Try animal yoga with your kids

Children and animals share many fundamental characteristics. Both are playful, adventurous, spontaneous and full of life. If you're a yoga mom or dad, you know that yoga poses often mimic different animal poses -- downward dog, anyone? Tell you kids that you'll do some animal poses with them and it's likely they'll be thrilled with this concept. You don't need any special equipment, either, just some time to show them the exercises. Bonus: they're good for you, too!

Once a yoga instructor visited a soccer team I had been working with. She introduced the kids to the calming exercises of animal yoga. The children were exceptionally attuned to it! It was astounding to see them relaxed and enjoying such a different atmosphere. Many of the kids had never before focused on their bodies the way yoga requires.

Animal yoga helps develop focus and a mind/body connection and still involves elements of play. Each child would call out different animals in hopes there would be a pose made for it -- and there was. Here are a few of the animal poses the soccer team tried. I hope you will do them often with your family.

This pose allows the child to imitate the movements of a butterfly.

1. Sit on the floor and place the bottoms of your feet together. Allow your body to relax.
2. Pull your heels close to your body.
3. Sit up straight, and hold on to your feet.
4. Start to gently move your knees up and down, mimicking the flapping of butterfly wings.
5. Place your fists on your temples with your index fingers projecting like little antennae. Lean forward and side to side as you go from flower to flower looking for scrumptious nectar. You may continue to move knees up and down while doing this or you may choose to keep them still.
6. To rest, put your hands under your knees and bring the "wings" together to give them a hug.
7. Breathe and relax.

This exercise will make your legs strong like a grasshopper's.

1. Lie on your stomach with your chin softly touching the floor.
2. Make fists, hugging your thumbs, and place them under your hips, palms facing your body.
3. Breathe in as you raise your right leg and hip off the floor, keeping your leg straight.
4. Hold up for three to five seconds.
5. Breathe out as you lower your leg and hip.
6. Repeat with left leg.
7. Bring your hands out from under your hips, then gently lift and turn your head from side to side.

Cat and dog stretch
Dogs and cats get along really nicely in these stretches.

1. Get onto all fours with your hands placed palms down under your shoulders and your knees bent under your hips.
2. Breathe in and lift your head and tail -- arch your back so your belly moves toward the floor.
3. Wag your tail and bark like a happy puppy.

4. Then breathe out and drop your head toward the floor and tuck your "tail" underneath you.
5. Round your back up high towards the ceiling, like a stretching cat, and meow.
6. Alternate from a cat stretch to a dog stretch four times.
7. Sit down on your heels to rest.

In this pose children will squirm like snakes and dance to the snake charmer's flute.

1. Lie on your belly with your arms at your sides.
2. Put your feet together and point your toes.
3. Put your forehead on the floor.
4. Breathe in and lift your head and chest off the floor.
5. Breathe out and let your head and chest rest on the floor.
6. Repeat this movement four or five times.
7. Put your hands under your shoulders with your elbows bent.
8. Breathe in and squeeze your bum.
9. Arch up like a cobra -- raise your head and chest using your arms for support. (See image.)
10. Relax your shoulders and keep your belly button close to the ground.
11. Wriggle about like a snake by moving the head, shoulders and waist line side to side. The legs may wiggle too.
12. Breathe out as you come back down onto your belly. Repeat pose 10 times

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