Making Yoga a Family Affair

By Meg O'Connell – May 1, 2013
Photo by Stacy Berg

As summer approaches, we parents are excited to have the children out of school and have visions of spending those long, hot days relaxing around the pool. It also means that I examine my body with a more scrutinizing eye. I have had three babies and, although my body has changed with each decade, I still put a high priority on exercising and staying healthy. My children see me model this behavior and are familiar with balancing indulgences and good healthy choices. I am sure my oldest would say she has no choice but to mind this example because Papa works for Whole Foods and Mama is a yoga teacher, but I know the day is coming when she will feel the added pressures of growing up—peer acceptance and the feeling of a vulnerable self-esteem.

My children know I am strong physically and emotionally; they see me go on runs as well as teach and practice yoga daily. They know I value my health, and they understand that I believe in taking time for myself, but how do I help them find that internal strength, valued self esteem, and inner balance? My 10-year-old knows her body well; she knows when she needs to sleep or run around the block to change her mood, and she realizes that veggies and fruit make her feel better. But will she still feel strong and secure as her world changes?

How can people find non-competitive opportunities to feel better about themselves when we live in an atmosphere of constant competition? I have found yoga to be the answer. Yoga is the practice of finding and growing as an individual. Yoga helps to develop a strong sense of self and personal acceptance. I know this is true in my own life when I take the time to practice daily.

Yoga wasn’t popular when I was growing up but now there are yoga P.E. programs for middle and high school students as well as for preschool and elementary children all over town. I have had many conversations with other parents about what it would have been like to grow up with the benefits that yoga brings in posture, higher self-esteem, performance in dance, and sports, and injury avoidance. Yoga creates a foundation for an individual to move with a more conscious step; we come to feel how the body works together to support us and to find the connection between our breath and our body, mind, and spirit. Although my children might not know that they learned to balance on their bikes or stand up taller by hearing my yoga instructions to others, they internalized that instruction and their bodies respond to those cues.

All three of my children, ages 2 through10, think of yoga as fun. We turn on music that speaks to them and has a positive message. We practice Lion’s Breath and play with postures that are challenging to make them feel strong. We often refer to this time at our house as Mama’s Summer Yoga Bootcamp! With regard to my approaching adolescent, my goal is for her to feel empowered, less judgmental, and more confident and beautiful when she looks at herself in the mirror with a critical eye.

During the summer when all of Austin is shut inside because of the unbearable afternoon heat, why don't you try yoga as a family activity? Find a class or explore some as a family and see what happens. Use yoga to create a positive mirror for yourself and your children. Growing up can be difficult at times, and we parents want our children to be happy and healthy. The long days of summer come with plenty of time for fun in the pool, bike rides to dinner, happy family moments, and—maybe—a little yoga. Trust me: When you use yoga as that positive mirror, the world will look different, too.

Here are some fun postures to try with your children:

Crow: This complex posture asks the entire body to work together; it addresses fears and encourages strength. Years ago, my teacher said she was unable to master this posture until she dreamt herself in it.

Warrior 1: This position lets you move into your legs and really feel them open and root. By grounding your legs, you free the upper body to lift out of the hips, the heart to open, and neck and shoulders to rest.

Lion’s Breath: Kids love this because it is a loud breath and they get to stick their tongue out; it just feels good.

Plank: While experiencing your own strength, you feel how your legs can help take it out of the arms. Plank helps you strengthen your core and walk a bit straighter.
Goddess Pose: I love this pose because it does not take long to feel your legs and, at the same time, almost begs you to play with it. It is great for kids. Try doing Goddess Pose to music while moving your hips, or perhaps just come in and out of it while experiencing how the breath can really move you deeper.

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