Over a decade ago, through my work as an Occupational Therapist, I began teaching yoga to children with special needs. It was an instant hit! The kids enjoyed yoga and the benefits were showing up in other aspects of their school and home life. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of teaching yoga to children of all ages and backgrounds, with and without special needs, across North America, Europe and Africa. And you know what I’ve learned? It makes no difference whether the class takes place at a studio, school or at home, or whether the children doing yoga have had prior experience or not; the benefits remain the same.
And now, more and more kids are practicing yoga. It’s become a common after-school and weekend activity. Preschools, private schools and high schools are including yoga in their curriculum, and families view it as a bonding opportunity. Kids are even having yoga birthday parties! In fact, the 2012 National Health Interview Survey revealed that approximately 1.7 million children practiced yoga, about 400,000 more than in 2007. Yoga for kids is on the rise, and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon.
But that popularity isn’t just a fad. Yoga empowers kids in meaningful and lasting ways. Here are my top five reasons why yoga for kids rocks!
#1 Yoga for kids makes them stronger and smarter
Yoga poses such as Downward-Facing Dog and Paschimottanasana cultivate whole body strength and maintain flexibility. Sun Salutations increase coordination and hand mudras enhance fine motor skills. Self-esteem and confidence are boosted by expressing positive affirmations such as, “I am brave” in Warrior II, and through achieving flight in Crow. Yoga games and creative movements that cross the midline of the body, as well as sensory input with props, music and physical touch, play a crucial role in how children learn to think and understand. Bottom line: Yoga supports a child’s physical, emotional and cognitive development.
#2 Yoga for kids increases focus
Imagine a group of 12-year-olds engaged in a loving-kindness guided visualization, a classroom of preschoolers practicing a listening meditation and Third graders balancing in Warrior III and Half Moon – these children are all strengthening their ability to focus and concentrate. Research published in the last decade has confirmed heightened mindfulness and concentration, even for children on the autism spectrum. And this greater focus leads to greater success and happiness in learning environments.
#3 Yoga for kids creates community
Yoga strengthens friendships. Yoga develops empathy. Yoga promotes teamwork. When children practice yoga in a loving and non-competitive environment, where feelings are accepted and communication is encouraged, they feel a sense of community and oneness. Even if they’re not all speaking the same language! These concepts are woven throughout Next Generation Yoga classes with group and partner yoga poses, yoga games and ending with the affirmation, “Together we are one!”
#4 Yoga for kids helps with stress management
You might be thinking, “Do kids get stressed?” Answer: yes! They experience stress and pressure just like adults do. This impacts schoolwork, navigation of social situations and even sleep. Yoga to the rescue! Breathing exercises, such as Belly Breathing and time for stillness, in a seated meditation or Savasana, promote a calm state of mind, relaxed body and present moment awareness. These are tools kids can take off the yoga mat and into the classroom, home and other activities. Stress and worrying are bound to happen. Yoga teaches kids to be warriors, not worriers!
#5 Yoga for kids is FUN!
When kids are asked to share their favorite part of the yoga class, the answer is often, “Everything!” Yoga lets kids be kids and classes are filled with laughter. Activities, like yoga games and obstacle courses, stimulate the imagination and inspire creativity. Smiles widen when yoga poses and breathing exercises are sprinkled with dancing, singing, props and sensory input. Fun themes (two of my favorites are “The Great Magnificent Ocean” and “Kindness Matters”) are often used to guide the yoga adventure. Children feel empowered and acknowledged when they’re encouraged to create poses that go along with the theme and share their ideas. This is invaluable and can lead to a lifelong, fun-filled love affair with the ancient practice of yoga.
And these are just my top five! It’s easy to see why I love doing what I do. And you know what? I have FUN, too!
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