I thought I would take a detour this week into the wonderful world of Yoga for Kids! It happens to be one of my areas of specialty and a topic I am extremely passionate about. I incorporated yoga into my counseling practice with children in my past career, have been teaching kids yoga for 14 years, and training kids yoga teachers for a decade. I also have my own 7-year-old daughter who I have been doing yoga with since she was an infant. The question I get the most often from parents/guardians is: “How on earth can children do yoga because they can’t sit still, won’t pay attention, or be quiet”. The simple answer is, yoga for kids looks very different from yoga for adults.
Teaching yoga to kids is a different ball game altogether. For kids, yoga is active, dynamic, imaginative, fun, energizing, as well as relaxing, quiet, calming and slow. Kids will still practice poses, breath and meditation but it is delivered in an age-appropriate engaging way. Children LOVE yoga because it is non-competitive and not performance-based. In fact, it is one of the only activities in our society where children can relax and just fully BE.
Many of us are aware that there are two sides of the brain, the right and the left. The right side of the brain is the creative, emotional side and the left side is the logical, analytical, problem-solving side. In children under the age of six the left side of the brain is not fully developed yet. They are still most active in their emotional and creative side of the brain. So if you have a four year old and you want them to do something, it will be much easier for you to get them to participate if you do it by becoming an animal and walking through the jungle. With children, in yoga, we always meet them at the right side of the brain.
Although we practice yoga differently with children, the benefits are the same:
STRENGTH AND FLEXIBILITY
In order to build a healthy body, kids should experience an activity that both build strength and flexibility. They build strength by holding poses standing, sitting, or lying down. Each pose has its own benefits and can challenge various muscle groups. This helps children to feel confident and strong in their bodies. As for flexibility, adults often mistakenly believe that all children are flexible like rubber bands. We are indeed born with great flexibility, but it actually starts to decrease at age 6 or 7, even more quickly if children lead a sedentary lifestyle. By practicing yoga helps maintain, and even improve, flexibility. Being flexible can result in fewer injuries and strained muscles (good news if they are involved with sport-related activities), as well as a full range of motion in the joints for healthy functional movement.
POSE FOR STRENGTH / POSE FOR FLEXIBILITY
STILLNESS AND MINDFULNESS
Yoga is about movement and poses and postures but also about being still and quiet and mindful. Children (like adults) often need to discharge their energy before they are able to relax into stillness or quiet their mind. Therefore you will tend to have more success practicing stillness and mindfulness with children later in the day, or after they have been doing physical activity.
MANAGING ANXIETY AND EMOTIONAL REGULATION
Most kids in North America today are overstimulated, overscheduled, and exhausted. They need downtime. They need time to recharge just like adults do. Yoga can teach them to calm their minds and their worries, which is helpful for their day to day functioning.
A child's fragile and still-developing brain is less suited to handling stress and negative emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness, or sorrow, particularly over longer periods of time. Relaxation time with yoga breath and meditation quickly become a favorite, especially for children ages 7+ because it allows them time to manage and release these emotions.
BREATH FOR CALMING
BREATH FOR STILLNESS / MEDITATION FOR MINDFULNESS
Although we highlighted a few benefits above, yoga for children has endless benefits. You don’t have to know all about yoga to help your children experience calm and stillness. Here are some things you can try with kids to help them find calm at the end of the day, nap or rest time:
Speak in quieter tones
Turn the lights down lower
Play calming music or nature sounds
Lay down as slowly as you can (melt like a candle)
Stretch out as long as you can (stretchy taffy)
Be as still as a statue or quiet as a mouse
Squeeze a body part as hard as you can and then relax it
PRESENT AND MINDFUL
Kids are mindful by nature. They tend to take their time and truly live in the moment; looking at the sky or flowers or things on the sidewalk. However, with our overly scheduled lives, many kids get accustomed to a faster-paced lifestyle until they know no other way. There are a lot of benefits to slowing down and unplugging and being away from it all. Settling in the moment, focusing on the breathing and the body, and even savasana where they lay still and do nothing. If you give it a try, most children will start to ask for it.
INCREASES CONCENTRATION AND FOCUS
We are part of a rapidly changing world and kids are no exception. Young minds are overstimulated with electronics - tablets, video games, phones, and this makes it very difficult for them to sit still to focus and complete a task at school or at home. Yoga helps them practice concentration and self control which helps them increase focus and awareness. In today’s pandemic scenario, your children may be having a difficult time settling, and/or focusing to do school work. Many parents and guardians have now become make-shift teachers for children who are removed from their regular routines. Adding a breathing practice or short guided meditation may allow children to focus their attention and ready them for work.
As you can see, yoga practices can benefit your children in a myriad of ways. It involves physical activity so you get the happy endorphins pumping, enhancing strength, flexibility, coordination, and body awareness. Yoga breathing and meditation helps them find calm, stability, and center. Yoga also gives them tools to use when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed in life. Instead of logging more hours in front of a screen yoga promotes good health calmness and positive active movement. There are many children’s yoga resources online, as well as books and yoga cards if you are looking for a more low-tech experience. Start simple and see where the path leads!