Using Yoga to Teach Kids to Stay Calm in Stressful Situations


From the chapter titled “Giving Children Space to Grow.”

Parents, caregivers and educators know that it takes effort to be in a state of heart-connection and mindfulness when they are with children. Knowing they are the future of our world, our love for them can inspire and motivate us to remain connected to our own inner guidance.

Children learn what they live, as well as what they witness the adults around them living. In my Montessori training, we called this phenomenon the “absorbent mind,” especially with reference to children between zero and six years old. Small, seemingly insignificant incidents are actually important, because consciously or unconsciously, children draw conclusions about life from the beliefs and attitudes of those around them in everyday life.

When we relax with “what is,” we create space around the issue—and not only does this space bring us peace in the moment, but it makes room for creative solutions to flow into our awareness.

In order to develop a feel for the transformative power of internal shifts, I invite you to experiment with allowing. Begin with something easy—such as a small comment someone makes about you that just doesn’t sit right, or a chronic behavior you wish your child did not have. Don’t energize the feeling by attaching to it similar thoughts from your past, or by steeling yourself against the feeling. The monster in the closet just gets bigger when, in fear, we push it away. When we relax with “what is,” we create space around the issue—and not only does this space bring us peace in the moment, but it makes room for creative solutions to flow into our awareness.

Izabela is a long-time yoga teacher who specializes in working with children and is also a trainer for my Radiant Child Yoga program. While Izabela has found tremendous value in teaching yoga poses and exercises, she knows that teaching children requires a vital element that is above and beyond yoga practice. She keeps close to her heart this teaching from the Radiant Child Yoga manual: to hold an intention of the highest well-being on every level: body, mind, and spirit for yourself and for the children in your care.

According to Izabela, “When children are anxious and fearful, this intention empowers me to become a non-anxious presence—not only in the children’s lives but also in my own.”

Remaining steady is not always easy to do.  We can draw inspiration from the way in which Izabela handled an incident that occurred while she was teaching a children’s yoga class in a private school. There were about ten children in Izabela’s care, ages four and up. They were about to start, sitting in a semicircle, when all of a sudden there was a lot of commotion outside of the classroom. Doorbells were ringing over and over, and raised, nervous adult voices could be heard. It was a distraction that could not be ignored. Jeremy, Izabela’s co-teacher, went into the hall to investigate. Izabela heard someone say, “Car accident! Call the ambulance!”

Although the children were young, they were aware of the sense of panic in the adults’ voices. and they understood their words enough to know that something bad had happened. They huddled near Izabela, with anxiety and fear showing on their faces. Then, to make matters worse, another teacher entered the room with about twenty more children and announced, “Everybody has to stay with Izabela. Don’t leave the room.” Then she left, leaving Izabela with about thirty children, none of them older than ten. She watched their anxiety and nervousness increase, and some of the children appeared ready to cry.

In the intensity of the moment, Izabela’s feelings of anxiety also rose. Thankfully, she became immediately aware of her feelings and remembered that children are super-sensitive to the emotions of adults. She knew she had to project a calm and reassuring presence in an authentic manner in order to help them through what they were experiencing. She gave a warm smile and opened her arms, inviting the new children to join the yoga circle. “It is wonderful for you to be part of our yoga class today,” she said in a cheerful and calm voice.

The children gladly sat down, and Izabela said, “Please sit with your legs crossed, and then take hold of your outside ankle. Pretend this is your saddle. We are going to ride our bumpy camel across the desert. Breathe in deeply as you stretch forward … Now breathe out … Keep moving and breathing. Now go a little faster. Remember, it is very hot in the desert, and we want to get across it quickly!”

She saw smiles flashing around the room and felt the energy change from anxiety to relaxation. Then she finished the warm-up routine with the song “Fly Like a Butterfly,” which is part of the Radiant Child Yoga program. The children embraced the song with excitement, and it became a wonderful way to help their minds travel to a beautiful place, where they laughed with each other as they talked about what kind of butterfly they would like to be and places they would like to fly to.

Next, Izabela enthusiastically said, “Let’s go on a little adventure.”“Yes!” they shouted. And they were off, jogging through the jungle, pretending to be all kinds of animals, traveling through the tall grass and walking like crabs.

Typically at the end of the animal adventure, everyone lies down in the relaxation pose.  However, with the situation just outside the room, Izabela’s guidance told her this would not be effective at the moment. Instead, she decided to continue with a wonderful Radiant Child meditation called “I am happy.” Upon hearing this song, every child gave Izabela their complete attention, imitating her movements and repeating the mantra after her: I am happy, I am good. I am happy, I am good. I am, I am, I am free! Happy, happy, happy to be me!

The children’s enthusiasm gave Izabela confidence that everything was going to be all right—everyone just had to believe in themselves. That message was relayed effectively to the children because it rang true for them. In quite a natural and nurturing manner, the children showed how truly amazing they were, and it helped them to lift each other up as they sang. When the other teacher reentered the room, the environment was noticeably different. The children were chanting I am happy, I am good. I am happy, I am good. This wonderful new energy was created within about a thirty-minute time period.

Despite the very stressful situation, Izabela stayed with her intention of bringing a deeper sense of peace and calm to everyone in the room—including those unfamiliar with yoga. According to Izabela, “Every time I am given the joy of sharing yoga with children, I strive wholeheartedly to convey positive and encouraging subtle messages through my thoughts and feelings. That is conveyed in the use of cheering words, engaging and fun activity, and my own emotions and body language. The children’s response to the positive energy is truly magical!”

Excerpt from The Yoga Way to Radiance: How to Follow Your Inner Guidance and Nurture Children to Do the Same, by Shakta Khalsa, published by Llewellyn Publications, 2016.

About the Teacher

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Shakta Khalsa
Shakta Khalsa has had the great blessing to work with—and love—children and yoga since the mid-1970s.... Read more