“It is a happy talent to know how to play”, Ralph Waldo Emerson. To fly and float, build and grow, crawl, hop and growl — every child is entitled to the happiness brought about by physical and imaginative play.
Through a child’s full engagement in play, we see a spark of his brain’s potential. Studies and literature have long established that it is through play that a child gains an awareness of himself, his surroundings, his social environment, and an understanding of language and concepts– it is through play that he learns how to learn.
As a pediatric occupational therapist, providing meaningful play experiences allows me to facilitate skill development in children. Arts and crafts, rough and tumble play, games with rules, pretend play: the roads to a child’s amazing potential are endless. Give him enough support and nurturing, and each child will bloom and respond at his own unique manner and pace.
Recently, my students and I have found a no-judgment venue for happy engagement through Kids Yoga. We have begun our Kids Yoga journey in class, and the experience has been spectacular! My students are slowly learning to develop an awareness of their bodies and emotions, a discovery of their potential once their bodies and minds focus, and an appreciation of the calm happy feeling.
An awareness of their bodies and emotions
Children play following a developmental sequence; making each sensory experience vital to the character that they build, the relationships they form, and the ideas they execute. The science of Yoga shows us that different poses stimulate or deactivate different parts of our brain and nervous system which in turn affect our breathing, circulation, and digestion. Following this premise, I have learned that the theory of sensory integration can be used to facilitate and structure Kids Yoga classes.
Vestibular sense (Gravity, head movement, and balance) is the “major organizer of sensation”, affecting our level of alertness and engagement, visual integration, language, motor planning, and even emotional security. Great movements and poses include down dog, gorilla, river, triangle and windmill, waterfall and back bends. Inversions can even be included once the kids request for them! They will, believe me. Also, they’d also begin to express their feelings when coming in and out of the pose. They feel afraid, nervous, scared, determined, excited, satisfied, confident and very very happy!
Proprioceptive sense (Movement and position), or the sensory information from our muscles and joints, provide the most calming sensations as it helps to regulate the vestibular input. By giving our brains feedback – where each body part is in relation to another, how we support and distribute our weight – we are able to root and ground. With the tactile sense (touch), our brain creates a clear picture or body map, making it easier to find ourselves (all of it!) and feel content. Wíth poses like tabletop, reverse table top, boat, turtle, rocking horse, swan, happy baby, and rock, my students are able to just calm their systems down and go on relax mode.
A discovery of their potential
In Kids Yoga class, I am constantly surprised by the adaptive and creative responses my students display everyday. They amaze me when they develop their own strategies during balance poses like tree, dancer, airplane, and even standing on their tiptoes! After 2 classes, a creative 7-year old boy, often very easily distracted, related to me with much zeal how he figured out a waý to balance longer in a pose: he would close his eyes to shut out all the distractions, so he could focus. With this body awareness and the positive self-image they build, they learn to accept themselves for their limitations and strength. A 5-yearold girl with difficulty handling frustrations, is now learning to just laugh and try again when she falls out of a pose. She, along with her classmates, realize that learning is fun and that though mistakes may be made along the way, they can control how they react. And that sense of self-regulation and control is an empowering feeling.
Well-regulated young yogis become active players and confident little members of our world. With organized vestibular systems, they are able to sit upright in school, stay alert and focused on classroom activities, and attend to their authority figures and peers with respect. With effective somatosensory (proprioceptive and tactile) processing, they are able to enjoy and participate during family dinner time, settle down in class and actively participate in games and sports. They are able to dance, create art, and build.
An appreciation of the calm happy feeling
Beautiful creations come from still and settled young minds. When the stretches and yoga poses have warmed up their bodies, calmed their minds, and opened their hearts, I see eager students ready for group games and interactions. They are able to wait their turn, respect ideas of others, and assert their own ideas. Wíth organized thoughts, they are able to build on small class ideas, create elaborate yoga stories, make crafts and draw pictures as souvenirs of their yoga journeys. They appreciate the joy of just being themselves.
Settling down together for quiet time, shavasana/dreamer pose also becomes a more positive experience. We usually end Kids Yoga class with a community circle: we sit in a circle, breathe together, and go around saying things that we are grateful for. It is a great joy when they speak out and say thank you for dreamer pose, for the song playing during shavasana, or the eye pillows that helped them rest. It was challenging for the first few classes though!
As a class, we are continuously learning that happiness does not always equate to high energy jumping or squeals of excitement. Happiness could simply mean appreciating ourselves and playing together. Playing is an art, and it is through having fun together that we become happy! And happiness, as Teacher Lei Sadakari repeatedly shared during teacher training, is the answer to everything!
Peace, love, and happiness! Namaste!
* If you’re interested in becoming a kids yoga teacher or sharing the gift of yoga in your own classroom or with your own kids, click here to find out about the Rainbow Kids Yoga Teacher Training happening only at Urban Ashram Manila! Anyone can take the teacher training
Stephanie Myr Quiñones is an OTRP Licensed Pediatric Occupational Therapist.
She graduated from University of the Philippines-Manila, in 2010. Stephanie practices yoga at Urban Ashram Manila and recently got her kids yoga teacher certification from Rainbow Kids Yoga. She teaches kids yoga classes and applies the principles of yoga in The Able Center & Therabilities, Inc