As a mother of 5 I won’t ever forget how exhausting small children can be.  Yoga really helped me with the ups and downs of bringing up a large family and continues to help me today even as they rise through their teens!  I often find myself suggesting to my students who have young children that they try out practicing yoga with their children.  

A yoga session with your children will not necessarily be time for a 10 minute savasana.  Although its always worth encouraging children to play sleeping beauty/lions and at least get them to rest for a few moments!  Most importantly though a yoga class with young children needs to be fun and a method of releasing energy, tension and having a giggle with your children.  

Start off with a round of sun salutations. Many children are already being taught yoga in their infant and primary schools so you may be surprised to discover that they already are familier with some of the poses.  My own youngest daughter was able to confidently tell me when the next movement in the sequence was even when she was quite young.   Children love the names of the poses too and love to name downward dog, plank, cobra and child’s pose.  Even when you have children that are too young to sequence the movements they still like to try out one or two poses interspersed between crawling around the others and enjoy having fun with the family in a playful setting.

Its important that a yoga session with young children encourages freedom of choice and that children are able to select their own poses.  There are some great yoga books around these days with illustrations of children practicing yoga movements that they can choose from. These books provide excellent photographs and also songs and rhymes for parents to sing with their children while practising yoga together.  The children love copying whats in the pictures and naming what pose they plan to do next. 
Lion’s Breath
Breathing is a perfect way to release the tension that tantrums build both in the parents and the child.  If children are in the throws of a temper tantrum you can try the pranayama breathing technique lion’s breath. Becoming a lion is fun for all ages.  In this breathing exercise, encourage children to roar out their anger and really stick out their tongues to the tips of their chins while looking down towards the tips of their noses. Encourage the children to really roar out their breath on the exhale- the louder the better! Make sure you roar with them as it will work for you too!  Having fun with this will help you all to let out the negative energy. You can do this seated or kneeling or lying on your bellies in sphinx pose.
‘Happy’ energy and ‘Bad’ energy
In this activity, focus on using another pranayama breathing technique, fully breathing in positive energy and releasing negative energy.  Talk about breathing out the ‘bad energy’ using different terms for the word bad, angry, black, yuck, nasty, horrid or whatever term your child comes up with.   Then talk about letting in the good energy.  Take a full breath with your children and absorb the happy, excited, positive breath into your bodies.   Children will often come up with different terms to let out the bad energy and let in the good.  And as an additional benefit, all this deep breathing is relaxing for everyone involved.

Rag Dolls and Swiss Rolls
There is no better pose to end a yoga session than savasana, the corpse pose.  Try and make this time into a game of ‘sleeping lions’ – always a real godsend at children’s parties to quieten them down before tea time. However so often in the intimate setting of a family yoga session and without the element of competition (and a party prize) it can become a time when everyone  piles up on top of mum and dad.   So another alternative could be to end a family yoga session with some music and dancing.  Start with some energetic jumping  and fast dancing, encourage the children to feel the beauty of the music and allow their body to naturally move.   At the end of the session slow down the tempo and the movements – by all means try savasana (with optional prize) or hang in rag doll pose which is always calming or roll up the children like swiss rolls in their yoga mats. 

Never lose sight of the fact that the whole point of a family yoga session is to have fun, forget all the rules and to get in tune with your children’s imagination, their love and laughter. Enjoy the rest of the summer!