The quiet, calming atmosphere of a yoga studio doesn't quite go hand-in-hand with a group of raucous preschoolers. However, yoga can provide benefits to children of all ages. According to Yoga Journal, yoga increases kids' flexibility and coordination, develops confidence and teaches them a mind-body connection. Yoga for preschoolers simply has to be structured differently to cater to the needs of youngsters. Let go of any preconceptions about quiet music and silent yogis, and give your preschooler a taste of stretching, balancing, breathing and letting go.
Many preschoolers take an interest in animals and nature. Coincidentally, many yoga poses are named after specific animals, like Downward and Upward Dog poses, Cobra pose, Fish pose, Frog pose, Lion pose and Butterfly. Teaching animal poses first provides an engaging start to your preschooler's yoga practice. Encourage your child to play the part of each animal by making its sound, moving like that animal or pretending to eat what that animal eats.
Preschoolers readily engage in books and oral stories that teach important concepts or feed their blooming imaginations. Merging yoga with storytelling is a natural way to engage preschoolers' bodies and minds at the same time. Begin by making a list of poses you would like to do with your preschooler. Then, weave a simple story as you pause every few sentences to perform yoga poses that coincide with the story. For example, ask your child to imagine it's a bright, sunny day (perform Sun Salutation) and you're going to hike up a mountain (perform Mountain pose). As you hike up the mountain, you might see an eagle (perform Eagle pose), trees (perform Tree pose), or maybe you hear a croaking frog (perform Frog pose). Get creative with your story, allowing your preschooler to add details as desired.
Yoga games make learning and recalling poses more interesting for preschoolers. Prepare for a variety of games by purchasing a deck of yoga cards with an illustrated pose on each card, a collection of props including hula hoops, balls, bean bags, or a selection of stuffed animals. Play "Musical Yoga" by placing one yoga card on each mat and asking the kids to march around the room until the music stops. When the music stops, they must find an empty mat and perform the pose on the card. Use balls to pass back and forth during seated poses, practice inside and outside of hula hoops, or place bean bags over your child's eyes during relaxation time. Help your preschooler practice deep belly breathing on his back by placing a stuffed animal on his belly and watching it rise and fall with each inhale and exhale.
Even though yoga for preschoolers is active and possibly loud at times, relaxation plays an important role in any yoga practice. Preschoolers may need to begin with only one or two minutes of meditation at the end of the practice but will soon be able to relax for longer periods. Get cozy during meditation by asking your child to lie like a rag doll on her mat. Cover her in a favorite blanket, and ask her to close her eyes. Encourage her to tense and release each muscle in her body, starting at her toes, and ending at the top of her head. Ask her to focus on her breathing, and remind her to ignore the thoughts that come into her head by imagining they are floating out of her ears up to the ceiling.