Updated: Oct 8, 2020
By Indira Das-Gupta
Most people would agree that Joe Wicks is a bit of a legend for unfailingly providing online PE lessons to kids during lockdown. But during these unprecedented and uncertain times children need more than just a physical workout, they need guidance and support to safeguard their mental well being too.
Millions of children who would ordinarily expect to go to school every week day haven’t stepped foot inside a school since mid March. Many will have had little or no contact with their friends and it’s not even clear if they can return to school full time from September. While some, may be having online lessons and can at least interact with their teachers and classmates that way, many have not. When your world revolves around your friends this is an almighty blow.
Whatever your age, the truth is that most people prefer certainty over uncertainty and at the moment nothing is really certain. I can’t say to my children, “Don’t worry everything will soon be back to normal,” because I don’t know that it will - none of us do. There is an assumption that stress is the preserve of “grown ups” which almost suggests that children’s worries some how count for less. To make such an assumption does children a massive disservice. They do worry about the bigger picture, the environment and the future and are more likely to feel powerless to change things because it’s not them in charge.
So where does Yoga come into all of this? Well much as I love Yoga I can’t pretend that it’s like some magic wand that just makes all your troubles disappear. But it can definitely help you to deal with whatever comes your way in a much more constructive way.
There are so many different reasons why a child may feel overwhelmed other than the ongoing global pandemic, as if that wasn’t enough! Anyone who has tried their hand at home schooling will know that it’s no picnic, neither for whoever is doing the “teaching” nor for the child involved. They might also have to contend with parents who are arguing more, maybe because they are getting sick of the sight of each other or have found themselves in a financial black hole. It’s also pretty boring being stuck at home with your family every day when you could be seeing your friends. In the case of older children, tweens and teenagers, you might want to throw in some errant hormones into the mix and you have all the ingredients for a truly monumental meltdown.
Even as adults we can’t always explain why we might be feeling down, so imagine how challenging it might be for a child. When words fail them they might end up lashing out or working themselves up into a frenzy (of course adults are not exempt from this kind of behaviour either!) The emphasis on proper breathing that is such a fundamental part of Yoga can also really help children deal with stressful situations. When children get upset about something they can make themselves short of breath, so showing them how to calm down by simply taking fewer, longer, deeper breaths is a great lesson to pass on. It sounds so simplistic but it really works. We all grew up with that phrase, “Just take a deep breath and calm down,” for a reason.
One of the fundamental tenets of Yoga is the notion that we should all try to be “more present”, in other words try and enjoy the moment rather than worrying about what lies ahead or mulling over the past. It sounds like a hippy cliche but “going with the flow” is pretty much an extension of this idea. We might not have any say in what restrictions the government may see fit to introduce, but we can control how we respond. Meditation, relaxation, call it what you will, but it’s basically about being in the moment. We might not know what lies ahead but we can deal with this moment and then we can deal with the next, and so on. Breaking things down like this, moment by moment, can make things seems much more bearable.
Getting children to “be in the moment” and keep still during relaxation isn’t always easy, although some do embrace it from the start. For others it may take longer, some may see it as pointless or boring. It’s the same with adults. Ironically it’s often those who find it the hardest to relax that need it the most. Learning to be still is a skill and it’s not just our bodies that need regular rest, so do our minds. Right now we are all bombarded with a lot of negative messages and relaxation is the perfect opportunity to give you brain a break from processing all that information.
The spiritual aspect of Yoga can be a bit of a turn off for both kids and parents at the beginning, whether they are religious or not. This is a shame because who would argue that we need more kindness in the world, especially now? And that really is what Yoga is all about - learning to be kinder to yourself and others. We can only demonstrate true compassion and respect for others if we are able to have self respect and compassion for ourselves first. Yoga teaches us that there’s something special in all of us. We’re so focused on appearances in our society that it’s good to be reminded it’s what’s on the inside that really matters. And if we can teach children that, hopefully they can avoid feelings of low self-esteem, despite the constant pressure to be perfect in everything.
Kids keep getting told that they need to do some daily exercise but not all children see themselves as sporty. I would have loved the chance to try Yoga when I was at school, as all we had to choose from was netball, hockey and tennis. Given that I was pretty useless at all of them, I would often try to find excuses to get out of PE and convinced myself I wasn’t sporty, which wasn’t great for my confidence. One of the great things about Yoga is that it’s not competitive (at least it’s not supposed to be although some people will always treat it as if it is). The notion that you can’t be good or bad at Yoga can be a godsend for someone who believes that they are just “no good at sports.” Being able to touch your toes doesn’t make you a better person than someone who can’t. From an early age children are pigeon holed - some are told that they are good at sports and others that they are academic - but all children, regardless of their innate skills, can get something out of Yoga.
If that all this talk about being in the moment and learning to love yourself sounds a bit too serious for most kids, think again. Above all, Yoga for children is about having fun. When I teach adults Yoga I often look around and everyone seems so serious. In my classes for kids or when I practice with my own children we always end up having a bit (or a lot) of a giggle. As far as they’re concerned Yoga is simply about enjoying yourself and we could all do with a bit more of that right now.
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