Susannah Hoffman is one the foremost children’s yoga teachers in the UK and teaches yoga for kids classes as part of our online schedule. She has taught yoga for kids for 25 years and created the yoga for children teacher training programme at triyoga, where she also teaches pregnancy yoga, baby massage, yoga for kids, as well as general yoga classes, and the triyoga teacher training. Her book “Yoga for Kids” became a best-seller, with its clear and educational guidance. We caught up with her to find out more about how yoga can support a child’s development, from birth right through to adulthood.
“Children of all ages can be as busy and over-stimulated as any adult in today’s fast-paced world. Yoga, with its breathing and relaxation techniques, helps calm and still the mind. It’s a powerful tool to help them in a world where they are rarely without ‘input’. It slows brain patterns and improves concentration, making information easier to absorb. As a result, it helps learning and allows children to explore their intuitive nature and their individual spirituality.
“So many adults are still so fearful, so I want to help build children’s trust in themselves. When we become fearful, we can stop living our full potential. In a class setting, inversions like handstands for seven years and up can really help to build their confidence and sense of play.”
Susannah’s understanding of yoga’s benefits has developed from a young age. She was five years old when she started doing yoga and grew up with a spiritual and movement practice. “I remember I wanted to be blue like Krishna.”
She went on to become a dancer, which had its own challenges: “The problem in dance is that you’re told you’re never good enough – this has directly affected how I teach. I want children to learn how to love themselves, to encourage them to be the best version of themselves and that it’s not about what anyone else can do. I’m seeing children as young as two years upset if they don’t know how to do a pose – and so I explain, how can they know if they haven’t been shown how? And I help them to do it and to realise that everybody is good at different things. Every body is different and we all have good and bad days – there is no judgement.
“I gave up dancing and, having grown up with herbs and homeopathy, went on to study massage, aromatherapy, herbalism and crystal healing. I wanted to focus on my inner self rather than the external ideas that I felt dance and life imposed on me. This led me to running creative movement workshops, where it was not about whether you were good enough, but self-expression.
“From there, I continued to develop classes for children of all ages, which became more and more yoga-based.”
Each age group requires a slightly different approach: “Firstly, we need to understand how a child learns and develops. Activity is a fundamental part of the first stages of learning and development, so we should encourage physical activity in babies as well as children – through baby massage, baby yoga and play.
“From birth, children are developing gross motor skills to enable them to lift their head, sit up, roll over, crawl and walk. As they gain strength, control and co-ordination, they begin to develop their fine motor skills, which then control actions such as moving fingers, grasping and drawing.”
From birth to adulthood
“Baby massage is about quality of touch and connection. Babies don’t realise they are separate from their mothers until they around two years old. If you use tension, your baby will feel tension – they don’t intellectualise, it but just carry it. Through massage, we use the power of nurture and intuition to help build emotional stability early on in a baby’s development. It’s with this foundation that we can then continue to work with them throughout the years.
“Toddlers are only just learning about their body, so yoga for them is about learning to move the body, make shapes and balance. The classes for children up to six years old are a fast pace to help them keep focussed. The lungs don’t fully develop until about seven or eight years old, making yoga breathing exercises unsuitable. As slowing the mind is linked to long slow breathing, the easiest way to lengthen the breath is to make sounds, which also makes it fun for them.
“Children aged seven to nine tend to have the most energy. When they reach nine to 12 years old, I often see them come to class already tired and stressed after the daily pressures of school. They need to relax, so I’ve created several guided visualisations that they love. We also work on building strength and confidence, as well as practising poses that help correct posture after sitting at a desk all day and carrying heavy school bags.”
“Yoga for Kids: Simple First Steps in Yoga and Mindfulness” was published by Dorling Kindersley in September after years in the making.
“I’d written several variations of this book for over a decade – but I never quite had the confidence to feel they were finished. Then the publisher contacted me and asked me to write a book aimed at six to nine-year olds and it had a very tight deadline, which in a way was great. It meant I had to do it and accept that it was ready.
“The book is designed so children can follow the images if they want and read simple instructions as their interest grows. There’s also a section for grownups on each pose, including their benefits and what to look out for. Several adults have told me they even bought the book for themselves as it breaks the poses down into stages, which they find helpful – and that’s great to hear.”
Susannah teaches yoga for kids online on Wednesdays at 4.15pm (7-9 year olds) and Mondays at 3.30pm (11-14 year olds). Click here to view schedule and book.