“What can we do to make ourselves feel better when we’re sad?” yoga teacher Jamie Moar asks as a group of four- and five-year-olds sits in a circle around her.
“Yoga!” one girl suggests.
“Breathing!” a boy adds.
Laughing, Moar claps her hands and applauds their answers – she knows every student by name and takes the time to acknowledge them.
A well-known Montreal yoga teacher, Moar has been teaching the ancient practice to children for the last 10 years, taking it on herself to ease anxiety and stress in kids one yoga pose at a time.
“The younger we can start them the better, just getting to know our bodies in a positive way,” she explains, adding her youngest students are six months old. “I’ve had a kid at a school in NDG who was taking yoga with me until he was like, 10.”
Anxiety in children can manifest in various ways – such as having trouble sleeping, not eating and performing poorly in school. It often occurs due to fears or family and social troubles.
“Young children have difficulty understanding their fears and concerns,” the Quebec government explains. “Hence the reason they react exaggeratedly when they are scared.”
Moar’s background is working with children with special needs, as well as adults with intellectual disabilities.
“I was doing yoga myself and seeing the benefits, so over this whole time, I’ve created what’s worked for me as exercises and activities with the kids,” she told CTV News. “It’s just been my place of comfort when it comes to teaching and I find there’s so much joy and realness when you’re doing it with the kids.”
Teaching children about mindfulness and giving them the tools they need to deal with stress and anxiety is a unique process, Moar says, but it’s one that brings an abundance of rewards.
“It reminds you of what yoga is and the answers that they give you are not forced, they’re truth and I’ve seen such special moments like when they say ‘something that’ll make you feel better is breathing,”’ she said.
She says the key is simply to start conversations with the children – and more importantly, listen to what they have to say.
“I love just talking with them at the beginning of the class… Just listening to them speak, asking them questions like, ‘how are you doing today?’ and they’ll say what they want to say, but I think that’s such a huge value.”
She notes more schools and daycares have introduced yoga as a way to give children the means to cope with the changing challenges of life as they age, and she hopes that positive momentum continues to grow.
“If we can just start to introduce words like mindfulness and meditation, even if they’re not quite grasping them, then I think there’s value in that and we can start talking about them more and more,” she said.
HELPING A CHILD MANAGE THEIR ANXIETY
Here are a few ways to help children manage their anxiety, according to the Quebec government:
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN
Your family doctor (if you have one)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Tel-Jeunes: 1 800 263-2266
The Ordre des psychologues du Québec: 514 738-1223 or 1 800 561-1223
If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.