Gymnastics, swimming, dance, martial arts, basketball, soccer… There are many choices available to parents for physical, movement-based extracurricular classes for their children. What makes yoga different? And what are the benefits of yoga for children?
Yoga is a fun way for children to develop a variety of important skills in a nurturing, non-competitive environment. From a young age, children begin to experience pressure to perform academically and socially. Add to this the pressure of competitive organized sports and it is easy for children to become overly self-critical, and lose confidence in themselves. During this time, Yoga can be a great remedy for the tension associated with daily stressors as well as an important facilitator of healthy physical, emotional and cognitive development.
During a children’s Yoga class there is a complete absence of judgment and competition; doing a pose ‘perfectly’ or better than another is not the aim of yoga. This unconditional positive regard and encouragement create a nourishing environment, allowing children to relax and have fun whilst developing strength, coordination, flexibility and balance, as well as increasing body awareness, concentration and self-esteem.
There is increasing evidence to support the vast benefits of Yoga practice for children: One study published by the University of California (2003), found that children who had frequent yoga instruction showed significant increases in self-esteem, as well as overall fitness and academic performance, and decrease in discipline problems. Additionally, students reported feeling more relaxed and were more aware and respectful of their peers.
At Rainbow Kids Yoga we strive to maintain a balance between spontaneity and structure so that children participating in the classes learn to listen to themselves and each other while being able to express themselves creatively. The incorporation of stories, songs, games and poses create a multi-sensory environment, where children develop through kinesthetic, visual, and auditory learning.
Children are encouraged to respect and pay attention to their bodies, making sure each pose feels good, and coming in and out of positions when they feel ready (something most adults have a hard time doing!). As children grow and their bodies change, this becomes an important skill. Having the skills to listen carefully to the body and heart is not just a method to avoid injury, but also makes it easier to be self-reflective and make good choices when dealing with peer pressure.
So, what makes kids yoga classes different from other movement-based activities incorporating music and games? There are four key areas that set yoga apart:
- There is no other form of exercise that offers such a wide range of movements. While practicing children’s Yoga, we bend forward and back, we twist and side bend, strengthen and stretch, balance and even spend some time upside-down.
Besides the obvious benefits of yoga in helping us be stronger and more flexible, Yoga for children also helps in developing coordination, balance, and many other important motor skills. Yoga can even make us a bit taller by improving our posture and stretching and lubricating our muscles and joints!
Furthermore, children’s Yoga classes offer fast and active play while warming up or playing with yoga poses as well as quiet more focused time while holding certain poses or practicing relaxation exercises. As time goes on, the whole practice is done with a heightened awareness of the body and the individual parts of the body being stretched, strengthened or relaxed during the practice.
Bringing awareness to our body helps to foster a healthy love and appreciation of the miracle of our being and a fascination with the body’s capabilities. Furthermore, self-awareness allows us to be more fully present during our day and to live our lives to the fullest.
Children have an inherent capacity for mindful awareness of the present moment, and one of the great benefits of children’s Yoga is that it nurtures the child’s capacity to retain this wonderful ability to be completely absorbed in the one thing they are doing now without being burdened or distracted by what happened before or worrying about what might happen in the future.
- Yoga for children not only exercises our body, but it also exercises the mind and strengthens the breath. Before, after and while in poses children are encouraged to regulate and deepen their breath through focused attention. Having more oxygen in our body enhances our mood and our ability to focus, and increases our capacity to relax both our body and our mind.
Many yogic exercises adapted for children assist in cultivating and enhancing the mind’s capacity for creativity, sensitivity, inquisitiveness, and expansion as well as the ability to consciously focus or still the mind. Of course, the acquisition of these skills is a considerable process for children, just as it is for adults, however, learning the skills to consciously focus the mind and enhancing metacognitive processes (the ability to think about how you’re thinking), are indispensable skills if we want our children to live happy, meaningful lives.
- Children’s yoga has one important benefit which is generally not part of adult yoga; it involves interaction. In the class, children are not isolated to their own yoga mats; partner and group poses, cooperative games, self-expression and creativity are the norms in a children’s yoga class. Developing social skills is a critical component of self-development and is central to thriving as a human, big or small.
Through Yoga, children learn valuable verbal and non-verbal communication skills and become increasingly aware of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all beings; an understanding that is essential for a healthy social life. Emotional and cognitive skills that we learn in the relaxing environment of a yoga class can serve us greatly when faced with stressful events throughout our lives.
As instructors, we do all of this without long lectures; it is all discovered and developed through doing. While Yoga is more beneficial for children when done in a group, it is also much more fun done together! Interaction increases the value of the Yoga practice, and of life itself.
- Children’s Yoga fosters not only an awareness of ourselves and our friends but creates a broader awareness of the world around us. A central tenet of Yoga practice is respect and honour; for ourselves, for each other, and for our environment. During a yoga class, children are often guided on a magical journey around the world, learning about other countries and cultures. Additionally, through the incorporation of the many yoga poses based on the movement of animals, children learn about different animal habitats, endangered species, and even about global issues such as the environment and world peace! Children have an innate affinity with the natural world and with animals in particular. They understand and enjoy learning about and caring for the earth and its inhabitants, both human and animal.
While Yoga has been evolving for thousands of years, the changes and innovations Yoga as a practice has experienced over the past 60 years are comparable to the rapid changes seen in science and technology during this time period. Yoga for children may be a new concept, but it is as natural for children as running and jumping. Stretching and balancing through imitating nature is the most natural and intrinsic way for children to explore their bodies and their world.
In fact, Yoga can be adapted as a mode of teaching and learning just about anything! What better way is there to explore a subject than to move through it using creative yoga poses that are so good for you? History, geography, science, literature, and languages can all be learnt in this supportive and encouraging environment.
In this way, yoga is a holistic practice, with an inner as well as an outer focus. But most importantly for children, yoga is fun!
Yoga for children cannot be taught like yoga for adults: Vegetables are good for you, but what will you do with them if you don’t have teeth to chew them? Blend them, mesh them, juice them, make a soup…!
It is the same with children’s Yoga; you’ll need to start from where they are developmentally and deliver the program in a way that can be easily accepted and understood by them. This process begins with you doing everything you can to make the children excited about practising Yoga!
Both Yoga teachers and parents need to adjust their expectations when introducing Yoga to children. If you expect them to do the poses perfectly from the beginning, or even to do all of the poses all the time, you will be greatly disappointed. Exploring different and creative ways to do a pose is a part of the learning process. Creating a space that allows children to be creative, invent new things, dive into their imagination, play and even be a bit wild are more important for a child’s development than meditating.
It might be less comfortable for some adults to allow this in a classroom, but letting go of our instinct to control the children’s behavior and of the expectation of them to do exactly what we say all the time, allows them the freedom they need to find who they are. If you wish to have a supportive and fun environment for children to explore the ancient art of Yoga, you’ll do better if you let the children co-create the class with you. Give them choices, follow their lead for a bit and they’ll let you be the leader too.
We spend most of our childhood and youth learning, but there are many important life lessons that we miss out on at school and education must extend beyond the walls of the classroom. The mainstream education system rarely provides us with the tools which help us to be happier, healthier individuals; we don’t learn how to release tension or how to focus and while schools have a tremendous focus on learning outcomes, they continue to fail to teach our children how to actually study effectively.
Yoga is much more than yoga poses; it is a way to discover our bodies and more broadly, our inner world. As human beings, we experience the universe through our minds and our hearts, so being able to consciously relax, uplift and focus ourselves are vital abilities. It is never too early (or too late) to embark on this journey of self-discovery!
The Benefits of Children’s Yoga
- Improves strength and flexibility
- Increases self-confidence and builds a positive self-image
- Increases emotional resilience
- Nourishes creativity
- Helps to balance body and mind
- Teaches self-acceptance and self-love
- Increases sensory awareness and general body awareness
- Builds coordination and balance
- Expands self-awareness, and awareness of others
- Develops self-discipline and self-control
- Builds concentration
- Helps us to stand more erect and feel taller by supporting a long and flex spine
- Fortifies all bodily systems. And improves our understanding of anatomy
- Increases awareness of breathing and deepens the breath
- Is non-competitive
- Expands awareness of nature, animals and the environment
- Helps children build inner strength
- Encourages cooperation and teamwork
- Teaches how to relax and reduce stress
- Encourages compassion, generosity, and respect
- Teaches how to find inner peace
- Yoga is fun!!!