Yoga: A Tool for Self Awareness
In our modern and busy life we are all caught in a never ending “doing” and “producing” to ‘be someone’ who leaves an imprint of existence in the world.
This pressure is not only present in the adults, but it is also experienced by our children.
Nowadays, children are very busy taking extracurricular classes, making themselves useful and productive.
They engage in a race of how many extracurricular activities they can handle after class and homework. Sometimes they are so busy and stressed that it seems impossible for them to stop and take a breath!
Some children that come to their first yoga class find difficulty because they don’t know how to stop ‘doing’ and why it’s important.
In their mind, this seems meaningless.
Their mental resistance is rooted in questions such as:
“Why listen to music? Why do you ask me how I feel? Why do I have to lay down if I can do the padmasana posture now that everybody is resting?”
These are some of the questions they ask in the 3 minutes of mindfulness’ exercise when they do it for the first time. Our children struggle with the sensation of stillness, quiet, and peace.
This seems so distant from their normal life.
Sometimes they get uncomfortable closing their eyes, or just counting to five without moving.
But how can we make them responsible for this behavior if this is not normal in their daily life (at home or school)?
Why Yoga is Necessary for Children
This is why yoga and mindfulness exercises become necessary for an integral healthy development of children.
When children develop the capacity of being still, focused, and playing and moving mindfully, it allows them to develop different “intelligences”.
Yoga introduces techniques to develop different intelligences, such as:
kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, emotional, cognitive, emotional and moral.
The definition of intelligence has been reshaped by Gardner, who introduced different intelligences to explain the different capacities and abilities of different people.
Gardner describes three meanings for intelligence: Intelligence as a species characteristic, intelligence as individual difference, and intelligence as fit execution of an assignment.
We are used to thinking of intelligence only as the latter: the “fit execution of an assignment”. You are very intelligent, from that perspective, when you get a good grade at school, or a good retribution.
However this is only a part of what comprises the cognitive intelligence. Even more, this cognitive intelligence is not the same for everyone.
There are multiple intelligences that makes us different from others.
Due to this recognition of different intelligences in children, it is useful to let them ask themselves “What am I good at?”
This will help them to make the most of what they love and not get frustrated when they don’t. That makes healthier, happier, and more satisfied kids.
Thus, you introduce the santosha quality of the niyama in their real life.
The Different Intelligences
Yoga and mindfulness exercises can help the child to develop different intelligences or levels.
This experience is what I love to share with my young students in yoga class for kids and teens. To help them to discover what are their strengths and weaknesses; to discover through the practice of yoga the answer of the question “who am I”.
Yoga helps children in this path of self-discovery and self-awareness.
In a regular class, they can develop kinesthetic intelligence by doing asanas.
They promote the movement of specific parts of the body; for example, doing trikonasana posture, you are working with equilibrium as well as strength of the legs.
Also, differentiation ‘right’ and ‘left’ using their legs or distinguishing ‘up’ and ‘down’ while moving their arms. Therefore, kinesthetic intelligence helps them to take control of their movements and their body.
Emotional intelligence or the affective level can be developed or observed in a yoga class. For example, in a pranayama exercise.
According to Ken Wilber (2006) the vital question of emotional level is “How do I feel?”
And the child can go deeper by asking himself: “How do I feel while breathing slowly? How do I feel today in this exercise? How do I feel while relaxing? How do I feel during this test week?”
These questions bring awareness to the kids, to identify and describe emotions, the feelings and the mood they are in.
Interpersonal intelligence can also be developed in a yoga class while working with a partner and taking care of the mutual safety.
A yoga class creates a secure atmosphere where the child can observe the feelings and moods of others and relate to them.
Through this interaction the child develops attention and compassion towards others. This interpersonal intelligence can also help diminish the bullying in the classroom.
The Central Question
“What should I do?”
That is the central question of the moral level and this is a basic question during childhood.
They are learning how to act and react in different circumstances. They are learning the dos and don’ts.
And yoga can provide a guide to them with yama and niyama, of the Yoga Sutra. For example, while presenting the meaning of ahimsa or nonviolence, you are presenting a “don’t”.
You should not harshly judge or injure your body or anyone else’s body (friend, classmate, parent, or pet).
The moral intelligence can be developed through the learning of the 10 actions of yama and niyama.
In sum, Yoga helps the child to develop different intelligences.
One must remember that every child is different, so it is important to allow the child to flourish in his own terms. By developing multiple intelligences, the child find it easier to become an integral, compassionate and mindful human being.