Yoga for Children

Aparna Singh, Delhi

It is said that change opens new doors, adds another path in life's journey and it was with this spirit that we moved to New Delhi in the year 2009. I became a member of the Officers Wives Association which goes by the name of 'Pragya'. As a welfare measure for families, 'Pragya' was looking for a yoga teacher. With my background of teaching yoga to women in Dhaka and Lucknow, I volunteered to take the yoga classes, as I thought that in this way I would contribute in a constructive manner.

It started with a five-daycamp followed by regular classes twice a week. The group consisted of a vibrant group of young mothers with school-going children. Yoga being in fashion, a desire to remain healthy, manage minor health issues and remain in shape had brought most of them together. By attending regular classes and practising at least mantra and TTK at home, in a few months they had started experiencing yoga. Gradually an understanding was emerging of a holistic integrated concept of yoga rather than just a physical practice. I do not remember what motivated me to share the idea of starting yoga for children to these young mothers. Inspired by a mother's instinct to give all experiences to their children, instantly, they were ready to have a three-day camp during the next mid-term break for children. The participation was very encouraging; the Community Hall was absolutely packed, and most children were in the age group of 6 to 10 years. The kids enjoyed the camp, mothers too were delighted that the children had found some outlet to fillin their time during the break. The children requested for regular sessions. Thus began my journey with 20 kids, initially in a very spontaneous manner.

Complete and holistic

We started with one-hour classes thrice a week. The sessions would begin with Om chanting and Shanti Path, followed by chanting of the three morning mantras: Mahamrityunjaya mantra with the resolve for good health, strength and immunity; Gayatri mantra with the resolve of developing wisdom, understanding and creativity; and the 32 names of Ma Durga with the resolve of removing all obstacles from life. The chanting part was thoroughly enjoyed by the children. It was enchanting to see some really small kids, who otherwise were extremely distracted, sitting like yogis in deep meditative state, with the eyes firmly closed during the entire fifteen minutes of chanting.

The books Yoga Education for Children Volume 1 and 2 published by the Yoga Publications Trust were of immense help to teach children asanas and other yogic practices with stories and games. Teaching pawanmuktasana part 1 in an invisible suit and TTK series as a tree in various weather conditions were an instant hit with the children. Even today, as teenagers, they refer to these asanas by the names learned as little ones.

Over a period of twelve months the children learnt all major groups of asana, namely, surya namaskara, vajrasana group, backward bending group, balancing group, inverted poses. I could see the impact of sedentary urban lifestyle melt away, as with time the children became flexibleenough to easily slip into various poses and touch their toes without bending their knees. The sessions were enjoyed by the children, as they would look forward to the stories, yogic games or to just sing kirtan together, for we ended each session with a game or a kirtan.

The practices of abdominal, thoracic and yogic breathing techniques were introduced to them and thereafter nadi shodhana pranayama was taught. Doing bhramari was always fun for children. Breath awareness in shavasana really helped in quietening them from their hyperactive mode. One could clearly see the faces become calm and the postures stable, as the children became aware of their breath. As time passed, the elder group was introduced to the practice of trataka and yoga nidra also.

Once a month, they were introduced to havan. It was surprising that even in India havan was a new experience for so many children. They participated with excitement and remained engrossed in the process of chanting and putting oblation into the fireby rotation.

Slowly, as the classes progressed, by rotation the elder children were asked to lead the class. This instilled confidence in them, making them little yoga teachers in their own right. These children are now able to lead a class of morning mantras and basic asana for their younger friends. For the past two years they have also led the session of asanas and pranayama for the families of the colony to celebrate the International Day of Yoga.

Lessons learnt for life

The desire to learn yoga is fulfilledby many but very few have the discipline to do it regularly. Yoga classes are always easier to attend but doing yoga practices regularly on one's own is always the most difficultpart. Regularity is one of the most important aspects on the yogic journey. The fivecapsules given by Swami Niranjan are a very practical way to make one's practice regular in our daily life. Hence it was emphatically stressed to do morning mantras, surya namaskara and nadi shodhana on a regular basis.

The cardinal difference when working with children as compared to adults is that their involvement is absolutely complete without any expectation, and the response is immediate, visible and vibrant.

During the course of these years, the kids developed a holistic understanding of yoga. In an attempt to showcase and share 'Our Understanding of Yoga', the children made a presentation for 'Pragya' members and parents. What came out was that the children understood yoga as a means to develop their potential and their concluding statement which stood out was:

'We are sure that the journey in yoga that we have started will help our personality to flowerout in all fields.'

Experiences shared with the children about my visits to the ashram stirred their curiosity. They were inspired by the Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal and how such a large force of yoga consisting of just children had been created. They came up with questions about Swami Niranjan and the life in the ashram, which were ultimately answered by Swamiji himself in a special session during the Delhi Yoga Mahotsava in 2014. This interaction deeply impacted their young malleable minds, as they found inspiration in Swamiji's clear, simple yet profound words.

The parents of these children are in transferable jobs, so over the span of seven years many have moved to other cities, children have grown and new children have joined. The group is now divided into two, one consisting of the older kids and another for the younger.

For the children it is an opportunity to learn tools which could help them in their journey through life, but I realized its profound impact only now, when I got first-handfeedback from children and mothers about their experience with yoga for this article. It brought to light how yoga is a subtle force which can have far-reaching impact on the physical, mental and emotional development of children.

Some of the children's feedback

Minati Mishra, 14 years: I attended yoga class for the first time when I was eleven years old in 2014. Apart from the classes I have not been very regular at home due to my studies and school.

Yoga has taught me to stay calm as I am a hyper and fidgety girl. I lose my temper very fast, so yoga has somewhere helped me cool down my temperament. I try to do breath awareness to manage my anger, it does work and sometimes I become my normal self.

Ketan, 14 years: I started doing yoga when I was ten. I learnt many things, asanas, pranayama and tools for relaxation and concentration. I do mantra regularly at night. Surya namaskara is another practice which I am doing regularly. Yoga has helped me in improving concentration. I used to get 40 percent marks in school and now I get 80 and 90 percent. All my friends were shocked to see my improved scores and asked me what my secret was. I told them I did surya namaskara and suggested they could also try and see its magic work.

I realized the importance of good manners when I heard Swamiji in Delhi Yoga Mahotsava, when he said that he did not like when someone misbehaves with anyone.