Benefits of Kids Yoga
Our fast-paced world provides few opportunities to slow down and relax, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the lives of today’s children. Typical days can include early morning wakeup calls, long school days and after-school activities. Last minute dinners are followed by sleepy homework sessions and late bedtimes. This exhausting process is repeated over and over, day after day. While this goal-oriented, forward looking lifestyle certainly has benefits, there are negative effects as well. Among our students are unprecedented rates of stress, bullying, obesity, learning issues, school violence, and depression. That is why Flow Yoga offers yoga classes for kids.
Yoga & Stress
Indeed, childhood is an intense period of physical, emotional, social, and intellectual growth. Often when confronted with these stressors, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is triggered, resulting in an elevated heart rate and blood pressure which, over time, contributes to a lowered immune system, low self-esteem, depression, and isolation. Research has shown that school curriculums incorporating stress management programs improve academic performance, self-esteem, classroom behaviors, concentration, and emotional balance. In addition, there is a decrease in helplessness, aggression, and behavioral problems of students.
Yoga is a holistic, comprehensive approach to stress, and can offset stressors by providing a moment of pause amidst all the activity. Using breathing integrated with physical postures and relaxation methods, yoga creates experiences to develop a healthy and balanced life. This safe and nurturing environment can also foster physical, intellectual, and spiritual development. Yoga offers a way for students to reconnect their bodies with their minds. Breath awareness encourages parasympathetic drive, allowing the body to slow down and bring the mind and body back into balance during the yoga class. Transferring this skill of breath is key to handling stressful situations—for instance, before taking a big test—and emphasizes a creative outlet to balance overly structured and stressful atmospheres of classrooms. Yoga can also be used as a tool to help foster students’ motivation, cultivate an internal locus of control, and facilitate deeper and more restful sleep.
Yoga & Body Acceptance
Another aspect of yoga that is beneficial for children is the practice of self-awareness. Through this practice students begin to listen to their internal cues and emotions. By shifting self-awareness inward, a buffer forms between the yoga student and the numerous negative societal and cultural influences (media, Internet, etc.) that promote unhealthy living and profoundly influence poor body images.
Yoga fosters self-acceptance and actualization. It invites all participants to improve concentration and focus, and even helps develop self-compassion and compassion for others. Students who are less athletically inclined can benefit without the pressure of playing a team sport, thus fostering confidence in the student. Researchers from Harvard Medical School asked one group of high school students how they felt after a semester-long yoga class. Many of the students who were interviewed enjoyed it and reported being less stressed and having greater control over their negative emotions. Some students also reported having greater respect for their bodies and improved self-image.
Yoga & Obesity
Stressful and overly structured atmospheres can contribute to childhood obesity. Routine physical activity is often a challenge with reduced physical education, more time spent in a car or bus travel, and the increase in sedentary activities such as playing video games or watching television. According to the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov), the rates of obesity and inactivity in the U.S. are dramatic. Of children ages 6-19, 17% are obese, equaling about 9 million children. In addition, 35% of the 9 million children don’t meet the minimum requirements of regular activity of one hour per day, set by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Child inactivity is unfortunately supplemented by poor eating habits. Obesity is linked to such unhealthy eating habits.
Yoga is a physical, yet safe activity which encourages healthy and balanced living. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, yoga classes provide learning experiences in all major focus areas of a physically educated and active person. Actively engaging in yoga on a regular basis is one way to strive toward the AAP’s activity requirements and help children remain within a healthy weight range.
Benefits at Every Age & Grade Level
The beauty of yoga is that its benefits are available to students of every school-age group. For young students (4–6 years), yoga creates a framework for total body movement and gross motor development. Incorporating games, storytelling, and songs allow this age group to connect with the energy of the poses and philosophy of the practice. Children ages 7–9 years benefit from yoga by building on their gross motor skills while taking on challenges in strength, agility, and endurance, as well as cooperation. Benefits for kids coming into adolescence (10–12 years) include creating a safe place to thrive, while their bodies experience amazing changes such as flexibility and strength as their connections to social peers are being strengthened and reinforced.While the teenage years can typically be a time for disconnect, this age group can also vastly benefit from yoga. A consistent yoga practice allows for self-study and self-care as well as development of vital intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, such as improved communication skills, which are critically needed at this developmental stage.
Students with learning or behavioral challenges also benefit from yoga practice. Shown to be an effective stress-management tool, studies show that students in primary grades with attention-deficit/
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who practiced yoga, improved on-task time and attention as well as reduced symptoms. In addition, yoga has been used to help at-risk youth around the U.S. and is seen as an important outlet for students who have behavioral problems, spent time in the juvenile justice system, or failed at traditional school settings. The practice has also been shown to be an effective teaching tool when working with students with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, sensory integration disorder, and learning difficulties.
Resources: Kristin Henningsen, MS,Adjunct Professor, Kaplan University School of Health Sciences
Yoga Journal and American Yoga Association