This article written by Family Yoga teacher and found of Enchanted Wonders cards, Ayala Homossany, shares five simple steps for fostering children’s creativity and self expression through yoga. This feature was originally published in September 2018 issue of Om Yoga Magazine.
I chose the best job in the whole world.
I chose a job where I could witness magic unfold every single day.
But, let me tell you this. To be able to see magic, one should believe in magic and I do be-lieve!
As a mother of 3 boys, I remember looking at each of them when they were in their early years and being amazed by their creativity and the different ways in which that creativity was expressed. How easily they could transform, in no time at all, a scarf into a superhero cape, a powerful erupting volcano or a magical carpet. The room itself would change to suit their new creation. That was truly magical! I always had a little prayer that this spark of creativity and self-expression in them would stay with them forever.
After the arrival of my second son, almost 17 years ago, I started training as a yoga teacher and focused my attention on yoga for children and families. Over time, while sharing yoga with children, I was exposed to the magic of imagination and creativity. However, I no-ticed that this magic faded away as the children grew up. It took me few years to under-stand the connection between yoga, self-confidence, creativity and imagination and how yoga can be used as a tool to help children manifest their own abilities.
To get things straight, most child-development theories view young children as highly creative with a natural tendency to fantasise, experiment and explore their environment. However, this high level of creativity is not necessarily maintained throughout childhood and into adulthood. So, here are 5 simple steps to explore as you share yoga with children how to support their creativity and nourish that magic in them:
1. Boost their confidence – For creativity to manifested, self confidence is important. One way of building confidence during a yoga session, is by allowing the children to choose and decide. By doing so, the child experiences the process of making their own choices and trusting their own choices. In my yoga classes, I lay out on the floor several cards with yoga poses on them and invite the children to choose 5 cards (depending on the child’s age) and then let them decide in which order they would like to place the cards. After they made their choice I join them and together we follow their yoga sequence. Letting them lead and find their way of preforming the poses contributes dramatically to their confidence and self-esteem.
2. I am – Another way to boost children’s confidence and help them manifest their creativity is by offering them opportunities to appreciate and recognise their qualities. In one of my recent classes, I asked the children as we were playing with the ‘I Am’ card from the Enchanted Wonders A-Z Cards, to share a quality they like about themselves. A four year old answered and said that she likes her heart. I found this to be so innocent and beautiful. An interesting activity to share with children is to invite them to stand up with their legs apart and swing their arms from side to side while changing the hand that is touching their chest, their heart. As they touch their heart with their hand, invite them to share a quality they like about themselves. Some children might be embarrassed at first, but soon enough they will come up with some amazing answers.
3. Open ended questions – We are all born with an inherent curiosity and all we need is a safe space to explore. Looking at children’s eyes when they have a Eureka moment is simply watching magic unfolds. Sparking their curiosity by offering open ended ques-tions during a yoga session, allows us to get a glimpse of their creative mind and be part of the ride. Questions such as: ‘How does it make you feel when you do a certain pose’; or, ‘What do you feel in your body and in your mind after relaxation?’; or other questions that open exploration and validate their experience. Guiding the children to question the obvious, will enable them later on to maintain their curiosity and tap into their creativity including when they are off the yoga mat.
4. No rights or wrongs – By adapting the notion of creativity and emphasising the creative process, rather than judging the quality of the pose, we adults, become more attentive to the cognitive processes of the children rather than to the result. When we are not judging, we are offering children a safe space to explore more than one way of practicing a familiar pose, and by accepting their interpretation of the pose, we demonstrate to them that there are no rights or wrongs, just different ways of looking at things. This approach frees minds and helps find ideas or solutions and overcome creative blocks and manage criticisms. The yoga session is a perfect time to encourage playfulness and creative thinking. For example, invite the children to share with you how their tree will look like if it would have grown on the mountain, or maybe in the desert. How about an evergreen tree, how its branches will look like as opposed to a tree in the wind. All trees are welcome and all answers will contribute to elevating the child’s creative mind and self-expression.
5. Stress inhibits creativity – Creativity and stress don’t mix well. Research found that whenever we’re stressed, the brain reallocates resources to the primitive parts of the brain, prioritising primal emotions over abstract thinking and creativity. When we are under high stress levels, we’re locked out of the creative part of the brain at a basic neurological level. Equipping children with tools to learn how to unwind, be aware of their feelings and use their breath to lower stress levels can contribute to their ability to continuously tapping their creative minds. Relaxation and breath awareness are an integrated part of a yoga session. Squeezing and realising different muscles and different parts of their body, while lying down, can help children get a sense of how it feels when the body is tensed as opposed to when it relaxes. You can guide them to identify stress by asking them to start and squeeze their toes and then let go, then move up to their legs, their bellies, arms, fists, shoulders and face. Finally, squeeze the whole body and then let go. Combine this with breathing exercises and you are sure to offer them a tool for life.