The philosophy and practices of classical Yoga are for application by adults and it can be anticipated that parents will naturally transmit appropriate information to their children.
However as Yoga offers a total education ranging from physical culture to mind training and spiritual awareness it is understandable that there are many aspects which can be contributed by the professional Yoga teacher and used to complement present educational systems that are found wanting. To help towards this end I dedicated many years pioneering in this field. In many parts of the world where I have travelled and presented ideas and techniques designed to adapt classical yoga teachings for children they have been enthusiastically received, serving to attract more teachers to this particular specialization.
In spite of disciplinary measures in education being at present unpopular in western countries, self discipline and self confidence nevertheless go hand in hand. Children must not be deprived of the benefits derived from early training whether the disciplinary measures relate to physical training or to character. It is well evidenced that discipline demanded from any teacher provides the initial basis for the student’s subsequent self discipline. Young Yoga students tend towards advanced intellectual development and a surprising number of them have become aware of spiritual life through their direct experiences of the power of love and goodness and the early awakening of their own intuition. All are encouraged to live a life of high ethical and moral standards.
Teenagers as they mature, generally find it of interest to learn more about themselves and their own physical, emotional and mental nature. They also have an innate interest in learning about all the natural philosophies and sciences, particularly over the last years as environmental issues have brought attention to the inter-relationship and inter-dependence of the various natural life kingdoms, confirming the very Oneness which is the essence of Yoga.
Direct benefits offered to children who learn Yoga generally include the following –
Greater understanding of their bodies and the need for maintaining health
Better muscular control over their physical bodies through exercise
Health improvement through correction of minor symptoms
Ability to experience self commanded muscular relaxation
Improved physical posture and mental attitudes
Instruction about healthy eating habits
Improved respiration and relief from complaints such as asthma and hyperactivity
Interest in drugless methods and encouragement towards natural remedies
Awareness of the need to build their own self image & confidence
Greater self awareness and psychological understanding
Mutual respect between the sexes – seen as equal but opposite
Increased and positive use of imagination and other mental faculties
Improved concentration and studies
Willing obedience and respect for parents, teachers, and elders
Greater resistance to damaging habits such as drugs, alcohol
Understanding of the importance of the principle of non-violence in thought and deed
Acceptance of greater self reliance and responsibility
Increased joy in living
Parents benefit in several ways by having children disciplined through Yoga classes. Well disciplined children become more amenable and co-operative. Parents benefit also as children improve in behaviour, politeness and respect and are able to develop natural creative enjoyments and enterprises rather than spending too much time with electronic toys and TV.
The ideal situation is that parents are students of Yoga themselves and therefore support the teachings in the home. Otherwise the simple principles discussed in classwork are like seed ideas which may sprout and grow in the child’s awareness in time, regardless of the degree of parental example or encouragement.
However, it is important that the Yoga teacher relates to parents. There must be a mutual line of communication so that the teacher can reinforce the ideas and support the methods used by the parents just as parents must agree with or be free to discuss the ideas introduced by the Yoga teacher. With careful guidance, infants from as young as 3 years of age benefit from interesting and well balanced classwork.
The qualified yoga teacher offers children a vital system of education complementary to the existent system in schools and teaches a practical way of building total health of mind and body. All fine yoga teachers, although maintaining their own unique style, adapt the classical teachings by specialised study and application of techniques modified for those of young age. Both the classical cautions and those which arise from more modern health research must be embraced to avoid over-stimulation or unbalancing natural physiological processes.
Teaching children is like gardening – and we sow seed ideas and concepts in their consciousness. These ideas will be nurtured should the child choose to cultivate them, to provide personal encouragement and simple spiritual direction to their lives on a sure foundation of self confidence.
The principles inherent in Yoga are gradually being incorporated in general training programmes and business management and will in time enrich all education by total awareness and training of each individual. This can be done by presentation not only of the physical and psychological health rules but by reminders of the universality of cultural and spiritual principles.
Sally Janssen is a writer, health educator and Yoga teacher well known iboth in Australia and abroad for her skill in demonstration of the Hatha Yoga practices and her wisdom in applying the principles of Raja Yoga -the study of the mind and consciousness.