In Lisa Flynn's yoga class, downward dog is called "puppy friends," the yoga mat becomes a surfboard for the pose formerly known as Warrior III and students spin their own webs in "spider." Welcome to yoga for children.
The practice is designed to let kids play and use their imaginations, but just like grown-up yoga, it is a way for them to reduce stress, get a mood boost, increase focus and confidence and get in shape. Plus, yes, it's pretty darn cute.
Starting a yoga practice early in life is a way to facilitate learning through play, according to Flynn, who founded the ChildLight Yoga Studio in Dover, New Hampshire, and is the author of Yoga For Children. Flynn changes the names of the poses to make them more game-like, and to keep young yogis engaged and having fun.
"We're helping [kids] get in touch with their bodies, so we're really improving their mind-body awareness," she told The Huffington Post. "We're giving them self-regulation skills and ... tools to live a life of health and wellness long-term."
We invited two special guests to the HuffPost offices to try out the poses: Executive lifestyle editor Lori Leibovich's daughter Clara (6) and HuffPost Parents managing editor Farah Miller's daughter Zadie (3). See them demo simple poses your kids can do at home below -- and click through the slideshow for more ideas from Flynn.
This pose isn't just fun -- it's also beneficial, since the resting posture stretches the hamstrings while also massaging the back and internal organs. Have your child lie down on his or her back, bend the legs into the chest so that the knees come in towards the armpits, and grab the feet from the outside -- then relax in the pose for several breaths in and out.
"Happy Baby pose is probably one of the favorites," Flynn says. "It's one of the most fun... You can't help but laugh."
This pose is a favorite for boys and can be particularly beneficial for them, as it stretches the hamstrings and hips where boys tend to be more tight. The pose is a variation of High Lunge, and begins with knees bent and both hands on the floor. Kids should take a big step back with the left leg, keeping the hands placed on either side of the right leg, which is bent so that the knee is directly above the ankle. Hold for 3-5 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Flynn advises adding a "Ready, set, go!" variation, in which the child lowers the back knee, brings it back up, and switches legs quickly on the "go!" Try repeating five times to engage children and increase the heart rate for more of an aerobic exercise.
Either two children or a parent and child can practice the seesaw together to enjoy a nice lower back, arm, shoulder and hamstring stretch. To get into the pose, the two participants sit across from each other with legs stretched in front of them in a V shape and a tall back. The smaller member of the pair puts his or her legs on the inside of the longer-legged person's legs. Holding hands, they gently rock back and forth.
"Ideally you'll both be able to sit up nice and tall and hold hands across," Flynn says. "That way when you're stretching, you'll be stretching from the hips and not from the back."
In this Warrior III variation, kids can use their yoga mat as a surfboard, starting out by "swimming" on the mat on their bellies and then pushing the body up, stretching one leg straight behind them and bringing both arms forward. They should return to Mountain Pose (standing up straight and tall) and shake out their legs before repeating on the other side.
"You're really using your core muscles and your lower back muscles," says Flynn.
In addition to stretching and strengthening the spine, shoulders and arms, Upward-Facing Dog can open the chest and improve posture, according to Flynn. Start by lying down on the belly, with the hands by the chest, elbows tucked in, and fingers spread wide. Press down into the hands and use arm and shoulder strength to lift the upper body off the floor. Take three deep breaths in and out, and then gently lower back down to the floor.
This variation of the seated forward bend is great for anxious or restless kids, as it helps to calm the nervous system and improve concentration. Start in a seated pose with the legs extended straight and feet flexed. On the inhale, reach the arms up to the sky and then bend forward from the hips as you exhale. Touch the hands down to the shins or feet, creating a sandwich.
Even very young children (from around 2 years old) can benefit from this basic breathing exercise. Kids make a "candle" by holding up two fingers, with the rest of the fingers interlaced, then breathe in deeply, and imagine slowly blowing out the candle with a long exhale. Repeat three times.
Flynn says, "The thing I like about candle breath is that it's so simple -- everyone knows how to blow out the candle. And an extended exhale is going to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and really help to calm us down."
Click through the slideshow below for the rest of the poses.
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