Teaching yoga to toddlers may seem like a daunting task, but it is a truly wonderful experience to share with your little ones. I’ve created a simple guide to creating a yoga-friendly environment with your family so you can feel confident in teaching fun and easy yoga poses to your toddler.
I loved practicing yoga with our daughter when she was baby. We learned, moved, and had fun together. Although she is older now, remembering our early days spent practicing yoga when she was a baby still warms my heart. We are on this yoga-inspired journey together, and I continue to learn from her every day.
I hope that by introducing a light and playful yoga practice at home, you too can build a healthy lifestyle, teach your toddler how to take responsibility for her/his actions, foster compassion, and generally enjoy a happy, peaceful life.
10 ways to teach toddler yoga:
1 | Act out books
While reading some of your favorite books with your toddler, try acting out the characters in the story. We love the Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle books, for example. With Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, try hugging a tree like a baby bear, walk on your hands and knees like a red fox, spread out like a flying squirrel, tiptoe like a mountain goat, and flap your wings like a blue heron. Don’t worry about doing perfect poses; just encourage your child to have fun with movement and story. You will be surprised how many actions turn out naturally to be similar to yoga poses.
2 | Create their own special yoga space
Try using a smaller yoga mat for your little one. Pick up a mini yoga mat or cut a regular one to a smaller size. Our daughter used to love playing underneath me when I practiced my morning yoga, but now, she proudly brings out her own yoga mat. Yoga mats are obviously not a mandatory part of a yoga practice, but having a special place to practice becomes a sacred part of the process. Feel free to add other special rituals (like bringing out a meaningful object, having a special cuddle, lighting a candle, or turning on music) to mark the start of your yoga experience together.
3 | Pretend to be animals
My friend recommended the Schleich lifelike animal figurines to accompany the That’s Not My… book series, and we used them when our daughter was an infant. As a toddler, she used to act out the animals while practicing their sounds too. You can stretch up like a giraffe, walk like a bear, make your hands into a moose’s antlers, or crawl like a tiger. You could also bring out your stuffed animals or animal fridge magnets instead of figurines. Then add some thematic music to get you both in the mood. Your toddler will probably come and go from the practice, but just keep going… your enthusiasm will bring them back to the fun.
4 | Bring awareness to their breath
Breathing is incredibly important, and we can teach children early on how to breathe in a healthy fashion. We can help them bring awareness to their breath, just a moment here and there. Be light and playful. Encourage your child to inhale by smelling a fresh flower or fragrant food. She can also practice her exhale by blowing into a tissue, blowing a cotton ball across the floor, or blowing out a candle. She’ll be able to use her deep-breathing techniques to help manage her highly stimulating and stressful life now and later on.
5 | Go on a field trip
When we went to the zoo, we watched an elephant eating the leaves up high in a tree. Now our daughter pretends to be an elephant with her two arms in the air. Try using trips to the zoo or farm as opportunities to pretend to be different animals. Encourage your children’s creativity and playfulness. Positive reinforcement and repetition is the key.
6 | Meditate together
When I manage to take five minutes to meditate in the morning, I sit cross-legged on a bolster, close my eyes, and focus on my breathing. Nothing fancy. Our daughter still comes to sit on my lap after all these years. I hold her close so that she can start to notice the sound and movement of my breath. Try introducing the idea of “quiet time” with your toddler, which will help him to deal with his busy life as he grows up.
7 | Watch a kids yoga video together
We used to watch and play along with a Spanish kids yoga video together. Our daughter sat on the bolster or on her yoga mat and watched the students as they pretended to visit the beach, the farm, and Africa. She joined in with her little “om” to start the class. Then she popped up at different times to pick coconuts, eat leaves like a giraffe, or sway like a tree. We talked about the different animals and things we saw along the journey. Kids yoga videos are available in English too, or you can check YouTube. It was a fun way for our daughter to see older children practicing yoga in a more structured environment. Please note that we are not advocates of infants watching TV, and we encourage you to do what’s best for your family. Kids yoga books and kids yoga poses cards (link: www.shop.kidsyogastories.com) are also a great option.
8 | Be outdoors
When we go for hikes, we like to talk to our daughter about what we see in nature. You could pretend to stand on one leg likes trees, grow like flowers, hop like kangaroos, squat like possums, hug trees like koalas, or fly like birds. The physical postures (asanas) of yoga were invented centuries ago by Indians imitating their natural surroundings. We can invent our own asanas even today. This is a fun way to discuss and experience Mother Nature through movement.
9 | Relax and rest together
Every yoga class ends in Resting Pose (Shavasana), which becomes a treasured part of the experience. Practice different ways of relaxing together either by having your child lie flat on your belly; having them lie beside you, tucked under your shoulder; or sitting up on your belly, supported by your bent knees as you lie on your back. Take the opportunity to bond and connect together in silence. Tune in to each other. Focus on your breath. Let your worries fall away.
10 | Experience yoga everywhere
On a road trip around the southwestern United States a few years ago, our daughter would spontaneously do a Downward-Facing Dog Pose in different locations. A friend also told me that her daughter used to drop down into Lotus Pose while waiting in a grocery line. There are many opportunities to just “do yoga” whenever, wherever. For example, you could hold your child close while riding the bus, so he can feel your belly breath. Or you could both do small twists or balances while waiting at the doctor’s office. Encourage their creative expression and movement. We can learn the principles of yoga from our toddlers, as well. They are also our teachers.
Image of our daughter in Child’s Pose on The Little Yoga Mat.
As you will see, yoga is so much more than the physical postures. This ancient wisdom also teaches breathing, mindfulness, relaxation, mantras, and the guiding principles to becoming a happy, responsible, and compassionate human being.
I hope that by integrating these simple tools into your life, you can be bring joy, movement, and calm to your children and family now and for years to come.