Early childhood yoga classes are very different than what most adults have learned to expect from a yoga class. There are no assigned spots on yoga mats, there’s a fair amount of noise, and a lot more singing and playing games than your typical vinyasa flow class. Savasana, or final relaxation, is another way tot and preschooler family yoga is very different from an adult class.
When I teach adults how to share yoga with children, I describe an adult savanna and explain that adults have absorbed lots of social conditioning over our lives so far. For the most part, if we are told to lie down, close our eyes, and be still for 5 minutes, we are going to do that…even if we are uncomfortable, distracted, or just totally miserable. Children have no such conditioning.
Even in a class for school age yogis, there’s a good bit of fidgeting and moving around for many children and success is defined in moments of stillness, not many minutes. Asking a dozen toddlers or preschoolers to lie still for 5 minutes without providing a lot of support is doomed to failure. So instead, we make Savasana age appropriate.
Savasana in Tot Family Yoga Class
Our tot classes are for children between the age of crawling and 24 months. While they mimic the teacher and their parents, they don’t really follow instructions. Final relaxation in this class is for the caregiver to take a few minutes to focus on their breathing and let their guard down, and to model the example of resting for their children to observe.
Parents lie down on yoga mats or in legs-up-the-wall while the instructor blows bubbles to entertain the little ones. Some will snuggle up with parents or stay near them, others will wander the room. It is highly unusual for children in this age group to spontaneously close their eyes. For most toddlers, a yoga classroom would not feel like a safe space to close their eyes – there’s simply too much going and too many unknowns. So the teacher doesn’t ask the toddlers to close their eyes or be still at all and instead invites them to quietly catch bubbles. The instructor also keeps an eye on everyone so parents can relax.
Savasana in Preschooler Family Yoga Class
Once children turn about 2 years, Savasana in early childhood yoga starts to change. First, 2-4 year olds are too fast and loud for group bubble play to be relaxing. Second, this age child can begin to be able to follow directions and rest during an age-appropriate final relaxation time, but still need significant support to do so.
Again parents find a resting position or legs-up-the-wall, but encourage their children to join them and assist them into position. From there, the parents become quiet and still, responding to their children as needed, of course, but primarily demonstrating relaxation time. The instructor moves around the room and blows bubbles on individual children’s toes in legs up, or for them to follow or pop with a fingertip in other resting positions.
Tip: Some children like to do legs up next to their parents while others do best lying face up on their parents chest.
If children get out of position, it is often best for their parents to simply stay put. The instructor will guide the child back to their parents if they become disruptive or on their turn for bubbles. It’s fairly common for children of this age to have a strong need to watch what everyone else is doing. Usually, this is fine and the instructor can manage the child in addition to blowing bubbles and helping other families in Savasana. Some young yogis need to watch the teacher closely every week for moths, while others seem to satisfy that need after one or two times following around the room.
Sometimes (usually in groups with many 3-4 year olds), the teacher will incorporate a story at the end of class – inviting the children to gather close but allowing the parents to stay in relaxation pose even longer or join the story, whichever suits their family best.
Parents’ Role in Savasana
Regardless of the age group, it is the job of parents to model quiet and calm during this time. Minimizing movement and keeping voices at a whisper are among the ways parents can help final relaxation time be successful.
By practicing finding quiet and calm amidst activity, parents are doing yoga more challenging than poses offered in intermediate or advanced vinyasa classes. While what we often think of when we think of yoga, postures are actually a means to an end. Stilling the thought waves of the mind and connecting to our most essential self IS yoga.
This part of practice yields the most benefits of all the techniques in any yoga classes. Finding stillness and quiet during yoga class may make it easier to find that same spaciousness during our every day lives. That space can mean the difference between reacting instinctively to something our child does and responding skillfully and as our best possible self.
About the Author
Jennifer Mueller has been teaching yoga for children and families in Washington DC since 2008. Jen is a Yoga Alliance® Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RTY 200) and Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher (RCTY) as well as a Certified Educator of Infant Massage (CEIM), a Certified Baby Signing Time Instructor, and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
Jen teaches Breathing Space Baby Yoga & Play classes, Tot, Toddler and Little Families Yoga, afterschool yoga, Baby & Toddler Signing Time, and directs day-off and summer camps . . . in addition to offering lactation support and doing bunch of behind the scenes stuff to keep it all running.