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Yoga Roots and Branches Supporting Children & Development

Updated: May 1, 2023

by Alyssa Linkletter and Staci Bina

Roots of Yoga

Roots of Yoga

Yoga has a longstanding tradition dating back thousands of years, originating in ancient India as a holistic system for physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It enables adults and children alike to connect with these essential parts, the roots of our being.

Connection to roots fosters self-awareness, confidence, authenticity, and healthy development.

When children connect to their roots, they have a strong foundation to spring from.

It becomes easier to navigate the multiple distractions and influences they encounter.

Through connecting with themselves early on, children are empowered to make better decisions and stay true to themselves as they grow and mature.

Whether you are a parent, caregiver or educator,

Imagine children knowing themselves beyond the level of the mind, and feeling at home, present, and relaxed in their own bodies. Imagine empowered and open-hearted children who are able to direct their intentions and actions with ease in an array of day-to-day situations; for example, while making new friends at school, raising their hand in class, easily focusing on homework, and any goals that are important to them. The recently widespread social emotional learning method provides many tools for interacting with others, however all of this is not even accessible if the child is disconnected, distracted, and dysregulated. To us at Bala Shala, yoga provides the best answer.

Branches of Yoga

Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, written by the ancient Indian sage Patanjali (widely credited to be the founder of yoga), is considered to be one of the foundational texts of yoga philosophy and practice. This book dives into the different aspects of yoga practice that we need to explore, overcome, and integrate to make our practice more meaningful for ourselves and for others. The Yoga Sutra presents the eight limbs of yoga, which is the most popular aspect of this work.

The eight limbs of yoga are specifically named limbs, as there are no “steps” or chronological order to approach them. Rather, they are all interconnected to each other, like branches of a tree. They all exist simultaneously.

For example, there are different ways of climbing a tree. When climbing a tree, you can go directly to one branch by climbing to it, or, you can reach a branch from another branch, or you can jump, or climb down.

We are not meant to master one branch, or limb, and then climb to the next one, and to the next, and finally achieve “Samadhi” and then we are done.

There is no limit to how far you can climb, as it is possible to progress in a multitude of directions, horizontally and vertically.

So, if there is a day where your yoga practice brings you to satisfy your craving for a fruit from a branch, which may be joy, you can stop there and then come back down the same branch. Or, conversely, if you feel you can go further that day, you can keep going, and hop, jump or swing on to the next branch, or limb.

Similarly there are different ways of moving forward in our yoga practices, with different paths and different expressions of growth.

Just as each branch contributes to a purpose, every component of yoga has a purpose - whether to heat the body, detox the body, or calm the mind, etc.

Physical exercises (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation (dyhana), are three great starting points to gain significant benefits from the practice.

While each of the eight limbs are important, these are the three limbs that we see on the yoga mat for children of all ages, all of which have been empirically proven to promote the following:

  • Physical exercises, known as asanas are practiced in held postures and moving sequences that keep the body strong, flexible, and relaxed. Asana practice strengthens the muscles and the nervous system, improves digestive activity, and refines our process of inner perception.

  • Breathing exercises, pranayamas, utilize deliberate control of breath in order to extend and expand prana, or vital life force energy. Pranayamas reduce stress and anxiety, improve respiratory function, boost the immune system, enhance focus and concentration, and promote relaxation and improved sleep.

  • Meditation, dyhana, fosters the development of mental clarity and improved wellbeing. Regular meditation practice can lead to improvement in the brain structure and function, such as increased gray matter density in areas related to attention and emotional regulation.

All together, these branches are part of the same tree.

The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means “to yoke” or “ to unite.” It's a way of bringing together what we already have towards integration and intentional directed activity.

As yoga teacher and author Donna Farhi stated, “It is a means of staying in intimate communication with the formative core matrix of yourself and those forces that serve to bind all living beings together.”

Bringing yoga early into the lives of children can be incredibly beneficial, as it grants them immediate access to their formative core matrix, i.e. their mind-body connection. Through yoga practice children are supported in building a foundation that cultivates empowerment throughout their vital developmental stages.

This practice is as old and ancient as it is refreshing! Yoga encourages a natural way of growth and healing that is in harmony with nature. It does not involve the use of any chemical or external components from the environment. There are no devices or instruments required. In fact, the practice can even be done without a mat. It is easily accessible, and the most essential practices can be done anywhere. For example, consider a basic but effective pranayama breathing exercise. Wherever there is air you can begin - whether you are sitting, walking, or standing. Asana postures can be practiced outside, in a classroom, on any floor, or in a chair.

Practicing yoga is as accessible as nature itself. Further, it allows us not only to stay in harmony with nature, but also with our own nature.

Seeds of Yoga

We can all agree that childhood is an important stage of life to embrace - as these first formative years are the first seeds of our life experience. In order to reap the most from it, it is integral for children to feel simultaneously safe and engaged, and open to learning and absorbing as much as they possibly can.

As Einstein stated, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Yoga allows everyone to experience their own genius as they plug into the power of their innate connection with their mind, body and spirit. Through learning yoga, kids experientially learn the value of deepening this connection - and in turn realize how limitless they truly are.

Learning this is possible without the use of external components or digital devices is the best kind of knowledge to pass on!

The knowledge provided through these practices enables children to feel empowered to stretch out into the world, as they strengthen their bodies and their minds and cultivate a balanced state of being.

Applied Practice, TREE POSE:

  • From standing position, maintain stability on one leg (right)

  • Right leg is straight, firmly rooted into the earth

  • Bend the left knee, and place your left foot on your ankle, calf, or high on your

thigh above the knee

  • Reach your tree branch arms out

  • Strengthen your arms as they stretch up to the sky

Yield to the earth, feel the rebound.

No matter what is happening in your tree, choose to stay and find what feels good

No matter what day or season, find a sense of balance and acceptance - sometimes you’re shedding leaves, and sometimes you’re growing fruit and ripening

If the wind blows, we sway—returns to balance, and gently bring your focus back

Connecting with Nutrient-Dense Soil

Despite the potency of seeds, innate connection and organic growth we all have access to, we have grown accustomed to feel deflated by modern day stressors. So much so that we have viewed them as inevitable, and even more hopelessly, as insurmountable.

As research has illuminated, however, most of disease is due to lifestyle over other factors, which largely points to being caused by an excess of stress.

Rather than fixing ailments at a later stage of life, children can benefit from learning yoga as early on as possible. There is not an age that is too young to learn how to self-regulate through breathing, focusing on what is happening in the present, and healthy physical activity.

Children can learn how to reduce stress on their own through many skill sets acquired through practicing yoga. While having fun practicing - and without even trying - children learn techniques to increase emotional regulation, mindfulness, attention, awareness of their unique skills, and feel comfortable in their own bodies. Consequently, children learn how to help themselves - which turns out to be a great source of confidence and empowerment.

These skills endure as the children mature into adults, guiding them towards a serene and harmonious relationship with their mind, body, relationships, and the world around them.

Yoga is a healthy activity - that when learned early on can be formed as a habit that can be continued throughout life. The practice can grow alongside children as they bloom, grow, and shoot their roots into the sky!

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