01 Sep How Yoga Benefits Kids
Yoga truly is for everybody and every body. Older folks, people with disabilities, and everyone of all shapes and sizes can enjoy and reap the benefits of this ancient form of mind-body exercise. Why should kids be any exception? You may not have thought that yoga benefits kids, too. We tend to picture kids getting exercise by running around a sports field or playground at top speed. But they really can slow down and tune into their growing bodies by practicing yoga.
Yoga Builds Physical and Mental Strength
The practice of yoga involves holding the body in certain positions for certain periods of time. Sometimes a simple-seeming pose requires great strength to hold. Other times, yoga “flows” or moves rhythmically from one position to another. In this case, the yogi, relies on the right muscles to move smoothly from one to the next. Every muscle of the body gets involved at some point.
Fortunately, even those starting with limited strength can participate. A yoga instructor can offer a wide range of modifications. That means they can tailor a pose or movement to each person’s ability. As a child practices a pose, he or she will build strength and improve at it.
Working to improve at a pose, sometimes holding it against the urge to give up, builds mental strength, too. When a child realizes he or she is improving, it can be exciting. They learn to stick with things and believe in themselves. Since there is no judgment, no scoring, and no trophies, they learn that investing in yourself is sometimes reward enough.
Yoga Improves Balance (in More Ways Than One)
Many yoga poses call for balance. Some people naturally have better balance that others, but almost anyone can improve theirs. The blog Mind Body Green says, “Balancing poses teach children that with increased focus, you can increase attention naturally, even in kids who struggle with different attention challenges.”
Balance activities can actually be a lot of fun for kids. A teacher used to working with kids will likely keep things light. So, if someone falls over while attempting to stand on one leg, it’s all good fun. Laughter and silliness are an often overlooked part of yoga. So “balance” can also mean the balance between working hard and taking ourselves too seriously.
Yoga Benefits the Mind
You might not think kids know what stress is like. However, think back to when you were a child. Academic, social, and family events all present various stressors. Also, kids don’t always know how to process or communicate the things that are bothering them. An outlet like yoga relieves some of the pressure. The Kids Yoga Resource says, “Overwhelmingly, research shows that children who practice yoga-based movement, conscious breathing, and mindfulness activities are better able to regulate their emotions, manage stress and calm themselves.”
Scientific literature backs their claim. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy reviewed available studies of yoga and stress in children. Researchers reviewed 80 studies, published over the course of 24 years. They found, “Nearly all studies indicated reduced anxiety after a yoga intervention.”
Yoga Helps Kids Understand How Bodies Work
Yoga requires different parts of the body to do different things at the same time. Sometimes, a yogi has to think about how one part is stretching outward while another is grounding downward, for example. Furthermore, moving one part can activate a muscle far away from it. Even adults are sometimes startled by the way their bodies respond to movement in yoga. Mind Body Green describes how yoga shows “that all our movements are a series of coordinated efforts between muscles, bones, joints, and nerves.”
Yoga also emphasizes the connection between breathing and movement. Yogis learn to use and appreciate each breath. Kids will learn how deep breathing makes them feel, a technique they can tap into in stressful situations.
Kids can apply this awareness to all kinds of activities throughout their lives, from sports to recovering from an injury.
Yoga Helps Kids Appreciate Differences
Because yoga is so accessible, kids may find themselves sharing this interest with all different kinds of peers. Kids with typical physical traits may meet kids using wheelchairs or other devices. They can see that body size doesn’t have to limit physical prowess. Kids from the full spectrum of abilities — physical or intellectual — can usually find some modification that works for them.
Most important, kids will learn to accept their own bodies, whatever they look like. Several yoga practitioners are out there, on social media and elsewhere, working to dispel the myth of the perfect “yoga body.” Starting messages of body acceptance at an early age can prevent a lifetime of negative self-talk.
Lots of Other Yoga Benefits
These benefits are just the biggest, most obvious ones. There are many others. Marilynn Wei, MD, writing for Harvard Health says, “Yoga improves balance, strength, endurance, and aerobic capacity in children. Yoga and mindfulness offer psychological benefits for children as well. A growing body of research has already shown that yoga can improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behavior, and can even reduce anxiety and stress in children.”
Want one more reason to encourage your child to try yoga? It’s something you can do together as a family. You will bond over your shared practice and you, too, can reap the many physical and mental rewards. Get started with this nation-wide search tool.