challenges with joyful ease.
Many parents fear this means the child will be laid-back, uncompetitive. On the contrary, the child should be taught to face the rigors of competition without succumbing to it. Example of Indian super performers who practice yoga should assure you as to its potential—here are chess maestro Vishwanathan Anand and Infosys’ chief mentor Narayana Murthy, among others.
My own experience in teaching yoga to kids has been that they take to it like ducklings to water. They have a natural affinity to it, due to their bodies’ extreme flexibility and their natural fearlessness towards physical challenges. They can do highly advanced asanas in the class first day itself. Believe me, they are even more receptive to the spiritual aspect of yoga, drawing out the Oms with surprising strength and focus.
When you explain to them the scientific reasons behind the left-right brain co-ordination, the concept of joyful focus fostered by yoga, they are willing to immediately experiment with it in their daily activities. Without the emotional baggage of adults, they are ready to accept the sensible arguments behind yogic rules–whether it be on the right nutrition, the quality and quantity of food, even the yogic need to distance oneself from emotional distractions while working for studying or competing. Their mind is like sponge, their bodies like rubber to the thrill of yoga. It is we who have forgotten to give them what is their rightful heritage.
raised swing pose
Most children can sit comfortably in the lotus pose. It is only later, around 10 years of age, that unfortunate civilisational habits (like sitting always on chair) ruins their flexibility so they suffer like adults in their inability to sit cross-legged.
Only those who can sit comfortably in padmasana or lotus can try this raised swing pose. After sitting cross-legged, place your palms flat on the ground beside the thighs. Inhaling, hoist yourself up so your body is clean off the floor, the entire weight supported on wrists and palms. Continue breathing steadily. Initially, swing your body back and forth since your wrists may not be strong enough to support your weight in a stable position. Once you have strengthened your wrists you may try to hold the static pose as long as is comfortable. Then exhaling, lower yourself gently back to the floor. Kids can do this very easily and enjoy it immensely.