Many foundational yoga poses come from things we see in nature..animals, plants, mountains, celestial bodies and the elements. In this way, our yoga is not just a union of our mind, body and breathing but also a way to connect to the world around us. Animal poses are a wonderful way to introduce to children to yoga as they learn about animals from early age. Pretending to be a dog, cat, cow or other animal is relatable and fun and engages children's imagination and playfulness.
“It is so wonderful to watch an animal, because an animal has no opinion about itself. It is."
- Eckhart Tolle
Don't stop at making the animal shape! Engage your creativity and move around like the animal, make noises and sing animal songs. You might even collaborate with your fellow yogis to create an entire ecosystem - the possibilities are endless and everyone can contribute their ideas.
We love to create an entire yoga sequence combining a song about animals with animal poses. "Bought Me A Cat" is a traditional folk song that works well and can be expanded to include any yoga poses you choose. Other popular songs you probably already know are Old MacDonald, Slippery Fish and The Green Grass Grows All Around.
Want more? Grab a mat and get ready for our Top 5 Animal Yoga poses!
1. Dog Pose, also known as Downward-Facing Dog, is one of the most widely recognized yoga poses. It is also super accessible to children as most kids innately move through down dog when they are transitioning from crawling and sitting to standing.
Dog pose is an energizing and strengthening pose that lengthens the back body while strengthening the core, legs, arms and ankles. Plus there are lots of fun variations - Don't forget to bark and wag your tail!
2. Cobra or Snake Pose is the perfect complement to Dog as it bends the spine in the opposite direction, lengthening the front body and strengthening the back. It also provides a great opportunity to bring in some breathing exercises. Breathe in deeply as you lift into cobra to expand your chest and then hisssssss all the way back down to the ground to focus and calm.
Our musical yoga classes always start with a warm-up to help us connect our body, mind and breath and prepare us for more challenging poses to come. One of our favorites is our Sun Dance, which puts Dog and Cobra together in a super fun, full-body sequence. Start tall and strong in mountain pose and sing along...
While there are tons of traditional animal poses to try, any yoga movement could be turned into an animal by engaging creativity and imagination. A squat might be a duck, frog, spider or anything else the children decide. High lunge could be a unicorn, moose, or a deer. The possibilities are endless - here are some of our favorites.
3. Bee Pose combines mountain pose with a shoulder opener, arm and leg isolations and breathing work. It creates focus and balance while strengthening the legs, ankles and feet. The shoulder movements increase flexibility while expanding the chest.
4. Elephant combines wide-legged forward fold with a heart-opener to strengthen the legs and ankles while lengthening the spine in two directions. You can add some breathing work by making elephant sounds or add some additional movement by stomping your big wide feet around the room!
Elephants are the largest land animals in the world. They form very close family bonds and travel in herds led by a matriarch. Try making a herd of elephants, walking single file, tail to tail. Teachers might even use this pose throughout the school year whenever it's time for the children to line up.
5. Sleepy Lion is one of our most popular animal poses. An animal yoga adventure just wouldn't be complete without the king of the jungle! This sequence combines child's pose and king cobra and is perfect for transitioning to quiet time or relaxation. The roar releases energy and tension while child's pose brings awareness inward to calm and ground. Physically, this sequence opens hips, ankles, chest and shoulders while strengthening the arms, core muscles and spine.
After all of these animal poses, it is time to take a long rest. All animals sleep so invite the children to choose their favorite animal and pretend they are sleeping. One of my favorite animal relaxation poses is Starfish, a variation of traditional savasana with the arms and legs spread apart like a star.
You might also invite the children to pretend they are bears or squirrels hibernating in the winter, baby birds snuggled in their nest or cats stretching out in the sun. Use a chime, visualization or ambient calm music to encourage the children to stay as long as possible in their resting pose.
Animal yoga practice is also a great way to integrate movement with children's interests or classroom curriculum. Explore STEAM themes by sharing interesting animal factoids as you are moving through the poses. Ask children to describe each animal's habitat, food sources and environment. Create opportunities for SEL (social emotional learning) by doing partner poses while discussing how animals live and work together in community.
We love combining movement, music and language exploration. Children retain more of what they are learning when the lesson is multi-modal and multi-sensory. Sing along with "Cancion De Los Animales Mexicanos" to learn animal poses and some Spanish!
Practicing animal yoga also teaches us empathy and to appreciate and respect all living creatures. Children may feel motivated to recycle, minimize waste and observe other ecologically mindful practices to care for our planet, once they realize the impact humans have on animal habitats. They might also investigate how they can help protect animal rights.
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened."
- Anatole France
We hope you have fun exploring animal yoga. You can watch these and other animal yoga videos anytime on our YouTube channel. We would also love to hear from you - Do you have a favorite animal pose? Post it to IG and tag us or send us an email. Happy roaring everyone!
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- Children's Yoga Teacher Training, 30-Hour Certification 10/6-10/8 in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more