Movement, and therefore yoga, is essential for fast-growing bodies. Yoga can also provide pre-teens with essential life tools such as self-esteem and confidence, inner and outer strength, attention and concentration, and heightened awareness of both oneself and others.
So how do you get your pre-teen hooked on yoga? We're not talking songs and yoga journeys, but it can’t be boring! Make yoga interesting for them with some of these ideas.
1. "Fun" is good, but "cool" is better!
Be cool. - Pre-teens can be intimidating with their eye rolls, their skepticism, and their brutal observations. But never fear! You are cool, and they will love you; you just have to show them! Use your strengths, be confident, and whatever you are, be more of it!
Use cool music. - Music is a language, so play music that resonates with your tweens to create a connection. Find out what kind of music they think is cool and play it in your class. Let them practice yoga and create yoga sequences based on this music. Letting them plug their iPods into the sound system once in a while also makes yoga cool for pre-teens!
Anything you can show off to your friends is cool! - Kids love a challenge and they love sharing their accomplishments. Introduce them to cool and challenging yoga poses and nourish their excitement for movement.
Allow them to experience their world beyond just the physical realm by introducing other elements into class such as acrobatics, acro-yoga, other circus arts, dance, drama, capoeira and martial arts, Thai Massage, energy sensing and healing exercises.
2. Love yourself.
Pre-teens are particularly vulnerable to developing a low body image. I regularly hear children in this age group making negative comments about their personal appearance.
Yoga is very pleasurable, and it connects us to our body. It helps tweens learn how to enjoy and love their body too. It's important to emphasize that beauty comes from within.
When you are happy, confident, and proud of yourself, you radiate beauty. ~Gopala Amir-Yaffe
Let yourself shine from the inside out!
3. Make them move!
Make sure that there is a good warm-up, then build the intensity of the poses gradually. Younger children are more active and can be warm even before the yoga class begins. However, keep in mind that the influences of our modern world mean that many of them spend a lot of time warming up only their thumbs while using their electronic devices. So warm up is a MUST!
4. Keep it balanced.
When working with children, the story that is created during the class is more important than a specific sequence of poses. We trust that the incorporation of different yoga poses into the flow of the class will feel good; however, classes for older children require investing more thought into making the class balanced.
Incorporate standing and sitting poses, backward and forward bends, side bends, twists, inversions, and balancing poses into every class. Introduce challenging poses too! Put more emphasis on technique and accuracy in the poses, as well as the importance of deep and regular breathing.
5. Experience the benefits.
Children soak up knowledge like a sponge. Teach the physical and mental benefits of the practice, so that they’ll know how great it is for them!
Bring their attention to the specific muscles that are being stretched or strengthened in every pose. This is the best way encourage more awareness to their practice. Ask them where in their bodies they are experiencing the stretch. Make it experiential!
6. Follow their lead.
Take advantage of all the energy that the group brings, and make them feel included. Co-create the class with your tween students and let them be the teacher for a while.
Try a Sun Dance, for example. No words are needed, just put on some groovy music and allow anyone to step into the center of the circle and lead a sequence of flowing poses. Über-cool!
7. Find hip new ways to do yoga.
Kids don't want to do what their parents or grandparents do. They want to do their own thing and discover new ways to do yoga too! Here are some things you can try:
- Partner yoga sequences
- Human mandalas, or group yoga flows
- Play Follow-My-Body, in which everyone follows a leader in a sequence to some cool music and without words.
- Do The Wave in a yoga class. (Kids love it.) Have one start with a pose, and the one after another, everyone follows along with the same pose.
- Kids love media. Make a yoga movie by videotaping parts of the class and share them with your private yoga Facebook group.
- Kids of this age are exploding with creativity! Nourish it by allowing them to create new yoga poses or coming up with new ways to do yoga together.
Class with a Concept
Amidst all this fun, remember to keep focused. We never do a class that is just a collection of games; there must always be a topic or a theme to glue it all together. It gives the class direction and enriches it with more depth and substance. We call this Class with a Concept. In these classes, everything we do centers on one topic or concept that relates to all the poses and games we choose.
Invite their input at the beginning of class with a short discussion about the topic in which everyone contributes something. It is great to do this during the "Sole Mate" exercise in which we all sit in a circle and give a foot massage to our neighbor. You can also pass around a speaking instrument. Use your creativity—you don’t want this to dissolve into a boring lecture.
Ideas for concepts can be physical or emotional. Fun physical concepts can include anything from falling, being upside down, being soft, opening our breath and heart, partnering or group work, being slow. Other ideas to explore could be love, happiness, trust, communication, friendship, working together, creativity, and imagination.
Design around your concept. For example, if the concept is ‘trust,’ you can ask each child in the circle to tell you about someone they trust, or about someone they think trusts them. Then, do poses that require the children to trust themselves, like Head Stand or Crow Pose. You can also do poses like counterbalances and acrobalances which require them to trust on another.
Bring the concept to life. When they first try Crow, most of them fall. When I ask what they were thinking when they did the pose, most answer that they were thinking their face would smash into the floor. I ask them to do the pose again but to trust that they can totally do it. I encourage them to visualize themselves already in the pose. The result? Most of them will put more trust in themselves and achieve the pose!
Give them a break. Finish class with massage or a ‘loving kindness’ meditation. These kids are bombarded with advertisements, school lessons, and media trash all day. They'll love the opportunity for a little peace.
In the end, being "cool" is just an entry point to connecting with these kids' creative and beautiful spirits. Have patience, have fun, explore, and learn a little more about yourself when working with this group!