August 31, 2011

The Essential Element of a Little Flower Yoga Children’s Class. ~ Jennifer Cohen Harper

Often we are asked what our children’s yoga classes actually look like. What are we teaching? Are we just practicing movement? Where does the mindfulness come in? Do kids actually calm down?

Below is an overview of the five elements that we consider essential aspects of any child’s yoga experience. These five elements are our way of making the traditional eight limbs of yoga more appropriate and relevant for children while still integrating a holistic experience.

Activities that explore these five elements are supported by the structure of an opening and closing ritual that remains the same in every class. This consistency offers children a the predictability that helps contribute to a sense of safety and reliability in the class.

Connect: In each class we make a deliberate effort to foster connections both for each student internally and among the students within the group. Yoga is all about coming together – connecting to the body and the mind, connecting to our true selves and connecting to others, connecting to the world and the universe as a whole. The way that we approach the element of connecting in class will vary based on the age of the children and the goals of the class for any particular day, but the theme of connecting to our own inner self, becoming more aware of emotions and experiences, and also forming a healthy loving community is always present. Often the means to practice connection is through mindfulness practice.

Breathe: The breath is one of our most powerful tools for self determination, and teaching children that they have some control over their own emotional and energetic state (their prana) is an empowering lesson. Gaining control of the breath in a safe way can be extremely beneficial in helping children regulate their emotions and energy level. Pranayama can also help children who suffer from asthma minimize their symptoms, and can help children struggling to concentrate regain their focus. All classes include breath work to an age appropriate degree, erring on the side of being cautious and gentle, with the emphasis on deep, slow belly breathing.

Move: Yoga poses (or asana) may be used in a variety of ways as tools to channel student’s energy, improve their health, build their confidence and for many other purposes. A central tenant of our classes is that no child will ever be forced or pressured into any posture that they feel uncomfortable with for any reason. The emphasis in our movement practice is on exploration, not competition. While we encourage students to work towards achievements, classes are designed to insure that all children experience many more successes then failures.

Focus: Children are naturally imaginative and open to visualization; however, for many students it is a struggle to keep the body still and the mind focused. This is a task they will be called upon to perform many many times in life. In addition to being restorative and relieving stress, learning to focus and calm the mind can do wonders for children’s ability to succeed in school, control their emotions, and get to know themselves during the critical developmental years. All classes incorporate activities that teach children focus, not just ask them to focus.

Relax: All students of any age will benefit from a relaxation period at the end of class. Our children are exposed to an overwhelming amount of sensory stimulation, are chronically sleep deprived, and generally have no idea how to calm themselves. Our classes are always timed to include substantial rest, incorporating both gentle restorative asana and savasana (a period of quiet time where students are guided into a state of calm relaxation).


Jennifer Cohen Harper is a leading voice in the children’s yoga community and dedicated to making yoga and mindfulness practices accessible to all children regardless of circumstance. She is the founder and director of Little Flower Yoga. Based in NY, Little Flower directly serves over 700 children per week, and reaches many more through a world wide network of trained teachers and school consultations. Jennifer leads the well respected Little Flower Yoga Teacher Training for Children program, is a faculty member at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, and frequently collaborates with other organizations to bring yoga for children to places as diverse as tent cities in Port-au-Prince and FAO Schwarz in Manhattan. Jenn is a  founding member of the Yoga Service Council, and an active member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists and the Association for School Yoga and Mindfulness. Children love Jenn’s willingness to engage in mutual silliness, while also appreciating the genuine respect that she has for her students of all ages. Learn more about Jennifer and LFY at www.littlefloweryoga.com.

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