Children of this generation are expected to do more in less time. Our culture of success and instant gratification can start to wear on children. The stressors of our hurry-up world have a significant impact on your child’s innate innocence, joy, and sense of wonder. If you’re looking to slow things down a bit for your child, look no further than yoga. This engaging form of exercise is not only physically effective for your youngster, it’s also safe and relaxing, and may even help your child gain the confidence to face their daily challenges with a happy heart.
How Stress Affects Your Child
Whether it be a small stressor like cramming for an impossible exam or a large stressor like dealing with the aftermath of a bitter divorce, children of all ages are exposed to unpleasant situations that activate the body’s sympathetic nervous system (this is the system in charge of the “fight or flight” response). When this system is triggered, your child’s heart rate and blood pressure increase. Over time, this heightened response can lead to a weakened immune system, low self-esteem, isolation, and even depression.
Every good parent wants their child to be as healthy as possible. It can be difficult to find the time to work, cook, clean, pay the bills, and raise a family. But keep in mind that fitting even 10–15 minutes of exercise into your family’s daily routine can have far-reaching physical and mental health benefits for your whole family, but especially your child, who is developing by leaps and bounds every day.
Why Yoga Can Help
Although it may not appear as such, yoga is a very active form of exercise—it works the whole body—from the muscles in your shoulders all the way to down to your ankles and feet. Yoga has been shown to increase aerobic capacity in children and teens. Here are some other physical benefits that yoga may offer your child:
- Better balance
- Improved coordination
- Increased strength and flexibility
- More restful, deeper sleep
In this competitive world, take comfort in the fact that yoga offers the added benefit of being a non-competitive physical activity. If your child is struggling with low self-esteem, weight issues, or bullying of any kind, yoga may be a great way for them to get active without the fear of judgment or letting anyone down. In addition to the physical aspect of yoga, this ancient practice offers a plethora of mental health benefits, which include the following:
- Reduced anxiety and stress
- Improvements in concentration and memory
- Enhanced mood
- Better academic performance
- Improved behavior in the classroom
- Boosts in motivation levels
- Fewer negative emotions, such as helplessness and aggression
It is important for children to feel connected to their bodies and minds. Yoga allows kids to feel a sense of ownership and control over their bodies, thoughts, and breathing patterns. Over time and with plenty of practice, this sense of ownership and control can be incredibly empowering for your child, increasing their likelihood to be happy and take initiative to heal their bodies through healthy activity.
The Added Benefits of Yoga for Children with Disabilities
It can be especially difficult for parents to find activities for children who suffer from a disability, whether it be a learning disorder or a chronic physical condition. The good news is that study after study shows that yoga can really make a difference for kids who have differences.
A growing number of schools are beginning to incorporate yoga and mindfulness training into their physical education programs and classroom curriculum. Emerging research suggests that regular yoga practice has a positive impact on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Yoga interventions in this group have been shown to improve the core symptoms of the condition, including the following:
In addition to a reduction in these symptoms, yoga can actually boost academic performance in children managing ADHD. Postures that emphasize balance, such as tree pose, may be especially effective for kids with attention difficulties. These postures require focus and physical stamina, which is great practice for all children who sometimes have trouble concentrating on the activities of daily living like homework and chores.
Cystic fibrosis is a chronic, life-limiting genetic disease. It affects the lungs and other secretory organs in the body and leads to a number of debilitating health problems. Yoga has shown great promise as a therapy for children who suffer from this condition. Regular practice is linked to decreased anxiety, improved respiratory function, and reduced joint pain in cystic fibrosis patients. This important research suggests yoga may be an increasingly popular therapy in the treatment of other chronic conditions, such as cancer and type 1 diabetes.
The Social Aspect of Yoga
Yoga classes provide a safe, accepting environment for your child. Young children appreciate the fun-loving, celebratory nature of these classes, which often incorporate songs, games, and storytelling. In assuming the roles of flowers, warrior, trees, and animals through postures like pigeon pose, warrior I, and downward-facing dog, children are able to apply their natural curiosity and energy levels to poses that connect them to the natural world. Instructors on the cutting-edge of the yoga for kids movement often emphasize themes like compassion, gratitude, and strength in their classes. These positive themes are incredibly helpful for your youngster and can lead to significant gains in their confidence and self-efficacy levels.
For preteens and teens, yoga classes can be a great way to bring awareness to the various hormonal and developmental changes happening in their bodies. In addition to this benefit, those in this age group can create and strengthen social bonds with their peers by attending teen yoga classes. If you’re a parent to a preteen or teen, you already know how important it is for your child to have meaningful, stable relationships with their friends and acquaintances. In forming these bonds, it helps if two people have something in common that they enjoy doing together. Yoga is a healthy, relaxing activity that can bring teens together in a positive way (no electronic device required).
Encourage your teen to take yoga outside the studio as well. Whether it’s practicing some postures outside with their best friend on a sunny day or attending a morning yoga class on the beach with their peers, yoga is a perfect activity to take outdoors. After all, this ancient practice is known for connecting the body and mind, and also for connecting one with the beauty, stillness, power, and grace that is nature.
How to Make Yoga Fun for Your Child
As you introduce yoga to your youngster, be sure you are providing a safe and accepting environment. If you plan to do family yoga in the evenings, do it on your child’s terms. If you plan to take your teen to a once-weekly nightly yoga class, be sure to carefully vet the instructor to ensure they are certified and will be a fun, positive role model for your child.
Another thing you can do to help your kid get passionate about yoga is to help them understand that there is more that one way to do a posture. For example, plank pose has several variations—half plank pose, dolphin plank pose, and reverse plank pose. By showing your child that they have the ability to modify postures to their comfort and skill level, you empower them to explore their physical and mental stamina. You may find that they want to learn more and more about challenging balance postures or learn all the variations to common poses.
If your little one is reluctant to try out yoga, don’t fret. Instead, try doing poses in front of him or her—make an evening ritual out of it or incorporate it into your wake-up routine. Leading a healthy, active lifestyle will help set the tone for your youngster. Over time, you can expect that the fun, active postures that make up yoga will pique your child’s interest. Who knows? You might be doing upward-facing dog and child’s pose side by side with your teen in no time at all.
PBS Parents. Why yoga and kids go together. http://www.pbs.org/parents/food-and-fitness/sport-and-fitness/why-yoga-and-kids-go-together/. Accessed January 4, 2018.
Kaplan University. The benefits of yoga for children. http://healthandwellness.kaplan.edu/articles/yoga/The%20Benefits%20of%20Yoga%20for%20Children.html. Accessed January 4, 2018.
The Nemours Foundation. Yoga. http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/yoga.html#. Updated August 2015. Accessed January 4, 2018.
The Nemours Foundation. Yoga for stress relief. http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/yoga.html#. Accessed January 4, 2018.
Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Health Medical School. More than just a game: Yoga for school-age children. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/more-than-just-a-game-yoga-for-school-age-children-201601299055. Updated January 2016. Accessed January 4, 2018.
McNamara C, Johnson M, Read L, Vander Velden H, Thygeson M, Liu M, Gandrud L, McNamara J. Yoga therapy in children with cystic fibrosis decreases immediate anxiety and joint pain. Evid Based Complement Altern Med. 2016. doi:10.1155/2016/9429504.
Streeter CC, Whitfield TH, Owen L, Rein T, Karri SK, Yakhkind A, Perlmutter R, Prescot A, Renshaw PF, Ciraulo DA, Jensen JE. Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: A randomized controlled MRS study. J Altern Complement Med. 2010;16(11):1145-1152. doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0007.