If you enjoy the great outdoors, and you enjoy yoga, I hope you’ve had the opportunity to merge the two together and take your practice outside. If you have, then you’ve experienced firsthand how taking your practice out under the sky can enhance both your practice and your connection to the natural world.
If we can find a way to give this experience to kids, what a gift for the children around us! We know that yoga is great for kids, and that being out in nature is also wonderful for their well-being. So, how do we bring more of both into their lives?
How do we do this in a way that establishes a connection between the yoga and nature for kids, enhancing their experience of both yoga and the outdoors? In what ways can we merge those two goods and make it great? Let’s find out!
Open Spaces, Open Arms, Open Hearts
Why do yoga outside? Outdoor play and doing yoga both share a host of benefits for kids. Doing them simultaneously provides a synergy you just can’t beat!
- Both improve breathing and circulation.
- They help develop strength and flexibility.
- Yoga and the outdoors help develop balance and coordination skills.
- Both can have a calming effect, helping to manage anxiety.
- They can help kids focus and be mindful.
- Both are calming and enhance self-regulation.
Moving yoga practice outside also helps deepen a child’s relationship to the natural world. Being out among the trees and fields and doing poses akin to the things they see there builds an affinity for that world outside.
Once you’ve spent a little time standing like a tree, feeling the wind and sun in your leaves, it’s impossible not to love trees all the more!
That bridge between yoga and nature is available anytime, and there are many ways to cross it. There are a variety of fun and educational ways to link yoga and the outdoors for children, strengthening their practice while building those connections to nature.
Strike a Pose
Perhaps the easiest way to help children to start using yoga as a tool to connect to the natural world is to step out the door with them and start exploring.
See what inspires you. Head out to a park or trail and take a walk. Stop and strike a pose when you find something that draws you in, and encourage children to do the same.
Do a tree pose among the trees or try warrior three and be a bird in flight. Take a seat in butterfly pose to honor a passing butterfly or fold into a half lotus pose to sit like a flower.
A large number of yoga postures are inspired by nature. You can carry a list of poses with you on your outdoor adventures. Here’s a few nature-based poses to get you started:
You could also buy a deck of pose cards (or make your own together!) and keep it in your hiking backpack. With so many nature-themed poses to choose from, you’re sure to find a few that meet your needs.
Or, alternatively, you can create a pose and give it a nature-based name for the occasion. It’s okay to be creative!
What’s in a Name?
Yoga moves were originally named for whatever they were inspired by, or whatever helped people remember them. Often, these names reflected objects in the natural world. Some of the names they are commonly known by reflect this, like tree pose, or mountain pose.
You can feel free to rename the poses if it suits your practice and brings you closer to nature.
Many yoga poses lend themselves easily to comparisons with the natural world, and you can adapt the names of poses to capture those natural elements.
- Child’s pose becomes seed, rock, or fallen leaf pose.
- Warrior three becomes a flying bird pose.
- Triangle pose becomes pine cone pose.
- Downward dog becomes rainbow pose.
Children respond well to more familiar names for the poses, especially ones they’ve named themselves! You could even try coming up with your own poses with their own names. It’s okay to make yoga your own!
Games and Gatherings
Whether it’s just you and the kids or a whole entourage of little ones, there are plenty of ways to engage the pack in yoga and movement outdoors. From yoga-centered games along the trail to running through the park, there are so many ways to engage with nature and play with the practice of yoga. Come as you are and be ready to spend a little time with the trees!
Follow the Leader
Take turns leading a pose. This game works with groups of any size. Offer children the chance to start with a pose they like, then follow with one of your own. You’ll be surprised how far this simple game of give and take can take you!
See the list above for some simple poses if you get stuck along the way, or your young friends need a prompt. It’s totally fine to make up some new poses along the way as well. Allow kids to create their own poses if they feel like doing so.
There are so many ways to enter into that playful yoga space out of doors. Let yourself experiment. The possibilities really are limitless. Here are a few ideas to explore:
Close your eyes and dramatize. Let kids come up with their own poses. Be a leaf, be a tree, be a bird, be a seed. This one-off exercise is a great warm up to other activities or games that involve a series of poses.
Tell a story:
Create your own simple stories with yoga poses to match. Story dice or image cards work great for this activity, or just use what you find along the way. Shorter sequences are best. Invite children to tell their own story with poses in turn.
Life Cycle Yoga Flows:
Combine nature study and yoga movement with some simple sequences. You could do butterfly egg (child’s pose) to caterpillar (locust pose) to chrysalis (plank pose) to butterfly (seated butterfly pose). Flutter those wings! You could do a similar sequence for tadpole to frog, acorn to tree, or seed to flower.
Focusing on mindfulness, this activity encourages more sustained poses. Forest bathing has become quite popular in recent years. In its simplest form, it is just quietly enjoying the forest environment. Standing in the woods, pretend to be a tree among the trees as you stand in tree pose. What do you hear? What do you feel?
In a similar vein, you could explore the clouds and learn about them together, or just watch them roll by overhead. As you talk quietly about what you see, can you lay still in shivasana and float like a cloud? How does the air feel against your cloud body? Do you feel heavy or light? You could also see if you can find shapes in the clouds and match yoga poses to those shapes.
Read a book:
Put your favorite nature-themed book in your pack and act out the poses you find in its pages outside in the sunshine. Many books have animals in the story, and you can match poses to those animals. Bonus: you’ve brought a bit of literacy into your practice. Books are always a win!
There are so many great yoga-inspired books out there.
Invite some friends and make it a real occasion. Play a few games together. Gamification is a great way to engage a group of children. A good game often provides an outlet for high energy in tandem with those moments of calm that yoga imparts. Children typically do best with an alternating mix of up and down energy in their activities. Plus, everything’s better with friends! Here are some ideas to try:
Find the nature items on the list, then do the poses associated with them together as a group. That up and down rhythm, fast then slow, is built into this game. Running around a park looking for things on a scavenger hunt gets out some of that big energy, preparing them to calm down for the slow stillness of the yoga practice.
Forest Freeze Tag:
This one is good one if the group has a lot of high energy. Same rules as regular freeze tag, but you freeze into a tree with a variation of tree pose. Another player can unfreeze you by tapping your “leaves,” or hands.
Yoga Memory Game:
Standing in a circle, kids take turns finishing the sentence “When I went out in the woods today, I found a …” The first player starts by saying what they saw and doing a matching pose. Everyone does the same pose. The next player repeats that item and adds another to the list, doing a pose for it and so on. The round ends when someone forgets an item on the list.
This is a variant of the classic kids game “Museum.” (Directions found here) When the ranger has his back turned, all the trees rock out with a dance party. Trees can wiggle and squiggle all they want, but as soon as the forest ranger sees them they have to freeze in tree pose. Anyone caught dancing when he’s looking is out.
Show and Tell
It helps to model games for kids in a way that eases them into playing by the rules. One of the most effective ways to do this is with the “Tell, Show, Do” method of instruction.
Tell. First, tell the kids what you’ll be doing. Spell out the game and the rules for play. Don’t spend too long explaining everything. Think quick overview.
Show. Model the game by performing it yourself. Ask one of the children to help you demonstrate. Kids often love to be the special helper! Act out the way it’s played so the kids can get a visual of what they will be doing.
Do. Ready, set, go! Start playing! Help anyone that is confused about the rules, and then let the pack take over running the game themselves as much as possible.
Following these steps really sets them up for success, giving children the guidance and confidence they need to let go and give themselves to playing. After sharing a game in this way, you’ll often find the kids spontaneously playing it among themselves or sharing it with other friends.
Despite our best intentions, there are days when we have to take a raincheck on doing yoga outside. While an outdoor practice is optimal, sometimes it’s simply not practical. At such times, you can keep that connection to nature alive with books, pose cards or yoga flows that are nature themed.
You can bring your love of the outdoors indoors with a few well chosen poses that remind you of your favorite things in the natural world. This could be another kind of game, where you list what you love together and capture those objects or memories in poses. Practicing with a view of the outdoors is also a way to connect to the world outside the window.
On extreme weather days, find a way to celebrate the elements with some weather yoga. When it’s snowing, a half moon balancing pose becomes a snowflake falling from the sky to touch the earth. On a rain-soaked day, do side bends or downward dog pose and be a rainbow.
Perhaps the most important piece when doing yoga with children, indoors or out, is to have fun with it. Let it flow. Yoga practice doesn’t have to be rigid or structured. Everything we do is yoga, right?
Bring yoga into your life with children in whatever way is comfortable for you. If you love the outdoors, bring your practice outside and model that for kids. Whether it’s a five or fifteen minute practice, every moment you spend outdoors moving with them will be time well spent. Have some fun yourself, too!