/ 15 September 2008

The butterfly spirit

When yogis developed asanas (poses) thousands of years ago, they lived close to the natural world and used animals and plants for inspiration — the sting of a scorpion, the grace of a swan, the grounded stature of a tree.

When children imitate these movements and sounds of nature, they have a chance to get inside another being and imagine taking on its qualities. When they assume the lion’s pose (simhasana), they experience not only the power and behaviour of the lion, but also their own sense of power: when to be aggressive, when to retreat. The physical movements introduce kids to yoga’s true meaning: union, expression, and honour for oneself and one’s part in the delicate web of life.

Yoga for children is now becoming integral in many curricula as well as in family activities. Some schools in South Africa, like Cida City Campus, have incorporated yoga and meditation as a subject offering, yielding amazing results. Studies by the Harvard Medical School highlight how yoga is effective in treating children suffering from attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity trait. A Dust to Diamonds Programme at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in India demonstrates how the art of living yoga daily has improved the life of orphaned children and has produced children of an exceptional calibre.

Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem and body awareness, with physical activity that’s non-competitive. Fostering cooperation and compassion — instead of opposition — is an important life-tool for children. Physically, it enhances their flexibility, strength, coordination, and body awareness. In addition, their concentration and sense of calmness and relaxation improve. Yoga brings to the surface that marvellous inner light that all children have.

Yoga Nidra — a unique meditation technique focused on visualisation and body awareness — can help children focus better. These techniques teach children to be themselves, and face life with greater belief in their potential. Simple breathwork, such as alternative nostril breathing with no breath retention, helps calm the mind of a young child.

Children who are attention-deficit or hyperactive crave movement and sensory/motor stimulus. Yoga helps channel these impulses in a positive way. Poses that seem to work well are the warrior pose and tree pose — instilling calm, confidence and balance. The trick is to get beyond just “doing” the posture — become the pose, be strong like a warrior!

The Yoga4Kids programme combines dynamic movements, postures, breathing exercises and meditations from different yoga disciplines into a holistic programme. Many poses and techniques focus on heart-opening sequences.

Real world social yoga initiatives are integrating the practice into orphanage street kids’ reform, as well as drug-rehabilitation programmes. To help young souls blossom, leading yoga teachers are making themselves available through seva (selfless service) and community initiatives to teach yoga to kids at orphanages, and on spreading the light of yoga and spiritual well-being in socially challenged and disadvantaged communities. Playfulness, joy and a sense of aliveness are intrinsic to present-moment awareness. Many of these children have lost hope, have low self-esteem, and live under the most testing conditions.