Mountain pose yoga activity is all about learning how to stand still, even for a few seconds! It is difficult for young children to keep their balance whilst standing still, as it requires:
the organisation of several senses by the brain
learning the ‘patterns of movement’ needed for balance
Indeed, some children often find it harder to stand still than to move around.
How to do mountain pose
If you can, try to do mountain pose with your child. Young children bond with their carers by moving with them and you will find that mountain pose is a great way for you to stretch and align your body too!
Begin by doing Mountain pose yourself. Stand still with your feet about hip width apart and your arms by your side. As you stand think about:
Your breathing: think about taking deeper, slower breaths. This will help you to relax.
Your posture: stand with your feet hip width apart, further apart if you feel unstable. Rock forwards and backwards on the soles of your feet to find the point where your weight is spread evenly over your feet. Then work your way up your body, trying to get into the best possible ‘alignment’.
Are you holding any tension in your lower back? If so, try to ‘tuck your bottom in’ slightly and gently tighten your stomach muscles. Keep breathing normally as you do this.
Try not to ‘lock’ your knees.
As you take the deeper breaths think about your shoulders moving downwards and slightly back and the distance between your ears and your shoulders increasing. Try to release any tension in your shoulders.
Think about your head position. Are you ‘jutting’ your chin forwards and arching your neck backwards? Imagine a cord coming up from the top of your head which is gently pulling the crown of your head upwards. Make sure your chin is slightly tucked in (don’t overdo it). Feel the muscles at the back of your neck lengthening.
Now encourage your toddler or child to copy your mountain pose
The benefits of mountain pose
Refine balance skills through sensations
As your child practises mountain pose (especially with their eyes closed) they will develop more mature balance skills. Mountain pose gives the brain a chance organise three sensations needed to balance. Although we are not consciously aware of this organisational process, it is crucial for good balance skills. The three sensations are:
The gravity and movement (vestibular) sensations which our brain receives from specialist cells in our inner ear whenever we move our heads.
The ‘proprioceptive’ sensations which our brain receives from specialist cells in our muscles and joints whenever we squeeze or straighten a joint, or contract and stretch a muscle.
The visual sensations which our brain receives from our eyes as we look around.
Practice ‘patterns of movement’ needed for balance
Research on standing ability in children and adults has found that muscle strength is not the main factor in learning how to balance well. More important, is the ability to develop the best patterns of movement or ‘postural reactions’ needed. Mountain pose practice is a great way to develop this.
Increase awareness of the body
As your child stands in mountain pose, encourage them to think about their: feet and their toes, their hands and their fingers and how straight and long their back and neck feels.
Improve concentration & calm
Whilst they are doing mountain pose, encourage your child to slow their breathing and take a few deeper breaths. This will help them to calm themselves. Slowing the breathing automatically lowers the heart rate. Practising being still in mountain pose can help your child to improve their levels of concentration for other tasks.
Better body alignment & posture
Alignment in this sense, refers to the position of your feet, knees, hips and shoulders. To bring your body into perfect alignment whilst doing mountain pose, imagine an invisible silver thread running through the centre of your body and gently pulling you up from your head.
If your body is in alignment, the wear and tear on your major joints and the muscles surrounding them will be minimal. As you do mountain activity, you will probably find you have to gently tighten your tummy and bottom muscles, your lower shoulder muscles midway down your back, and the front of your thighs (your quadriceps).
A more challenging mountain pose
If you child is older, they can challenge their balance skills further by trying to stand still, with a hankie as ‘snow’ on their head, whilst balancing on a cushion on the floor. As they are standing on an unstable surface you child will have to rely on their just their visual and vestibular senses rather than their proprioceptive sense.
Try a variation of mountain pose. Stretch your arms above your head to be a very tall mountain. Ask someone to gently blow on your body to see if your mountain will move in the wind. Shut your eyes and see if you can keep still – this is much harder!
Getting a mountain ticket role play for older children
Research on how children develop their gross motor skills (movement skills) shows that a child’s ability to do these skills is dependent on the situation and the task they have to do. For example, a child may be able to stand still in a quiet room on an even floor with no distractions. However, if they are asked to stand outside on a uneven pavement with noisy traffic speeding by whilst counting out some money (for the bus) this is much harder! You can help your child prepare for such situations by encouraging them to firstly stand in Mountain pose and then see if they can keep still whilst counting out some money to pay for their ‘Mountain ticket!’
Work as a team to make a mountain range
Make a mountain range with your friends and ask someone to put a white sheet over your heads for the snow!
A less challenging mountain pose
If your child is younger, turn the activity into a game by using a (white) handkerchief or piece of fabric. This can be the snow on your mountains! Show your toddler what to do by placing the hankie on your own head. Whilst they are watching you say something like “1, 2, 3, fall off” (or increase vocabulary with “1, 2, 3 avalanche!”) as you let your hankie fall. Then put a hankie on their head and guide them to do the same.
You can also play peek-a-boo games in sitting or standing with your hankies. These games will not only help your young child’s balance skills, they will also progress their fine motor skills and eye hand co-ordination. Describe what you are doing to increase your child’s positional language skills. “Mummy is under the snow (fabric). The snow is on top of Mummy mountain.” Take a look at all the different sitting positions and hand movements Zac does whilst being a ‘snowy mountain’…
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