Every individual on this planet has done yoga in their life whether they know it or not. Children are born yogis. When we observe children from all over the world, from Japan or Latin America, they perform similar yoga postures.
For example, the foetus in the mother's womb can often be observed holding the merudanda mudra (thumbs up). A new born child holds the adi mudra (closed fist with thumb enclosed). Infants hold the chin mudra (thumb and forefinger delicately touching at the tips and the other three fingers are opened out). When babies start turning over, they do Bhujangasana (cobra pose), Natrajasan (leg crosses over while lying on the back with arms stretched out). When they start crawling, they do the cat stretch. As they learn to stand up and walk, they do trikonasan (triangle pose) and the mountain pose. Till the age of two, babies do the pavanamuktasan (knees and legs up in the air folding towards the stomach while lying on the back). Babies are often seen even sleeping in the child pose.
There are many other such points of observation where yoga as we know it is a natural and spontaneous expression of the child's consciousness.
Once children grow into adulthood, these postures need to be consciously and regularly practiced. Children can put their big toes in their mouth, but they cannot keep their attention at one point. By practicing yoga postures, we enjoy the best of both worlds: the suppleness of youth and the awareness of a mature mind.
Sri Sri says, "If you look at a child, there is unconditional love in his eyes. Every baby has this quality, but minus the wisdom. As you grow older, keep the quality of innocence in you and nurture the depth of wisdom along with it." This is what our education system must strive to do and it can be achieved through yoga and meditation.
Being friendly, caring, full of joy and enthusiasm, with a keen spirit of enquiry, creativity and a sense of wonder - we see and associate all these qualities naturally with children. If we see that they are any different, then it is only because of stress.
Family circumstances, fast-paced lifestyles, exposure to media - there are multiple sources creating and reinforcing strong stressful impressions on young minds. It is of utmost importance that they are also given the knowledge of how to free their minds, deal with negative emotions and be ever fresh and joyful. This is exactly what yoga, pranayama and meditation can do for them.
Just 20 minutes of these ancient practices each day is sufficient to maintain the balance. The way we give importance to physical hygiene, dental hygiene etc, we must also pay attention to mental hygiene through yoga and meditation.
Schools around the world are now acknowledging the important role yoga plays in the physical and mental growth of children and are encouraging children to practice.
Being regular with these practices has innumerable benefits including an unshakeable smile and confidence besides good physical, mental and emotional health. We have seen this practically in the 423 free schools funded by the Art of Living Foundation in rural and tribal areas across 20 states in India where over 45,000 children receive value-based holistic education. They practice yoga, breathing techniques that help them improve their concentration and focus, besides relieving stress, and also meditate for a few minutes as part of their school assembly. This helps to settle their minds right at the start of the day. Most of the children are first generation literates, with families below the poverty line where domestic violence is not uncommon. Yet we have seen these children feeling free of these tensions and impressions because of the practices. They feel uninhibited and free.
"The way we give importance to physical hygiene, dental hygiene etc, we must also pay attention to mental hygiene through yoga and meditation."
Anushree, a student of our school in the outskirts of Bangalore, besides being the first in her family to have a formal education, is an ayurvedic doctor. It is almost next to impossible for a first generation literate becoming an accomplished doctor. Priyanka from the same school became the first metro train driver in Bangalore city. Mahesh, who would have never dreamt of moving beyond the limits of his village, is a technician in a power plant in Oman. There are innumerable such instances where our children have achieved significant milestones in their career. The parents of these children see them as rays of hope and pillars of their families. They are so proud of their achievements and grateful for the education they have received that has given them this inner strength and encouraged them to dream of bigger things.
Children are so pure at heart. With a little effort in the right direction, channelising their boundless energy through yoga, we can nourish this innocence as we inculcate an education that gives a broad vision and deep roots.