Yep, she has finally arrived --
Yoga Teacher Barbie!
Complete with pink yoga mat, puppy dog and sparkly pink and blue outfit, perhaps she can inspire the 3+ year olds to find out more about yoga.
She comes from the 'I can be...' series of dolls to help the aspirations of the next generation. Her figure still remains impossible, but she has a serene look on her face, and maybe taking up yoga practice will help her relax a bit more.
She reinforces all the girly pink, image driven stereotypes that children and young women have to negotiate. But before we reject her as a bad idea, perhaps we could remember the teachings of Krishnamacharya... aim to meet people where they are and teach them yoga in a way the can understand and accept.
So introducing children early, in a way that fits into their every day, childhood landscape, could be a helpful introduction to yoga that hopefully will bring them into a more realistic understanding.
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There was some positive media coverage last weekend about how Yoga was used to help David and Samantha Cameron's late son Ivan. Using Yoga Therapy tailored to his needs, Ivan, who suffered from Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy took part in regular yoga sessions at the Special Yoga Centre in London.
Yoga for children can be helpful for a wide range of needs, ranging from the therapeutic for serious health needs, to simply being fun and active to help get kids engaged and get them moving. Children can gain confidence, strength, coordination, balance, focus and concentration through practicing yoga.
I recently took my Yoga for Children teaching module which trains you for running yoga classes and activities with children. The classes are very different to adult classes! Much more playful, fun, noisy, energetic, and hopefully leading them to a calmer and more focused space by the end of the session.
I'm running my first Children's Yoga Party soon which promises to be loads of fun!
I'm biased I know, but I think most people could benefit from yoga practice! I work with a lot of mums, especially in my private yoga therapy work, where women come to me without much time or space for themselves, and have a range of physical, mental and emotional issues such as stiffness, aches on one side from carrying children on one hip, stress through the shoulders, poor sleep, over-eating, worrying, and an over-active mind that refuses to slow down at the end of the day.
These are common complaints but particularly so for mums whose days aren't their own anymore and who struggle to find time to take care of themselves.
Yoga doesn't have to be a weekly class, although this is often the best way to ensure you actually make it on to your mat at least once a week and spend a good hour doing a full yoga practice.
Yoga can also be fitted in to your busy schedule, requiring perhaps as little as 15-20 minutes a day to help keep you physically, mentally and emotionally supported. Think of how you might tend to a garden - keeping it tended to little and often is as good, if not better, than a big session every now and again to keep it all under control.
A practice that is customised for you is ideal, incorporating some physical postures to help energise the body, stretch and release tension, strengthen the posture to help alleviate aches and pains. Plus perhaps some breathing work to settle the mind and restore balance, and perhaps even meditation if interested (which has well known stress-relieving and healthful attributes). All of these practices will help you create and maintain some well-earned space for yourself, and can be fitted in to those small pockets of time once the kids have gone to bed, when they are napping, when they are watching tv, or before you go to bed.
In my group classes I always encourage students to try some yoga practice at home if they are interested. Part-way through the term, I'll often offer them a small handout with a short practice to try for themselves at home. Sometimes students keep it up and come back weeks or months later reporting how much more benefit they get from yoga once they have started regular practice at home.
Of course a daily healthful practice doesn't just have to be yoga, there are other things that you might find you enjoy that keep you motivated to continue with it. But what better way to nurture your health and wellbeing than by giving yourself the gift of a short yoga practice a few times a week to help maintain balance and health in your life.
According to a news article last week on the BBC, one in five schools now teach yoga as part of the physical education provision.
There is a current trend is for schools to move away slightly from more traditional, competitive sports. Yoga can help students get the physical benefits of getting active and moving the body, improving their posture and physical strength. And also they could learn useful skills to help them develop better concentration, keep them de-stressed and able to handle life-stresses and exams better, and be more in touch with themselves during adolescent change.
Yoga can be great both as a group class where they take a yoga practice as a PE class, but also shorter practices can be used less formally. For example teachers can start off a class with some focusing work such as a short stretch or chant to help settle the class and get them focused on the lesson ahead. Lots of useful possibilities!
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Having done some recent work on yoga for the older age group (culminating in yoga suitable for those with hip replacements which is on the more extreme end of the scale of things to consider), and also having discussed it with some of the over 55s in my current group classes, it seemed that it would be good to put on a class especially for over 55s. Not because they aren't just as capable in many cases of working well in a mainstream class, but more to give that feeling of familiarity of the mix of people in the room.
As bodies get older, the impressions of life manifest themselves differently on different people. Knees, back problems, stiffnesses are different from person to person. Some people are strong and fit in their older years, others less so. The class will be a chance to offer a range of adaptations suitable to the people who attend the class and will be a safe and comfortable place to practice yoga.
Beyond our physical limitations, Ramaswami has also taught on yoga for the three stages of life and the type of yoga practices that would be recommended at different stages.
The first stage, the early years and childhood where the body is still growing and the mind is still maturing so a focus on asana (postures) is the emphasis.
The middle years where we are adults, working, raising families and having busy and full lives, where we maintain our health through asana and progress our pranayama (breath control) practice. Then the later years, when we are more reflective, the body is left with impressions of our lives, here the focus moves towards maintaining health through asana, pranayama along with developing meditation and reflection. The stages of life supported by the different limbs or petals of yoga. More on yoga and the stages of life are in this excellent book Yoga for the Three Stages of Life, Srivatsa Ramaswami.
Anyway, the new class, Yoga for Over 55s, will be starting on September 14th and will be from 11.15am until 12.15pm. Beginners very welcome!
If you've tried yoga, you may already have an idea about the health benefits it can bring, the calm state of mind it can develop, the concentration and self-disclipline it can foster. Finding the right teacher and the right style for you is essential and not everyone takes to it straight away. But it has stood the test of time and has so much to offer.
But can yoga also develop these qualities in children? And could it help them increase there prospects of making more of their time in school for learning?
Yoga is being tried at Quarry Brae primary school near Glasgow who are trying it to find out and so far the results are really encouraging.
The school is in a deprived area and many of the children show up to school without having a structured start to the day, often coming from unsetttled home environments. This can set the day off with a rocky start, and the disruption can spill over into the classroom where concentration and discipline can be challenging. They have been trying starting the day with some yoga techniques, using some physical postures, chanting, breathing, mudras to calm the children down, provide a sense of concentration and discipline and prepare the children much better for a day of group participation and learning. The children are responding well, enjoying the practices, noticing and commenting on how calm they feel and how it is helping them to concentrate and 'feel better'. One 11 year old comments:
"I got hit in the face with a ball, usually I'd go up and start a fight with whoever did it but I don't any more. I used to have a quick temper and yoga has calmed that down."
Many of the physical yoga postures were designed with children in mind. They often have playful names like 'downward facing dog' to help make them memorable and appealing. And practices such as jumping in and out of the postures help keep the young people engaged and challenged as they work through the practice.
The school teachers are supportive and at least one has gone on to be trained as a yoga instructor and is bringing yoga practices in to her classes to help prepare the children for learning.
It takes a specialist approach to help children get the best out of their yoga practice. But what this school has done seems to demonstrate something that should be explored and tried out further, both with children and with adults. Many of us are already embracing the benefits of yoga and gradually learning how to apply yoga to help us in our everyday lives. It has so much to offer from relaxation and calmness, to health and therapy to support and improve health problems, and can even bring a more connected, holistic and spiritual aspect to our everyday lives. Lots to explore.
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