In this episode of The Preschool Podcast we connect with Michelle Faber, CEO of Little Yogis. Little Yogis partners with child care centers and schools to bring in the practice of yoga and mindfulness into early learning settings. Michelle dives into the 3 benefits of a regular yoga practice for young kids as well as how educators can implement this practice into their classroom even if they have no experience with yoga itself.
According to their website, all of the benefits that yoga brings adults are amplified for children, which is why it’s important to introduce yoga to children during these impressionable years. Yoga encourages an acceptance of oneself that comforts them during times of self-doubt. It encourages a mindfulness that creates a positive outlook, According to their website, all of the benefits that yoga brings adults are amplified for children, which is why it’s important to introduce yoga to children during these impressionable years. Yoga encourages an acceptance of oneself that comforts them during times of self-doubt. It encourages a mindfulness that creates a positive outlook, increases confidence, and builds resilience tools that kids can use their entire lives. Yoga also ties in nicely to other aspects of healthy living, including exercise, nutrition, and overall well-being. In short, yoga celebrates all the beautiful parts of life.
Michelle’s Top Tips for Incorporating Yoga & Mindfulness into Your Classroom
Start Small. Michelle explains that yoga and mindfulness is not an all or nothing approach. Start with a few minutes of breathwork. If you incorporate just a few minutes every day into your curriculum you’ll begin to see a change in your children.
Teach “Belly Breathing” at a Young Age. As young children become more aware of their bodies, you can talk to them about the different ways they can breathe. Children will understand how best to breathe and carry this skill with them as they grow. Belly breathing is to breathe from the stomach rather than from the upper diaphragm which is often called “shallow breathing”. When children understand the difference they can incorporate this small but powerful technique into their daily lives.
Seek Out Classroom Resources. In the age of technology, resources can be readily available for educators to enhance their skills with regard to yoga and mindfulness for young kids. Connect with like-minded educators to expand your knowledge and bring this into your classroom! Looking for more yoga and mindfulness resources as an educator? Little Yogis provides classroom resources to educators!
Anxiety in Children
The pandemic has heightened anxiety in adults and young children. Michelle mentions that as a parent and educator, you are the most in-tune with your child and know when things are “off”. If you begin to see an increase in “big” emotions, irritation in everyday tasks, and general frustration, these may be warning signs of anxiety for a child.
As adults, we may not look at our children as adults like us with the same range of feelings and emotions but they are. Children can experience and pick up on overwhelming feelings and emotions and may not be able to verbalize them as easily as adults.
By practicing yoga and mindfulness with children, you are providing the tools that children need in order to control and manage their big emotions and to feel empowered.
Connect with Little Yogis
Little Yogis has tons of resources on their website that can help educators implement yoga & mindfulness into their classroom. Their yoga flash cards are fun and exciting for kids as they incorporate familiar themes that will have them up off their seats and moving! Michelle also recommends the book Breathe Like a Bear as a resource for children to understand breathing techniques.
Episode 273 Transcripts
But these little ones, they feel they exact same ways we do. They just cannot verbalize it. So, then they can’t tell us these issues. They can’t tell us, “Mommy, I’m really scared,” or, “I’m really anxious.” It comes out as big emotions.
Michelle, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you so much, thanks for having me!
We’re enthused to have on the show today Michelle Faber. She’s the CEO of Little Yogis right here in Toronto, Canada, where HiMama is, as well. Really great to have you, Michelle. Let’s start off, as we always do, learning a little bit about you and why you decided to start Little Yogis.
Sure, yes. So, first of all, thank you so much for having me. Big fan of HiMama. I am a mom of two little ones, so I use HiMama daily, actually, to check in on my little one at daycare. So, thank you so much for having me.
But a little bit about myself: so, you are correct, I am the CEO of Little Yogis. And we are a yoga and mindfulness education program for kids based in Canada, aged 2 to 13 years. So, our tagline is “positivity and movement for busy minds” because we aim to improve the physical, mental, emotional health for our curriculum. So, we partner with various schools, childcare centers, not-for-profit organizations to basically improve the health and wellness of communities.
So, I wasn’t always in the yoga and wellness space. I actually had a long career in marketing, corporate marketing. However, I’ve always been a long time sufferer of anxiety, which manifested into depression over the years. And as a young child, I always had these very physical symptoms of anxiety: really big emotions, racing heart, tough time breathing, just really panicky when I was at school.
And back then in kindergarten and grade one, I didn’t really know what that meant. No one talked about it in school. My parents didn’t talk about it. No one really talked about mental health and really what anxiety was. So, I didn’t feel like I could cope.
And growing up into my teens, that continued. And it wasn’t until my later teens where I discovered, “Oh, I have an anxiety disorder and this is what it feels like.” So, I started doing yoga on my own. I’ve been personally practicing for over 20 years now and it has helped me immensely in my life.
And it wasn’t until I had my first child where I started seeing a lot of myself in him. So, even at a young age, I really started seeing the anxiety. And of course, all parents see the big emotions and tantrums in really young children. So, I started practicing yoga, breath work and mindfulness with him and saw really big changes and really great developments with his behavior.
And that’s really where it clicked with me that if it can help adults, why can’t it help children? So, I started teaching kids yoga. And my business grew exceptionally fast. And I think it’s due to the fact that more educators and more parents are really realizing the benefits of yoga and mindfulness. And here we are today. We’re thriving in schools and childcare centers across Ontario and beyond. And I’m really grateful for that.
Awesome, thanks for sharing that story. And certainly it really resonates in terms of how things are changing. And we’re hearing a lot through the Preschool Podcast and the webinars at HiMama about topics like mindfulness and physical movement and yoga being so important. So, clearly getting some great traction. But also know that that wasn’t always the case.
And so kind of similar to some of the other conversations we’ve had on the Preschool Podcast where I feel like we’re still really at the early stages. And so I guess the question is, how can early-childhood education programs start bringing more curriculum and content about yoga and mindfulness into their programing, in I guess like a more seamless way, versus what maybe lots of programs are doing now where sort of like there’s a time block, for example? Like, how can we make it, like, more integrated?
Right, so I think the first thing to note is that sometimes it feels daunting if you’re not a yogi. Or you don’t practice yoga or mindfulness yourself and you’re like, “Oh, I want to integrate this into the classroom, but I’ve no idea where to start.” I mean, it can be a little overwhelming. So, it’s all about starting small.
And what I love to tell our childcare partners and early-childhood educators is, start with breath work. So, forget about the yoga at first. If you start integrating breathing and mindfulness into the everyday curriculum, that’s when you’re going to start to see a big change.
So, little things like… I can teach a great one, it’s called “high five breathing”. So, what you do is, you have the child put out their hand and you have them start with their pointer finger at the bottom of the palm of their hand. They take a big deep breath in at the top of their finger out and they go down the finger. And they’re basically tracing a line across their entire hand until they do five deep breaths.
Another great one is, we talk about “belly breathing”, or “balloon breathing”. So, just having the child become aware that they can breathe deep within their bellies will help them calm and help them be more mindful about how they’re breathing. So, having them place their hands on their bellies, taking big, deep breaths in through their nose and having their belly expand as much as possible and then breathing out through their mouths.
And that seems so simple. I mean, everyone breathes – we all do it without even thinking. But when we’re stressed, we’re overwhelmed, we have those big feelings. We tend to breathe shallow breaths in our chest. And that’s when all of a sudden your body sends some signal saying, “Oh, something’s wrong.” The stress hormones come out and then you start feeling really crummy.
So, teaching children at a young age, “We need to breathe deep in our bellies to feel better,” that’s a huge tool to provide them with. So, I think starting small things with breathing – and I can share some resources with your listeners, as well, Ron – but just integrating breathing in every single day.
But also, too, there are great visual resources. So, on the Little Yogis website, we create lesson plans, great visuals for early-childhood educators. So, tying in yoga into the everyday curriculum. So, whether it’s weather or math or ABC or shapes, whatever it is, you can integrate yoga and mindfulness into the everyday curriculum. So, as soon as you start doing that, it just becomes second nature for these children. And that’s when they begin to thrive.
Cool. Yeah, I know we’ve been lucky enough that our children have been exposed to doing yoga in their childcare programs. And we can tell it’s really impacted them because they’re doing it at home sometimes, on their own, which is great and also very cute when they’re, like, two years old, watching them do yoga.
And then what about for parents and I guess also for early-childhood educators? Like, you talked a little bit about your own experiences with anxiety. And this is something that I think we’re talking about more and more in society, which is great. But what about at those young ages? Like, the how can you maybe identify if your child is maybe struggling a little bit with anxiety, in which case these things are going to be all the more important?
Right. So, as a parent of two young children, who I can see the anxiety manifest in daily, your parent instinct is going to be bang-on. You will absolutely know if your child is suffering from anxiety. So, things like anger outbursts; big, big emotions; little, day-to-day tasks that seem really overwhelming to them. So, if you’re getting ready for daycare or school and everything seems overwhelming; they’re throwing their bodies; there’s a lot of crying, screaming.
Things of that nature, it’s not usually, “Oh, my child is really stubborn. They don’t like getting ready.” It’s anxiety and overwhelm and “Oh my gosh, I have to head out the door again. I have to leave Mommy and Daddy.”
So, it’s funny because we as adults, we don’t look at our children like us. So, when we have anxiety, we think, “Okay, we know what it is. We’re anxious, we’re depressed, we’re stressed, whatever.” But these little ones feel the exact same way as we do. They just cannot verbalize it. So, then they can’t tell us issues. They can’t tell us, “Mommy I’m really scared,” or, “I’m really anxious,” it comes out as big emotions.
So, if you’re seeing that in your child, there’s so many things that you can do, so many great, calming techniques like the breath work that I just suggested. Or implementing yoga in the morning or night before bed. Reading yoga and mindfulness books, things of that nature that can really start helping them regulate their emotions, noticing these big emotions.
And it also gives them the awareness over their emotions. So, just arming them with the tools like, “Hey, I know how I’m feeling now and I know what I can do to feel better,” is absolutely huge and so empowering for these young children.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And when we talk about mindfulness and meditation and also yoga, what is the more specific impact that that has on a child’s mental health? So, like, I think we’re all kind of connecting the dots that there’s benefits. But can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Yeah, so all of the benefits that you think of with adults when we do yoga and mindfulness [are] almost amplified in children. So, with yoga, children learn to accept and love themselves, who they are. They end up seeing the good in others. They’re able to focus and calm their minds. They’re more aware of their emotions and their innate capabilities. They learn tools of resilience.
So, all these things that they’re learning through this practice, they’re more likely to be positive and optimistic about life and their abilities. They’ll hopefully be less likely to succumb to anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that are so prevalent today.
It’s funny because now in our society, with things like social media, I feel like there’s a lot of pressures on kids at a younger age now. Social media: TikTok, Instagram, whatever it is. So, these kids are so pressured at a young age to act and be certain way that we didn’t have when we were kids. We’d just get home, we’d go run on the street and we wouldn’t have a care in the world. But now it’s just different.
So, if we can talk about these things within our yoga class, then we talk about how to overcome these things with mindfulness, self-acceptance, affirmations, breath work, things of that nature. It’ll just really help them with those mental health issues now and beyond.
Yeah, that’s a good point. And it’s kind of like thinking, as early-childhood educators, I think everybody knows what the really fundamental things are that are so important for children’s development. But there’s also these macro trends and things that are changing and happening in the world.
And so, for example, the reality is the young children of today are going to be living in a very digital world. We’re already there and it’s progressing very rapidly. So, we have to think about ways more proactively about addressing that with them and supporting that with them.
And certainly I can see how the mindfulness and yoga is a key part of that. And having that skill set early on is going to be important for when they’re teenagers, for example, and are living in that world with social media online and being able to manage that anxiety.
Absolutely. And that’s a great point, Ron. So, with this new digital world we’re living in, it seems like we’re living in a world of distractions, which is making it more and more difficult for these kids to focus on anything for any decent length of time. Even I as an adult – and you may feel this as well – just sitting down to do some work, there are so many distractions and your phone’s going off and this and that.
So, yoga can really help us focus. It also helps teach kids to be present in the moment and concentrate and focus on their breathing. So, we always start our yoga classes with a focus exercise and a mindfulness exercise. Just learn how to be in the here-and-now without thinking of all those thousand things that are in our brain.
And we like to call it the “monkey mind”. So, there’s always a thousand things in our mind. And how do we just focus and learn to live in the now? And learning to live in the now helps so much with things like stress and anxiety because we’re not thinking about the future or the past – we’re living in now.
Yeah, totally. Like, even if I think about myself, yeah, it’s been harder to focus over the last 20 years. And so I can only imagine what that’s going to be like for the young children of today because, like you said, when I grew up, at best you had a TV with a handful of stations that you got. And that was the most digital you had. And we didn’t have cell phones and we certainly didn’t have cell phones that were computers at your fingertips. And still even for me and for you as adults, we struggle. So, can only imagine how important building those fundamentals around focus will be so important for our young children today.
Now, this has been really engaging conversation about a super important subject that is of increasing importance in our world. You mentioned a little bit about resources. Can you tell us a little bit more about some of those resources and where folks can find them?
Sure, yes. So, first and foremost, on our website, www.LittleYogisCanada.com, if you head there and you click on “Teacher Resources”, we have an abundance of resources for early-childhood educators that are very visual because we believe, especially these youngsters, if you have a visual component, it really helps them in learning yoga and mindfulness practices. So, they can head there and see our yoga lesson plans.
But there’s also so many incredible books that they can check out. And one of my favorite ones is called Breathe Like a Bear [30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere] by Kira Willey. So, it’s a wonderful book with 30 different mindfulness and breathing exercises for really young kids that tie into things like nature and animals.
So, at a young age, If we’re saying things like, “Okay, let’s breathe like a bear,” or, “Let’s pretend we have a balloon in our bellies,” or, “Can you smell the flower and breathe out our worries?” Things like that that’s very visual, that can help them visualize their worries and their fears and breathe through it. There’s some great resources there.
And one great publisher I always love to check out is called Sounds True Kids. And they are always publishing these wonderful yoga and mindfulness books for educators and parents of very young children.
Awesome. And on that subject, we’re always encouraging our listeners to focus on their professional development. And you’ve got some great resources here that you’ve mentioned on your website, Little Yogis. And I’ve also mentioned some other resources. Anything else come to mind that you might recommend for our listeners?
So, as I was saying, just purchasing different books for the classroom, not only for yourself but for the kids, as well. So, one great one I love to read is called Calm: Mindfulness for Kids, by Wynne Kinder. That’s a great one that not only has breathing exercises, but visualization and physical education exercises.
And if an educator or parent is really interested in this space and they want to implement it into their home or in the classroom, there are an abundance of different trainings that you can do virtually that are self-paced, that can certify you as a kid’s yoga teacher or mindfulness educator. And they’re fairly inexpensive.
And Little Yogis, we are actually almost in the process of launching our virtual education program that will be available hopefully within October, that’s the plan. But I do encourage you to take these online courses so that you are better able to present these ideas to your child or your student. I think it’s the best thing we can do for kids today.
Awesome. Thanks so much for sharing those resources, Michelle. And I love what you’re doing, it certainly resonates with me, having a business that’s also having a social impact. That’s what we’re really focused on at HiMama, as well as a social enterprise. Love it. Thanks so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast today. It’s been great having you!
Thank you, Ron!