7 Steps for Family Yoga Practice Success
Imagine how different the world would be if families regularly engaged in mind-body awareness and integration practices, like yoga and meditation. This could create time for everyone to be themselves, without judgement, in an holistic way. While it is admirable to want to develop a family yoga practice, it’s not always easy. Sure, there are those unicorn families who have their yoga lifestyle so dialed in that family practice just magically happens. For most of us, a few helpful pointers can guide our thinking and lead us to start developing family yoga moments.
Be True to Your Own Practice
As parents or guardians, the most practical and sustainable way to integrate yoga and meditation into family life is to be true to our own practice. Our balanced presence in daily life provides the foundation for yoga to grow in our families. And in our own practice, we enjoy at least some degree of control. For a family practice, it may be helpful to relinquish the need to control and enter the experience with an attitude of allowing and encouraging. I hope the following considerations will help you guide your family to a peaceful experience of yoga together.
1 Drop expectations
If your intention is to create a peaceful family dynamic through yoga and meditation, start by releasing specific expectations that could cause you any stress. For instance, let go of needing family yoga time to be of a certain length or to follow a regimented plan.
2 Create customs around your own practice
Whether it’s an asana practice on a mat or sitting practice on a cushion, or both, let your family know that this is a special time in your day or week. Invite your children to join by being on their own mat or cushion. They can participate or simply be present in a respectful way. You can offer books or coloring supplies near you. If you don’t mind them climbing on you like a jungle gym during downward facing dog pose, let them. If it’s bothersome to you, set the boundary lovingly that you are connecting with your own body. Encourage them to do the same.
3 Seek out experienced children’s yoga and meditation teachers
Look for classes, apps or DVDs to introduce the idea and then build on that. It’s a funny thing, but some kids are more drawn to practicing when they know yoga and meditation exist beyond their own parents. As a kids’ yoga teacher, I found it super helpful to have my own sons participate in classes with other teachers to learn the basics. Then we were able to call on that experience at home. You will also pick up ideas on how to approach the practices in child-friendly ways.
4 Resources including books and card decks are helpful for young kids
A couple of my favorite decks: Mindful Games by Susan Kaiser Greenland and Move With Me Yoga Adventures by Leah Kalish. Both sets are loaded with simple, family-friendly yoga and mindfulness activities. Animal medicine cards or nature-based cards are also helpful. Allow your kids to choose a card and play out the animal or force of nature. For younger children up to age six, stories are wonderful. Let the practices start to grow organically from reading a book or engaging with a deck.
5 Purposeful Timing and Setting
When you are ready to create a more focused time for family yoga, a few considerations can be helpful. First, what is your motivation for wanting your family to practice together? It may seem obvious at first, but the more clearly you articulate the purpose of family practice to yourself, the more able you’ll be to communicate it to your loved ones.
Allow your intention to guide the process. This way, if you meet resistance, you can navigate it gracefully. Next, choose a time and place wisely. What time of day and week seem most balanced for your family? Is there a place in your home that lends itself well to practice?
For my family, a lazy Sunday morning by the fireplace provides a peaceful setting. Or outside on a big blanket under a shady tree. You might also enjoy seizing a moment that presents itself, rather than planning ahead. Go with what feels right to you.
I suggest choosing a time when there is space to play, rather than attempting to use yoga to intervene during hurried or stressful moments. Finally, consider your child’s developmental phase for how much time to spend. For children under three years old, allow unstructured, completely organic engagement with your yoga practice. Pre-school children ages three through six can begin to build up to 20 minutes of playful practice. Children aged seven and up can begin to focus longer, depending on their interest level.
6. Safety first, always
If you are not sure a practice is safe for your child, choose a different one. It’s not important, and can be detrimental, for young children to practice advanced backbends and inversions. Stick to simple, basic postures that involve the least risk of injury or long term alignment impact.
7. Process over progress
Temper the temptation to constantly correct and adjust your little ones postures. Model appropriate alignment. Children tend to resist family yoga time when it becomes too rigid. Partner yoga postures are wonderful ways to connect and breathe together. Sitting back to back and simply feeling each other’s breath is a powerful starting point that can create harmony. Or have one family member at a time take child’s pose while everyone else places one hand on their back. Feel them breathe and send them love.
Allow Mindful Moments in Family Yoga
Family yoga time will likely look and feel very different than your personal practice. Be open to what each family member brings to the situation. Remember that often times the obstacle is the path. Work with whatever presents itself in the moment. In doing so, your family may just experience a mindful moment, whether it involves a traditional practice or not.
Abby Wills is the co-founder and program director of Shanti Generation, a media program that guides teens to bring mindfulness into life: shantigeneration.com.