You’re never too old — or too young — to begin benefiting from the transformational power of yoga.
It’s no secret that we live in an increasingly digital age. But this reliance on technology isn’t only affecting adults — it is also changing the story of childhood. Just take the recent virality of Nature Valley’s newest commercial. The clip asks three generations to tell stories of their favorite things to do while growing up. In contrast to the grandparents and parents who shared warm memories of playing outside, the children stated that their favorite activities were texting, emailing, tweeting, and playing video games.
While there are both pros and cons to increased use of technology for today’s children, a few definite drawbacks to kids getting too much screen time include:
1. Too much time spent sedentary.
2. Too little social interaction.
3. Too much stimulation.
There are numerous ways to counter the negative effects of children spending too much time plugged into technology, but perhaps one of the most potent is by encouraging children to practice yoga.
According to the Mayo Clinic,“Yoga can be a gentle method for your child to get more physical activity and enhance their wellbeing. Yoga can calm children, reduce obesity, enhance concentration and help children manage certain health conditions.”
And that’s just the start! Just as yoga can transform the total well-being of adults, it also has powerful benefits for kids. Here are seven compelling reasons to practice yoga with the children in your life:
1. Yoga Teaches Children How To Calm Their Mind And Body
“If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
It’s a bold statement, but there is power behind the Dalai Lama’s notion that learning to meditate as a child could impact the adults they become. Just think — if every child knew how to tune in to their inner sense of peace, how would this affect them later on in life? At the very least, learning how to deal with stress in a positive way at a young age is a skill that children will long keep with them.
But what’s more, meditation not only teaches children mindfulness, it is also directly linked to positive health benefits. One particular study led by researchers at John Hopkins found that just eight weeks of meditation training was as effective as medication in treating depression, anxiety, and pain. Meditation might not be a replacement for medicine, but it is certainly a powerful aid.
Some schools are now beginning to explore mindfulness practices with students, and though not all parents are receptive to the idea, many are starting to see the first-hand benefits. For example, one of my own friends was surprised when her child came home from school with a jar filled with glitter. The girl had learned to sing a song about meditation while rocking the jar back and forth. When the song was over, the girl was instructed to watch quietly as all the glitter floated to the bottom of the jar. Her mother said she had never seen the young girl so still and quiet. But what’s more, the glitter-in-the-jar activity quickly became one of the child’s favorite activities.
Meditation for children does not have to mean sitting cross-legged for lengths of time without stirring a muscle. The importance is to encourage children to slow down and quiet their minds — which in turn leads to less stress and anxiety.
2. Yoga Teaches Children How To Breathe
Did you learn how to breathe when you were a child? I know I didn’t. Instead, it was something that I began doing on instinct and, thankfully, continue doing every moment of every day. However, our breath is one of the most powerful tools that we have — and learning to breathe deeply is a fundamental skill we can teach our kids.
When we take short and shallow breaths, we stimulate our sympathetic nervous system, or our “fight or flight” instinct. This is the opposite of feeling calm, focused and alert. But when we teach children to breathe consciously, we teach them a skill that allows them to control their reactions to different situations. As Liz Bragdon from Move With Me Yoga Adventures says, “With specific breathing activities, we can calm, soothe, support or energize our”state” as needed.”
Left Brain Buddha has fantastic tips for teaching children to breathe, including songs and rhymes. Rather than just asking children to “calm down,” the guide encourages adults to teach children how to be mindful through breath. Through songs and role-playing, children can learn different ways to manage their breath that are fun and playful, while also extremely healthy and useful.
3. Yoga Teaches Children About Body Awareness
Children often spend a staggering amount of their time in sedentary positions. They sit for most of the day in the classroom, they sit while they write their homework, and then they sit some more while they play on their iPhones or watch television. As a result, it is easy to lose that innate mind-body connection that we are all born with. In fact, very few adults have a refined body awareness, and this is in large part because the habits taught to us from a very young age.
When children practice yoga, they begin to develop a stronger concept of how they occupy their body, and the different ways that they can move and control it. They begin to learn what healthy practices make their body feel good. And the better children feel in their bodies, the more confident and healthy they become.
4. Yoga Teaches Children Balance, Flexibility And Strength
Just as yoga offers both physical and mental benefits to adults, it also does the same for children. Specifically, yoga teaches balance, flexibility and strength. You might remember climbing trees or balancing on logs across rivers as a child. But with children now spending much less time playing outdoors, they often don’t have the same opportunities to practice and build these skills.
Of course, even if children are very active, yoga is still a fantastic way to continually improve balance, flexibility and strength. Here are a few of the benefits:
- An increase in coordination
- Improved motor skills
- Improved posture
- A decrease in the risk of injury
- A decrease in chances of childhood obesity
And that’s just the start. Get children moving through yoga, and the physical benefits will impact many areas of their lives.
Of additional note: studies have shown that yoga benefits children with autism and ADHD. NPR has reported that researchers surveyed teachers at a Bronx public school that had a daily yoga program and found that the program reduced kids’ aggressive behavior, social withdrawal, and hyperactivity, compared with a control group of kids with autism who did not practice yoga.
5. Yoga Teaches Children To Be Confident
One of the most beautiful things about yoga is that it is all about your personal journey and experience. Yoga is not a competition. There are no medals or awards. It is not about winning, but about self-growth and improved well-being. This all remains true—no matter what your age.
And this ability to feel at ease in your body—no matter how it bends or twists—is a powerful way to teach children to feel confident in their own bodies.
Confident children have belief in their abilities. Practicing yoga encourages children to keep exploring postures, and with time, children will undoubtedly notice that they can now hold tree pose longer than before, or they can now flip upside down when before they were too scared. It is the same for adults. Maybe when you began yoga, you could barely touch your toes, but now you can easily place your palms on the ground. Watching your ability to grow and improve is a powerful way to build confidence.
And the importance of cultivating confidence in children extends into all aspects of their lives. For example, “When a child excels in an activity outside school he will go back to school with the confidence to know it’s okay if he doesn’t fit into the school blueprint of success,” says etiquette expert Richey.
6. Yoga Teaches Children Positive Lifetime Habits
The habits that we begin as a child carry with us when we become teenagers and into adulthood. If children are taught from a young age how amazing they feel when they are moving and breathing, then they will keep that with them later in life. If they are taught that it is acceptable to watch tv for hours on end, then it is likely being sedentary is a habit they will also carry with them.
As discussed previously, yoga has immense power to improve overall health and well-being. This great article from the Huffington Post explains: “A regular yoga practice improves health and well-being because it helps one breathe better, it soothes the nervous system, it calms the mind, improves immunity, and so on. There’s a vast range of positive physical and physiological changes that have been documented in research studies.”
Rather than focusing on treating unhealthy patterns later on in life, let’s prevent them by teaching our children healthy habits through yoga.
7. Yoga Teaches Children Fun
Not only does teaching our children to breathe, meditate, and move mindfully cultivate powerful mind-body benefits, yoga is just plain fun!
Have you ever noticed that many yoga poses are named after animals? What better way for young children to express themselves creatively then by imitating their favorite wildlife? This is especially true for young children who get to giggle when they can meow and moo in Cat and Cow pose; sway their branches in the wind during tree pose; or bark out loud in Downward Dog.
There is no limit to the creativity that you can have with children when it comes to breathing, meditating and practicing various yoga postures. You might even find that the children in your life teach you some new yoga poses that you didn’t even know exist. The importance here is not to get too caught up on alignment or flow, but rather to allow the child to experiment with the energy of each of the poses.
Additionally, children, by nature, tend to be fearless. They are not scared to flip upside down, to try a handstand, and to get back up after they fall again. But as we get older, we tend to loose this innate innocence. However, yoga is a way to maintain that sense of exploration. A child might fall over again and again while trying to hold crow pose, but it is just as much the journey of exploring, falling over and then getting back up to try again that matters. Especially with older children, fostering an environment where they can learn and grow with the yoga poses at their own pace is a powerful self-development practice.
As yoga for kids continues to increase in popularity, it is likely that it will also become more controversial. However, if we remember the benefits of the practice—deep breathing, mindfulness, body awareness, strength, flexibility, balance, healthy lifetime habits, confidence and fun—then I think we can all agree that yoga is a potent way to empower children as they grow into adults.
It is now possible to find lots of resources specifically catered to yoga for kids online, even including online classes and training. Yoga Kids is one of the most famous sites, with information about where to find yoga classes for children nearby your home.
Even if you don’t have children of your own, you likely have a special child in your life. Next time you are rolling out your mat, consider inviting them along to share with you in the power of yoga. You might be surprised how excited they are to hop into child’s pose with you!
What do you think about yoga for kids? Have you ever considered looking for a child’s yoga class in your area? Share your experiences in the comments below.