Yoga is a sacred, intimate, and quiet practice. Family life can be busy, noisy, and chaotic. Can they co-exist?
They can and do. Many families are learning to weave yoga into their daily routine. Rather than a full-hour practice in a quiet, candle-lit space, family yoga at home often happens in spontaneous bits throughout the day. There are some key times to incorporate yoga into the family routine to cultivate a rhythm that everyone can come back to again and again. Children crave structure and ritual. Pausing to connect at times of key transitions helps families stay calm and centered. It can also help each member become more aware of his or her own unique rhythms in relation to the rhythms of the family system. This allows everyone to be more compassionate, tolerant, and at ease. Plus, family yoga can be a lot of fun.
Five minutes of yoga can create an almost magical sense of time-bending.
The families I work with as a yoga therapist often report mornings as the most hectic time of day. Kids are off to school and parents are off to work, and everyone has their own pace. Some kids are rockets of energy, others move more like a sloth. Time pressure can have everyone feeling on edge, and five minutes of yoga can create an almost magical sense of time-bending. Three rounds of sun salutations (surya namaskar), six rounds of “Switch Breath” (alternate nostril breathing), or a few partner poses, set the tone for a relaxed and engaging day.
Mornings often roll out more smoothly when clothes are laid out the night before and lunches are packed and in the fridge. This can work for the yoga practice, too. Set the mats out in a circle on the living room floor before bedtime and place a flower or other uplifting image in the center. Even if Dad is just stepping off his mat as youngest brother steps onto his, there is still this shared, sacred space where the family is connecting through ritual.
Another potentially chaotic time of day for families is the transition home from school. Of course, each family is unique. Not all parents are at work, and not all kids go to traditional schools. For many kids though, the pressure of schoolwork, peers, and the tight structure of the day can leave them feeling like a capped steam valve. When they get home, they let loose. This is especially true for children who have learning preferences that don’t align with standard teaching methods.
Kids crave parental contact and attention. Three partner poses with some synchronized breathing and a “Magic Carpet Ride” (a child’s version of shavasana) as a welcome home ritual becomes an effective segue for the children. They know they will have the support they need when they get home. They can let off that steam and enjoy the evening. It doesn’t even need to be yoga postures.
Jen Robertson, President of Chicago Kids Yoga LLC and YogaMapp Inc., says, “I never push my kids with a physical practice, as it should be an honor and a prayer, not a task. The practice for us goes beyond physical poses and encompasses how we view our lives, our connection as a family, and how we move through the world making choices and interacting with others.”
Mealtimes are also a great opportunity to pause, reflect, express appreciation, and connect.
Mealtimes are also a great opportunity to pause, reflect, express appreciation, and connect. Choosing to establish the evening meal as important family time where everyone sits down together and gives their full attention to the food and the people with whom they are sharing it provides a sacred space where everyone can feel heard, supported, and loved. It’s these conditions that make potentially difficult situations in life more manageable.
Bedtime is another ideal time for a 5-minute yoga practice. Slow sun salutations or some stretching on the floor (or in bed) help the nervous system work out the frenetic energy of the day. Sharing the highlights and lowlights of the day helps children process emotions and thoughts that could otherwise keep them up at night. Chanting is a lovely bedtime ritual. It can simply be a few rounds of Om, singing along to a kirtan CD, or the Maha Mrityunjaya mantra. Many children enjoy falling asleep to these mantras. It’s the secret set-up for a great tomorrow.
The Robertson family loves chanting together. It’s a big part of their morning, whether it's on the mat or in the car singing kirtan before school. Jen says, “Many times the kids come back after school and share that they thought of the mantra throughout their day, knowing that they could come back to the mantra when the day didn't go so well or to celebrate when they felt joy.”
Children often come up with creative and clever ideas, too.
The first few weeks with this new kind of routine may be met with some resistance, as with any change. It’s like introducing a new food. Stick with it and let the practice itself guide you. Use your intuition and make it your own. Children often come up with creative and clever ideas, too. They like to make up poses, tell stories, and create characters. This can all become a part of your family’s unique yoga practice. Let it be easy.