An exclusive interview with Sabrina Merchant, internationally certified kids yoga expert and the Founder of Li’lyogis
Welcome to an enlightening interview with Mrs. Sabrina Merchant, a globally recognized certified expert in kids’ yoga and the visionary Founder of Li’lyogis. With a passion for nurturing young minds through the transformative power of yoga, Mrs. Merchant has carved a distinctive path in the realm of children’s wellness.
Her expertise extends beyond conventional boundaries, harnessing the benefits of mindfulness and movement to create a positive impact on children’s lives. In this conversation, we have the privilege of exploring Mrs. Merchant’s journey, insights, and the holistic approach that Li’lyogis brings to fostering well-rounded growth in the younger generation.
Can you share with us the story behind the creation of Li’lyogis? What inspired you to focus specifically on kids’ yoga?
Sabrina Merchant: The concept of Li’l Yogis came into existence in December 2018 when I decided to pass on my love and passion for yoga to my 5yr old daughter Iqra. I used innovative and creative methods to make yoga interesting for Iqra and her friends and this caught the attention of a lot of parents.
I realised that this was a great way to pass on my love for yoga to the younger generation and encourage children towards a healthier lifestyle.
I completed my formal 200 hours of Teachers Training from The Yoga Institute (Mumbai) in 2018 and converted my own personal terrace into an open air yoga studio for kids and that’s how Li’lyogis came into being.
I also acquired international Certification for Children & Teen Yoga from Yoga Ed, USA -Jan 2022, to be able to reach out to more kids. I further got myself certified as a Happiness and Mindfulness coach with Happitude in 2021.
As an internationally certified kids’ yoga expert, what unique benefits does yoga offer to children, both in terms of physical and mental well-being?
Sabrina Merchant: Yoga’s holistic approach benefits children by promoting physical health, emotional well-being, and cognitive development. These benefits extend beyond the yoga mat, positively impacting various aspects of their lives and contributing to their overall growth and happiness.
Yoga offers a wide range of unique benefits to children, addressing both their physical and mental well-being. Here are some specific benefits in each aspect:
Improved Flexibility:Yoga involves various stretches and poses that help children develop and maintain flexibility in their muscles and joints.
Enhanced Strength: Holding yoga poses requires the use of different muscle groups, leading to improved muscular strength and endurance.
Better Balance and Coordination: Yoga poses often require balancing on one leg or holding positions that challenge coordination, helping children develop better balance and motor skills.
Healthy Posture: Yoga encourages awareness of body alignment and posture, which can help children develop and maintain good posture habits.
Healthy Bone Development: Weight-bearing yoga poses can contribute to the development of strong and healthy bones.
Respiratory Health: Breathing exercises in yoga enhance lung capacity and respiratory function, promoting overall lung health.
Circulation: Yoga’s combination of movement and relaxation techniques can improve blood circulation, supporting cardiovascular health.
Stress Reduction: Yoga incorporates relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and mindfulness practices that help children manage stress and reduce anxiety.
Emotional Regulation: Through yoga, children learn techniques to recognize and manage their emotions, leading to better emotional self-regulation.
Mindfulness and Focus: Yoga encourages children to be present in the moment, improving their ability to concentrate and focus on tasks.
Self-awareness: Yoga promotes self-reflection and self-awareness, helping children understand their thoughts, emotions, and needs.
Confidence and Self-esteem: As children achieve new poses and challenges, their confidence and self-esteem can increase.
Improved Sleep: Relaxation techniques practiced in yoga can contribute to better sleep quality and more restful nights.
Empathy and Compassion: Yoga often emphasizes kindness and respect, fostering empathy and compassion in children’s interactions with others.
Conflict Resolution: Through mindfulness and self-awareness practices, children can develop skills to navigate conflicts and communicate more effectively.
Anxiety Management: Yoga techniques can provide tools to cope with and manage feelings of anxiety or worry.
Creative Expression: Yoga’s imaginative poses and activities encourage children to express themselves creatively.
Body Positivity: Yoga promotes acceptance of one’s body and encourages a positive body image, helping to counteract negative societal influences.
Sense of Calm:Regular yoga practice can instill a sense of inner calm and peace, even during challenging situations.
Li’lyogis seems to have a playful and creative approach to teaching yoga to children. How do you design your sessions to make yoga engaging and enjoyable for kids?
Designing and engaging kids with enjoyable yoga sessions requires a combination of creativity, patience, and an understanding of child development. Here is how we make it fun and engaging for kids
Age Appropriate poses: We start by choosing yoga poses that are safe and appropriate for the age group we are working with. Poses that mimic animals, nature, or objects that kids can relate to.
Themed Sessions based on children’s interests. For example, “Ocean Adventure” session with poses like “Shark Pose” and “Octopus Pose.” This makes the practice more relatable and fun. We also use imaginative storytelling to guide kids through poses, creating a narrative that engages their minds and bodies.
The story could involve going on a yoga adventure, meeting animals, or exploring new worlds. I published my book ‘Ocean Yoga’ to help parents practice yoga with their kids at home using storytelling to help them connect and relate.
My yoga flash card called as “Yoga Play” also help in showing kids beautifully illustrated cards of various poses and breathwork while practicing yoga. Music is also used to set the mood and rhythm of the practice.
Games and Challenges that involve yoga poses. For example, you could play “Yogi Says” (similar to Simon Says) or create a yoga obstacle course that incorporates different poses. I recently put out Yoga flash cards with asanas and breath work for kids using attractive illustrations to make yoga more engaging and fun for kids.
Breathing Exercises are made simple and playful by using imagery like “smelling the flowers” (inhaling) and “blowing out the candles” (exhaling) to make it relatable.
Partner Poses are incorporated where kids work together to foster cooperation, communication, and connection among the children.
Visualization and Relaxation exercises to help kids relax and unwind at the end of the session. Scripts like imagining floating on a cloud or being in their favourite peaceful place are used. My product “Yoga Play” also has these scripts which parents can use at bedtime with their kids.
Could you provide examples of how practicing yoga at a young age can positively influence children’s overall development and learning abilities?
Sabrina Merchant: Practicing yoga at a young age can have numerous positive effects on children’s overall development and learning abilities. Here are some examples:
- Physical Fitness: Yoga involves a combination of postures, stretches, and movements that enhance flexibility, strength, and coordination. Regular practice can help children develop better motor skills and overall physical fitness.
- Stress Reduction: Yoga incorporates relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and mindfulness practices. These techniques can help children manage stress and anxiety, creating a conducive environment for learning and concentration.
- Improved Concentration: The mindfulness aspect of yoga encourages children to focus on the present moment. This can enhance their attention span and concentration, leading to improved academic performance.
- Enhanced Self-awareness: Yoga promotes self-awareness by encouraging children to tune into their bodies, emotions, and thoughts. This self-awareness can lead to better emotional regulation and improved social interactions.
- Emotional Regulation: Through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, children can learn how to manage their emotions and reactions. This skill is essential for maintaining a positive learning environment and building healthy relationships.
- Better Sleep Patterns: Practicing yoga can contribute to better sleep quality. Adequate sleep is crucial for children’s cognitive development and overall well-being.
- Increased Confidence: As children achieve new poses and progress in their practice, their self-esteem and confidence can grow. This newfound confidence can extend to other areas of their lives, including academics and social interactions.
- Mind-Body Connection: Yoga helps children connect their mind and body, which can foster a sense of unity and balance. This connection can lead to better body awareness and a greater sense of control over their actions and decisions.
- Social Skills: Participating in yoga classes can provide children with opportunities for group activities and interactions. This can improve their social skills, cooperation, and teamwork.
- Cognitive Development: Certain yoga poses and practices involve crossing the midline of the body and engaging both hemispheres of the brain. This can stimulate brain development and potentially enhance cognitive functions like problem-solving and creative thinking.
- Resilience and Patience: Yoga encourages persistence and patience as children work to master various poses and techniques. These qualities are transferable to other learning experiences that require time and effort.
- Healthy Lifestyle Habits: Early exposure to yoga can instill a sense of the importance of physical activity and self-care. Children may be more likely to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that contribute to their overall well-being.
- Body Awareness: Yoga promotes a strong connection with one’s body, teaching children to listen to their body’s signals and needs. This awareness can lead to healthier habits and prevent injury.
- Creative Expression: Yoga often includes imaginative poses and storytelling, allowing children to express themselves creatively and develop their imagination.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered while introducing yoga to children, and how have you effectively addressed those challenges?
Sabrina Merchant: Here are some common challenges and strategies I use to effectively manage them:
1. Attention Span and Engagement:
Children, especially younger ones, might struggle with maintaining focus during a yoga session. We use shorter sessions tailored to their age and gradually increase the duration as their attention span improves. We incorporate fun and engaging activities, storytelling, and creative themes to keep them interested.
2. Restlessness and High Energy:
Children are naturally full of energy and find it challenging to sit still or follow slow-paced yoga routines. We incorporate dynamic and playful poses that allow them to move around, and gradually transition into calming poses and relaxation techniques. We teach them to use their energy positively by incorporating movement into the practice.
3. Following Instructions: Younger children sometimes struggle to understand and follow complex instructions for poses and breathing exercises. We use clear and simple language, demonstrate poses, and encourage imitation. Instructions are made very simple and easy to follow
4. Peer Pressure and Comparison: Children compare themselves to their peers or feel pressured to perform poses perfectly, leading to frustration or a negative self-image. We foster a non-competitive environment where each child’s progress is celebrated.We emphasise on the importance of self-improvement and self-awareness over comparisons encouraging them to appreciate their own uniqueness.
Yoga often involves a deep connection between mind and body. How do you teach kids to develop mindfulness and body awareness through your sessions?
Sabrina Merchant: Teaching kids to develop mindfulness and body awareness through yoga sessions requires a combination of creativity, patience, and engaging techniques.
We begin with a simple explanation of mindfulness, asking them to pay close attention to what’s happening in the present moment, by observing their surroundings or maybe naming the sounds they hear in the present moment.
Basic breathing exercises are taught to take slow, deep breaths and notice how their body rises and falls with each breath. We also guide children through a “body scan” exercise., noticing how each body part feels.
While practicing a yoga pose, we encourage them to feel and notice which body part do they feel the stretch. We use guided imagery to create a mindful experience. Lead them through a calming scene, like walking in a peaceful forest, and ask them to describe what they see, hear, and feel.
We often end the session with a gratitude practice asking children to think about something they’re grateful for and how it makes them feel physically and emotionally.
Li’lyogis likely interacts with children of various age groups. How do you tailor your teaching methods to accommodate the different developmental stages and needs of children?
Sabrina Merchant: Tailoring yoga teaching methods to accommodate the different developmental stages and needs of children requires an understanding of their cognitive, physical, and emotional growth. Here’s is how we adapt your approach for different age groups:
1. Preschoolers (Ages 3-5):
Sessions are short and engaging, ranging from 15 to 20 minutes. We use simple language and provide clear, visual cues for poses. We also use music and movement. We incorporate playful and imaginative themes to keep their interest.
Class plans focus on gross motor skills, balance, and coordination exercises. We use storytelling, animal poses, and games to make the practice interactive.
2. Early Elementary (Ages 6-8):
– Sessions can be slightly longer, 45 minutes to an hour. More structured poses and basic breathing techniques are introduced. Games that involve teamwork and cooperation are incorporate. Use creative themes to encourage their imagination and also help in general knowledge.
3. Middle and High School (Ages 9-15):
Sessions are for an hour. More complex poses, gentle stretches, and balance challenges are given. We teach more focused breathing techniques to help with concentration. We discuss the benefits of yoga on mental and emotional well-being and also incorporate discussions on mindfulness and self-awareness.
What advice would you give to parents who might be interested in introducing their children to yoga but are unsure about how to start?
If you’re a parent interested in getting started, here’s some advice to help you begin:
1. Start with Your Own Interest:
If you’re excited about yoga, your children are more likely to be curious and engaged. Share your interest and enthusiasm for yoga with them. When children see their parents practicing yoga, they’re more likely to join in. This also provides an opportunity for bonding.
2. Keep it Playful and Age-Appropriate:
Choose activities, poses, and themes that match your child’s age and interests. Younger children might enjoy animal poses and imaginative play, while older children might appreciate more structured sessions. Incorporate games, stories, and imagination into your sessions. Make it a fun and enjoyable experience for your child.
3. Choose the Right Time and Space:
Pick a time when your child is relaxed and open to trying something new. Create a comfortable and clutter-free space where you can practice together.
If your child isn’t interested in participating initially, don’t force them. Make it clear that yoga is something they can choose to do when they’re ready.
5. Focus on Breath and Relaxation:
Teach your child simple breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. These tools can be incredibly valuable for managing stress and anxiety.
6. Make it a Regular Routine:
Consistency is key. Set aside a specific time each day or week for your yoga practice. This routine can help your child develop a deeper connection with yoga.
Remember that the goal is to make the experience enjoyable and positive for your child. Be flexible, patient, and open to their preferences. Over time, your child might develop a lifelong love for yoga and the valuable skills it can bring to their lives.
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