Our fine feathered and furry friends have long been inspiration for yoga postures. Think about all the traditional poses named after animals: downward facing dog, cobra, pigeon… the list goes on and on. And who loves animals more than children? Some of a child’s first words are animal names and the sounds they make. So it just makes sense to engage children in yoga, meditation, and breathing practices through fun animal activities! Teach fun animal poses in kids yoga!
Start with a few rounds of Dog Breath. Simply take 3 long sniffs in through your nose (like you are a pup sniffing a bone) and then do 4 quick exhales out through your mouth (as if you are panting). Repeat a few times. This breath is a good way to get children to take a nice, big inhale and control the velocity of their exhale.
Use yoga and imagination to decide the Best Pet. Begin by talking about a pet you have (or want to have). Take the pose of that animal and describe why it is a good pet and what it needs to be healthy and happy. So, if you were describing a dog, you could choose between Downward Facing Dog or Upward Facing Dog while talking about dogs. Other animals that have built-in poses are:
If someone comes up with an animal that doesn’t have a pose, then just make one up on the spot! It is also fun to describe animals that would NOT make good pets and why, like Lion (Simhasana) or Crocodile (Makarasana).
Don’t forget that bugs are animals, too! Explore being a spider by doing a Web Walk. Each person rolls out a strap or scarf, or sticks a long line of tape to their mat or the floor. You can do this in a straight line, angular, or with several lines crossing and connecting. This is your spider web. Place pompoms, cotton balls, or other little items along the web line. These are the flies caught in your web. Then, using only your toes, pick up the flies with your toes and collect them in your hand. Who can get the most? Who can stay on their web? Make it more challenging by balancing a stuffed animal on your head or by having races.
If you are ready to get silly, then Hyena Pass-a-Laugh is for you! Players sit in a circle. Player 1 looks at Player 2 and does a silly laugh. Player 2 mirrors the laugh back at Player 1. Then Player 2 turns to Player 3 and makes up a new funny laugh. Player 3 mirrors it back to Player 2. Then Player 3 turns to laugh at Player 4, etc. This takes a good deal of mindfulness to listen and watch carefully enough to be a good mirror.
No matter the weather, it is always Feather Weather! This activity encourages breath control and mindfulness. Give each child a small feather and have them spread out around the room.
While the children are keeping their birds in the air (by blowing their feathers above their head), give descriptions about the weather like, “There’s a hurricane outside and things are blowing all over!” or “What a slight breeze there is! I can barely feel it on my skin,” or “Ahhh, this is the perfect breeze.” The children should blow their feathers in a way that mimics or describes the weather you announced. Make it more challenging by describing weather that doesn’t involve wind, like a rainstorm or a starry night – how will your feather fly?
A lovely way to wrap up a session of animal yoga is with a guided meditation. Have the children rest comfortably, maybe with a stuffed animal or blanket. Dim the lights and keep it very quiet. Once you see they are settled, begin your guided meditation:
Imagine a dense jungle in front of you, full of trees and vines. It is so green. Can you hear the animals chatting with each other? Can you feel the warm, moist air of the rainforest on your skin? Look carefully at the jungle, because there is a small path you can follow. Start walking on the path as it winds through the trees. As you walk, look up at the tall trees and down at the grasses and bugs along the path.
Keep walking until you see a watering hole where animals come to drink. All sorts of animals are there, sharing the water and living in harmony with each other. There are tall storks wading in the water, flapping their wings as they bathe. There are giant tortoises moving slowly to get a drink. Touch their shells – aren’t they hard and rough? There are no fierce or scary animals at this watering hole. All the animals live happily together.
Is there an animal that you’d like to cuddle with? A giraffe or monkey? Maybe you’d like to take a ride on an elephant or hippo? You can swim with the gentle tigers or rest on the shore with the antelope. Spend some time with your new animal friends, exploring the watering hole. You are perfectly safe here.
(Let the children rest for as long as you’d like.)
It’s time to leave your animal friends. They will stay here at the watering hole so you can visit anytime. Find your path and begin walking back out of the jungle. As you walk, make a memory of how it felt at the watering hole and what your jungle looks like. It’s always going to be here for you.
The jungle is also a great place to go for a jog, especially if you have Kidding Around Yoga’s popular tune, Jogging Through the Jungle (download it for free here).
You could take a trip to explore the jungle and meet more animals through a walking meditation. Craft yourself a pair of binoculars with a paper towel tube cut into two shorter segments and then glued side-by-side. Imagine that you are on safari and trying to sneak as closely as you can to an animal. You’ll need to step very quietly, mindfully, and smoothly so the animal doesn’t hear you and run away. See how quietly you can walk while looking for animals with your binoculars. Can you hear anyone else sneaking around? If you are able, this is a wonderful activity to do outside, challenging children to find real animals or just the clues that animals have been there. You could even create a scavenger hunt!
For more tips on how to teach kids and teens click here.